During this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, when Hillary Clinton was confirmed as the Democratic nominee for president, hundreds of Bernie Sanders delegates walked out in protest even as their candidate registered his endorsement of Secretary Clinton.
“She lied, she cheated, she stole our votes,” chanted the crowd while defiantly waving the signs of a candidate who was no longer in the race for president. “The whole world is watching,” they cautioned in the face of the news cameras.
Late last week, Sanders attempted to provide an outlet for this energy by founding Our Revolution, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “supporting a new generation of progressive leaders, empowering millions to fight for progressive change and elevating the political consciousness.”
But the organization has been mired in controversy from its inception. The New York Times reported that, prior to launch, eight core staff members stepped down, followed by the entire organizing department on the week of launch.
The primary concern voiced by the former staff members is that the group consents to draw from what they called “dark money,” while the condemnation of financial impropriety in politics was a major campaign platform during Sanders’s bid for the Democratic nomination. The members who left also cited their objection to the appointment of Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s former campaign manager, as head of the group, lodging charges that Weaver had mismanaged the campaign and created a hostile work environment for staffers.
The broad base that was rallied by Sanders during the 2016 election, which had been so disaffected by the Democratic National Committee’s alleged manipulation of the primary to ensure Clinton’s nomination and by Sanders’s endorsement of that same candidate, appears to remain in a disjointed and undirected state. What can these people build, now that the objective of their mobilization has been deferred?
‘Revolution’ and the Democratic Party
“I think there’s a generational difference,” said Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein to Democracy Now, “between Bernie and his vision of the Democrats as the party of the New Deal, and a younger generation that sees the Democrats as the party of war, Wall Street, and drone attacks.”
Stein had some presence at the Democratic Convention, where she sought to rally the delegate walkout and use it as a platform to advance the campaign of her own independent progressive party. The intention of the Greens, as well as other independents such as Gary Johnson and the right Libertarian Party, is to break up the two-party political system to allow for greater popular representation and a broader democratic dialogue.
A feature in Politico shortly after the Democratic Convention characterized the progression from Sanders to Stein as natural, saying that “Stein’s platform is nearly identical to Sanders’, only more pacifist (the two diverge on the use of military drones) and more ambitious (beyond providing free college, Stein would cancel all existing student debt).”
When the Sanders campaign concluded, a Bloomberg poll also showed that Gary Johnson had rallied the support of 18 percent of voters who had previously backed Bernie Sanders. It is clear that a key objective of any political challengers to the major-party candidates is to capture the approval of the strong camp that Sanders built.
Stein in particular attempted to attach her party to the momentum of the Bernie Sanders movement early on by proposing that he join the Greens’ nomination bid, offering to accept a vice presidential bid herself if Sanders would lead the ticket. “It was an offer that we made to Sanders,” she told Democracy Now. “Let’s sit down and talk. Let’s collaborate, because this is an incredibly historic moment …. Not that we aligned completely. Especially around foreign policy and on issues of student debt and so on, there was some distance between us.”
But the proposal did not come to fruition. “He has, ironically, not been a supporter of independent third parties,” she continued, “although nominally he’s been one, but he doesn’t believe in actually standing up and challenging power in an electoral way.”
Sanders was candid from the beginning of his campaign in his desire to reform the Democratic Party, as well as endorse Hillary Clinton in the event that he does not receive the nomination. This makes the sense of betrayal that is being expressed by some Sanders supporters, as corroborated by journalist Chris Hedges, somewhat curious.
There is also the issue of Sanders’s purported democratic socialism, which dyed-in-the-wool socialists would not accept especially when he is working with a capitalist party. Such is the position of more orthodox socialist candidates such as Gloria La Riva, who is running with the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Peace and Freedom Party in select states. La Riva is running with Eugene Puryear , a prominent civil rights activist, and Dennis Banks, the legendary leader of the American Indian Movement.
The lesser evil
Many political analysts, however, have considered supporting one of these candidates to be irresponsible under the circumstances. Most notably, legendary political philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky stated early on that he did not think Bernie Sanders stood a chance of attaining the nomination “in a system of bought elections,” and that the danger of Donald Trump and the Republican Party, whom he has described as “a candidate for the most dangerous organization in human history,” is too grave not to vote against.
The counter to this very valid consideration is that the Democratic Party and their nominee have not shown signs of being less dangerous. Hillary Clinton’s actions in Libya, Haiti and Honduras alone make her an odd bedfellow of progressive voters, as well as her long-standing support of big oil and natural gas.
This is the position taken by civil rights activist and prominent public intellectual Cornel West, who has described Jill Stein as “the only progressive woman in the race” and Hillary Clinton as “a neoliberal disaster.”
This belief is shared by the professor and journalist Marc Lamont Hill, who laid out a careful critique of lesser-evil voting on the radio show The Breakfast Club. After renouncing Hillary Clinton, Hill explained his endorsement of the Greens: “Every four years we say, ‘The third party can’t win.’ So we never invest in the third party. We never grow the third party. If they get 5 percent of the vote, they can be in the debates. And if they’re in the debates, now we can change the conversation.”
The question of which path to choose is undoubtedly serious. But whatever progressives’ decision in this election, it is clear that “the political revolution” as presented by Bernie Sanders must reassess its trajectory if it is to maintain its ideals beyond a single primary campaign.