Mainstream Media May Never Understand Sanders’ Political Revolution, but That’s Not Stopping It from Spreading

Jul 28, 2016 by

Election 2016

Change sometimes comes from not asking permission.


U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaking with supporters at a town meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

It was the third daily press conference by the Bernie Delegates Network and dozens of political reporters were baffled by the answers they were hearing from the podium.

No, they won’t tell anyone to stop dissenting on the convention floor. No, they were not satisfied with the platform changes and commitment to eliminate most of the superdelegates. Nor were many pleased with Tuesday’s roll call where delegate vote totals for Sanders and Clinton were read, because they included superdelegates—distorting the votes of the people.

The complaints continued. The DNC was mistreating Sanders delegates, like former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner. Tim Kaine was a bad vice-presidential pick. “She could have chosen someone that would have indicated she was trying to roll back some of the worst neoliberal polices she is associated with,” said Karen Bernal, a California delegation leader. Her response to comments from longtime associate Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe that Clinton would approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership? “It’s kind of like the leaked [DNC] emails. We already kind of knew it. It’s helpful when you get to hear it from the horse’s mouth.” (McAuliffe later retracted his remarks.)

The mainstream media is baffled by exchanges like these, leading many to conclude the Sanders delegation lacks discipline and savvy and is letting the pure become the enemy of the good that its movement has achieved. A U.S. News & World Report journalist asked why delegates weren’t heeding Sanders’ advice to tone it down. “The fire has already started and he’s not in charge of it?” he asked, perplexed. Bernal quickly replied, “He was never in control of it.”

The mainstream media has had a hard time understanding the Sanders revolution. They don’t get a political movement without a traditional leader. Or one that knows what it wants to achieve and is making up the means as it goes along.

“All those questions about what’s next? What’s the deal?” said Mike Fox, a Florida delegate and Progressive Democrats of America board member, shaking his head. “They don’t get it. It’s organic. That’s the genius of this movement. If you just act, stuff happens. It’s been happening.”

The just-do-it activist sentiment seems to be a key driving force behind the Sanders presence everywhere in Philadelphia. When it comes to their political agenda, they are letting it be known that what Democrats have accomplished and what they are setting their sights on in 2016 is not sufficient. Yes, Obamacare was progress, for example, but not nearly enough. It’s a perilous path, because their protests have been offputting to Clinton supporters, even those who say they appreciate the idealism but think they’re “overplaying” their hand, as one delegate put it.

But it’s easy to miss the bigger and more significant picture. A flock of national political reporters might go to the Bernie Delegates press conference and leave with a list of grievances by what seems like Sanders diehards. Or one can step back and note it is remarkable that national political media like the Washington Post, AP, U.S. News & World Report, etc. are showing up and paying attention to what a self-organized, ad hoc group of Sanders delegates and their allies are doing and saying.

The open secret of the Sanders-inspired political revolution is not to ask permission, Fox said, but to just do it. The Delegates Network is one such microcosm. Their role is polling his delegation and reporting results to the media. On Tuesday, they asked how people would respond or defer to Sanders’ direction, such as his request to tone down floor protests. Of the 276 respondents, 43 percent said they would be considerably influenced, 30 percent said somewhat influenced and 27 percent said they would not be influenced. One way to read that is to predict more noise to walkouts when Kaine and Clinton speak. But those numbers also confirm what Fox, Bernal and others have been saying: This movement is led by people instinctively thinking for themselves and acting independently.

At a post-nomination party around midnight Tuesday, the most common conversation heard among Sanders campaign workers, delegates and supporters was, “What’s next, what now?” Naturally, after putting months of their lives into a campaign that seemed that night to dissolve before them, there was self-doubt and questioning about what they had accomplished. But it didn’t take long for many to say they would go home and stay politically involved, whether working on campaigns, going to the school for candidates they said Sanders would soon set up, or running for office themselves.

“The political world has been changed,” said Norman Solomon, who helped organize the Delegates Network and has had a career as a journalist and historian and has run for Congress. “I think there is a transition with a real coalescing underway, because it’s a long-term struggle.”

People forget how far Sanders and the progressive movements have come in a year, he said. Compared to 2008, when Barack Obama ran what was then seen as a pathbreaking campaign, today’s progressives are far more organized and networked, he said.

“Our internet strength is so much better. Now people have their eyes open and nobody has any illusions about Hillary Clinton. You have tens of millions of people who see her as a corporate flack,” Solomon said. “And people are watching. It is something to build on. When we put this [network] together, we were looking past Philadelphia… It is really important to avoid the all-or-nothing mindset.”

“What’s next?” Fox asked, before answering. “You build it from the ground up. You personally run for office, or you find someone who will run for city council or legislature. You spend time investing in the core issues. Don’t expect there to be a big overarching superstructure that will tell you what to do from the top down. You just act.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

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