Bernie Sanders Launches New Organization, But Key Staffers Quit in Protest
Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution seeks to support the next generation of progressive leaders, empower millions to fight for progressive change and elevate the nation’s overall political consciousness. More than 2,600 watch parties were held across the country last night to witness Sanders launch the new organization. But reports have emerged of political tumult within Bernie Sanders’s own team. Over the weekend, eight key staffers abruptly resigned in a dispute over the group’s leadership and legal structure. For more, we speak with Larry Cohen, incoming board chair of Our Revolution, and with Claire Sandberg, former digital organizing director for Bernie Sanders’s campaign, who resigned as the organizing director for Our Revolution.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters have launched a new political organization. It’s called Our Revolution. It seeks to support the next generation of progressive leaders, empower millions to fight for progressive change and elevate the nation’s overall political consciousness. More than 2,600 watch parties were held across the country Wednesday night to watch Sanders launch the new group
. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Tonight I want to introduce you to a new independent nonprofit organization called Our Revolution, which is inspired by the historic Bernie 2016 presidential campaign. Over time, Our Revolution will involve hundreds of thousands of people. These are people who will be fighting at the grassroots level for changes in their local school boards, in their city councils, in their state legislatures and in their representation in Washington. Not only that, they will be involved in major ballot items dealing with campaign finance issues, environmental issues, healthcare issues, labor issues, gender-related issues, and doing all that they can, in every way, to create an America based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.
AMY GOODMAN: Former presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders went on to reiterate his concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I have worked with President Obama over the years on a number of issues, and he’s a friend of mine. But on the issue of the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his support—very strong support—for that proposal is dead wrong. I intend—I intend to work with trade unions all over this country, environmental groups all over this country, religious groups all over this country, to do everything that I can, as Vermont senator, to defeat the TPP if it comes up in Congress in the lame-duck session. Now, the TPP, TPP, as is always the case, is supported by Wall Street. It is supported by corporate America. It is supported by all of the big money issues. But I believe that if we stand together, we can, in fact, defeat it.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Sanders speaking last night at the launch of Our Revolution. He was in Burlington, Vermont. But reports have emerged of political tumult within Sanders’ own team. Over the weekend, eight key staffers abruptly resigned in a dispute over the group’s leadership and legal structure. That was more than half of the staff. Well, for more, we’re joined by two guests in Washington, D.C. Larry Cohen is the incoming board chair of Our Revolution. He was a senior adviser to Bernie Sanders and past president of Communications Workers of America. He was also the first superdelegate for Bernie Sanders. And we’re joined by Claire Sandberg. She was the digital organizing director for Bernie Sanders’ campaign. On Sunday, she resigned as the organizing director for Our Revolution. Larry Cohen and Claire Sandberg, welcome to Democracy Now! Larry, let’s begin with you. The significance of this new group that has been launched, with 2,600 parties around the country launching it last night? LARRY COHEN: Yeah, amazing. I was at one of the events in Washington, D.C., in a small apartment, totally packed with more than 80 people, incredibly enthusiastic. But just as importantly, as you said, across the country, 2,600 events, another 200,000 people turned in—tuned in on their own to watch the live stream. The enthusiasm for this across the country is amazing. I was in Iowa this weekend with Iowa CCI, a big statewide community organization. The enthusiasm there, across Nebraska, where the new incoming head of the Democratic Party was actually at the same event with me last night, Jane Kleeb, who came in to lead the party on—from the victory in the Nebraska caucus. So, I think it’s, you know, literally from one end of the country to another, activists so enthused about what we can do together.
AMY GOODMAN: Claire Sandberg, you were a part of the Bernie Sanders campaign. You were the organizing director for Our Revolution. But right before it launched last night, you and more than half the staff quit. Why?
CLAIRE SANDBERG: Yes. Well, last Monday, as we were—as the staff at Our Revolution was—I’m sorry, there’s an echo. So, last Monday, as the staff of Our Revolution was preparing for a very busy week, gearing up for the launch event last night, we learned that Jeff Weaver would be stepping in to run, actively manage, Our Revolution, which was a decision that was met with unanimous concern among the entire staff at Our Revolution. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Jeff Weaver was the campaign director of Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign.
