Election 2016

Bernie Steps up for Hillary as Historic Nominee; Democrats Ready Themselves for Fierce Battle With Trump

The Sanders progressive revolution pledges to go forward for change.

Photo Credit: Steven Rosenfeld

Bernie Sanders made history Tuesday in the most bittersweet moment of decades as a progressive champion, rising before the Democratic National Convention to call for unanimous consent to name the first woman to be a major party nominee for president.

State after state announced their vote totals for Sanders and Hillary Clinton, with speakers lauding each of them and causing their delegates to cheer and wave their posters. Then it was Vermont’s turn to vote. The results were read and Sanders praised as their leader. Then he rose, took the microphone, and after rousing applause, paused and said, “I move that all votes, all votes cast by delegates be reflected in the official record, and I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party for president of the United States.”  

With those words, his dream, and the dreams of his delegates and millions nationwide of an unrepentant progressive becoming president, ended. As Sanders hugged his wife, the closeup on the arena’s big screens moved on. Many of his delegates sat quietly and grim-faced, while Clinton’s flock was ecstatic, on their feet, exulting in their dream coming true: a  barrier-shattering, history-making, exceptionally accomplished nominee.

The convention settled back into its routine of hearing speeches that touted Clinton or told stories about Democratic values, history and the need to keep fighting for every shade of social and economic justice. Only later, when the mothers of young black men killed by police addressed the hall seeking healing and restoration, was the room as taut with breathtaking emotion.

Mainstream media quickly reported Clinton’s nomination as a milestone fulfilling the dreams of 19th-century suffragettes, coming nearly a century after women won the right to vote, and after many of the women in the convention hall tried but did not pass a federal Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution in the 1970s and '80s.

“We worked for years for the ERA. I took time off from work, because we needed Illinois as the last state to carry us over the top. Unfortunately, it never happened,” recounted Ginny Foat, a Clinton delegate and city councilor from Palm Springs, Calif. Foat came early and was in her state delegation’s front row wearing a dozen Clinton buttons and one simply saying "ERA."

“Tonight is history in the making and I am so proud we will nominate our first woman president,” she said, anticipating a November victory. “I have some empathy for the kids that are here, that are Sanders supporters. I know what they are going through… But when we lost [in 2008], we were not disrespectful. And these kids are disrespecting the icons in our community. They booed Elijah Cummings [Maryland congressman and platform committee chair]. They booed everyone.”

Perhaps it seems small to bring up the outbursts and jeers of a good number of the 1,850 Sanders delegates on Monday night. They were less pronounced on Tuesday, perhaps deflated by cheering for Sanders when the state-by-state totals were read, and then the resignation that followed Sanders rising to nominate his former rival. But for all the history-making, barrier-breaking talk in the convention hall and the news, it was the Sanders campaign that was the most unlikely, unexpected, unparalleled surprise of the past year on the political left.

Nobody, not even Sanders himself, expected his undiluted message of economic and social justice would spark a national grassroots progressive movement, winning more than 20 states, 13 million votes and raising more than $200 million from change-seeking donors averaging $27 each.

It doesn’t take anything away from Clinton’s triumph, accomplishment and place in history to also note that Sanders single-handedly prompted the Democratic Party in 2016 to rediscover its progressive roots and stop running reflexively toward the center or the right.

There are many shades of Sanders delegates, from hardcore purists to pragmatic realists. Both of those sentiments were found in Melissa Michelson, a floor whip in Sanders' California delegation.

“We kind of understand where Sanders is going. We understand that he doesn’t want Donald Trump to win," she said. "However, he also told us that the political revolution is about us, not him… A lot of us are going to start getting involved in local politics.”

“We are going to start getting organized with each other, with true progressives, not establishment Democrats,” she continued, when asked what she was thinking about as the state results were announced. “We’re still skeptical how things will work out with this new relationship, you know [with Sanders endorsing Hillary and planning to campaign against Trump]. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton and I will not vote for Donald Trump either.”

It was a striking contrast during a poignant moment: Foat, a Clinton delegate and woman who worked for decades for equal rights, seeing her dream of a woman on the doorstep of the presidency; and Michelson, a young women drawn to a different progressive dream and her campaign's inspiring leader ending that chapter Tuesday.  

Immediately after Clinton became the nominee, a stream of Sanders delegates could be seen leaving the convention floor.

“As soon as they start doing this Hillary crap, we’ll be having fun at the bar,” Michelson said, before rejoining her delegation.

But once the dust settles, the 2016 contest to be the Democratic Party’s nominee will be seen as a milestone in many ways—with both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders making history.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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