Sanders Supporters Need to Grieve, But Have Achieved Much and Still Have Big Role in Philly

As anybody who has suffered a loss knows, there needs to be a grieving and healing process before moving on.

This certainly applies to Bernie Sanders supporters. Despite Sanders' pledge Tuesday night to press on to next week’s final 2016 primary in Washington DC, the national progressive movement that formed around him is now feeling a different kind of burn. Hillary Clinton clinched the nomination, with more votes, more pledged delegates and more superdelegates willing to ratify popular vote results from their states than Sanders. Ouch.

Although Clinton is the nominee, that doesn't mean Sanders has no significant role to play at the Democratic National Convention or after, longtime Democrats say. They point out that this is especially true considering his supporters, as Sanders has said many times, skew young and represent the party's and the country’s future.

“I understand the political grieving process,” said Deb Kozikowski, Massachusetts Democratic Party vice chair, who has been a vocal critic of the Democratic National Committee, including chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “The thing to do is to find your way to get through and don’t lose your desire for making things better… I know the feeling. Keep in mind, [1988 Democratic nominee] Michael Dukakis was my friend… If you don’t think that hurt, I was devastated… You find something that gets you through the grieving process.”

Kozikowski and other party insiders contacted Wednesday said there is plenty for the Clinton and Sanders teams to be doing, even if the Clinton team is ebullient and Sanders team disconsolate. She tellingly added, “I don’t think the party is reaching out in any appropriate way at the state or national level. I’m not sure they know how. The bottom line is respect. The bottom line is appreciation for their interest in politics. They are not jaded old political hacks. They are disheartened now. Give a little space. Be kind.”

Stepping back, the Clinton campaign shifted into higher gears on Wednesday. It had its first well-attended national fundraising call in weeks, according to one participant who said the campaign sounded well organized. Sanders will be meeting with President Obama on Thursday, with many people saying that would not be happening unless there was some prior agreement on next steps. Everyone knows that Obama wants to hit the campaign trail.

There was recognition that Sanders has become an icon to many. Whether Democrats think he is too stubborn or inflexible is another question. Moreover, there seems to be a growing recognition that the party needs him and his backers, because the electorate is changing and they are part of that change. Thus, there were several important roles Sanders and his team can play at the convention, even if they’re not the roles many progressives are reeling off.

For example, Kozikowski said it was unlikely that superdelegates would agree to rule changes to dissolve their national convention votes. They will not get rid of themselves, she said bluntly, but added that was a moot point because they simply ratify the votes in their states and they have never usurped a nomination. People forget President Obama tried to get rid of them after 2008. The one concession he won was a pledge not to interfere in primaries and caucuses in 2012. “He had no opposition, so it didn’t matter,” she said.

Sanders has already shaped the party’s 2016 agenda. Obama would likely not have called for an expansion of Social Security benefits, and Clinton would not have called for a much higher minimum wage, were it not for Sanders, to give a few examples.

But more significant than amending the party platform are primetime speaking slots, Kozikowski said. Sanders, and some of his top allies, will undoubtedly get serious airtime. Remember how Bill Clinton droned on in 1988, prompting many to say that was his worst speech ever? “Who knew four years later that he would be president?” she said. Obama and Elizabeth Warren also gave convention speeches and later emerged as national figures. Sanders allies could be presented and similarly emerge.

“People are made or broken at these conventions,” Kozikowski said. “He has the opportunity to lead us into a different type of electorate. It’s a changing electorate in 2016. The party has to figure out how to deal with that… Bernie Sanders has an opportunity to be the guy to show us how we deal with a changing electorate in a sane and thoughtful manner. He has a lot of opportunity. Hopefully, he won’t blow it.”

There are now different responsibilities on his and Clinton’s shoulders, she said.

"Sanders needs to take time to reflect on the wonderful thing he has done and decide how to take it forward,” said Kozikowski. “Otherwise, his delegates may not show up at the convention. They have to spend $1,500 to go. He has to take charge of the process as a supporting actor, so they have a reason to be there.”

As the emotional dust is still settling from Tuesday’s voting, Sanders, his supporters and their efforts need to be acknowledged and respected by the rest of the party, including people who are cheering Clinton now, but were grieving after she lost in 2008.

“A lot of good people put their heart and soul into it,” Kozikowski said, speaking of the 2016 campaign. “They want to be recognized that what they did wasn’t wrong, just different. Part of this is the responsibility of the candidates on both sides. Hillary Clinton knows what it is to lose. Senator Sanders needs to reflect and decide how to take it forward.”

On Wednesday, his campaign sent out another fundraising mailing, seeking more donations to keep the movement he and they built going.

“Our fight is to transform our country and to understand that we are in this together,” Sanders wrote. “To understand that all of what we believe is what the majority of the American people believe. And to understand that the struggle continues.”


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