CLAIRE SANDBERG: Yes, Jeff was the campaign manager at the organization. And all of us who worked on the campaign who moved over to Our Revolution did so based on the promise that Jeff Weaver would not be involved in Our Revolution or that his role would be strictly constrained as a legal adviser or a board member who would have somewhat of a token role. But it became clear—and so, there were two main concerns among the staff. One, we all saw how Jeff ran the campaign, and there were a number of concerns about that. Secondly, Jeff’s leadership and advice as a legal adviser had already hamstrung Our Revolution before it even launched, specifically Jeff’s decision to constitute the organization as a 501(c)(4), which prevented us from doing effective down-ballot organizing for candidates, also effective down-ballot fundraising. And— AMY GOODMAN: Why is that, Claire?
CLAIRE SANDBERG: Well, Jeff has gone on the record admitting that he wanted to form the organization as a 501(c)(4) for the express purpose of accepting billionaire money, which of course flies in the face of what all of our supporters were so excited about, that we were taking a country back from the billionaire class without the use of billionaire money, $27 at a time.
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Cohen, your response? You’re the incoming board chair of Our Revolution.
LARRY COHEN: Yeah, the board of Our Revolution will be key leaders from the various movements that make up progressive America, from civil rights, environmental justice, from people who are running for office. And there will be no contributions from billionaires, and I guarantee that. And I think it’s unfortunate that staff left. They’re good people. Jeff has worked with Bernie for 30 years. He’s very close to Bernie. But this—Our Revolution is not about Jeff or me or Claire; it’s about the hundreds of thousands of people that are networked across the country. My job as board chair—the board will be all volunteers—is to support those networks and those people, and to continue the political revolution that we saw in this campaign and that has its ancestry from the many movements in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Claire Sandberg, the idea that it’s larger than any one person, and why you couldn’t be a part of it, moving into the future, given that you so clearly endorse the tenets of the organization, you know, its political philosophy?
CLAIRE SANDBERG: Yes, and it was an anguishing decision for all of us. And we thought about it for some time. The majority of the staff who resigned did not do so until almost a week later, on Sunday, when seven people resigned. We did that after thinking very hard about it, expressing our concerns repeatedly, saying we didn’t think we could work for Jeff. And I would say that the concerns were really twofold: one, that Jeff—under Jeff’s leadership, the organization would not be well run, given how we saw that he ran the campaign; and secondly, that Jeff wanted to take the organization down this path of accepting billionaire money, and specifically had chosen a legal structure for the organization that had already prevented us from doing effective organizing for candidates like Tim Canova, who has talked about how we have left him hanging, which is true. As the group was formed as a (c)(4), we legally couldn’t coordinate with Canova, couldn’t return his calls, couldn’t mobilize thousands of Bernie supporters locally in Miami or across the country to participate in his field operation, because we couldn’t talk to him. The same thing—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by this.
CLAIRE SANDBERG: Well, a 501(c)(4) organization has a number of problems with it. One, federal officeholders cannot be involved in 501(c)(4) organizations. So, there is a real question about whether Bernie could even be involved as a spokesperson, as someone who could send out emails. Secondly, candidates cannot coordinate with 501(c)(4) organizations. We can’t—we can’t have private, nonpublic conversations about, for example, how to mobilize volunteers or what voters we’re talking to. We can’t make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts, calling the same voters twice. We can’t do any of those things.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Larry Cohen, what about this?
LARRY COHEN: Well, you know, I’m not going to get into a legal wrangle with Claire. I think the key is that all of us on this board believe that we will mobilize millions of people. We’re not here to run campaigns. That would be a different kind of organization. We will mobilize millions of people against the TPP. We will enable people to donate to campaigns. We will be involved in eight ballot measures that are on the website right now, OurRevolution.com, that range from getting big money out of politics to single-payer healthcare in Colorado. We will be supporting, you know, great candidates, from Pramila Jayapal, who’s running for Congress in Seattle, to people running for school board. So, this is not—none of us on this board, and the design of this is not to run campaigns. The design of this is really to continue the political revolution.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday evening, Senator Sanders stressed the importance of electing progressive candidates at the local level.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: As Americans, our goal must be to elect progressives at every level. And I want to mention just a few of the progressive candidates who Our Revolution will be supporting. And there will eventually be over 100 of them, in every region of our country, candidates from the school board to the United States Senate. Vernon Miller, a Native American, is running for the school board in Nebraska. And let me tell you, we need hundreds of candidates all over this country to run for school board. So I wish Vernon the best of luck. Jane Kim is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and she is running for the state Senate in California. By the way, their state Senate districts are like the equivalent of the entire state of Vermont, so it’s not a small thing, you know. I campaigned with Kim when I was in San Francisco, and she will be a great addition to the California state Senate when she is elected.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bernie Sanders last night in Burlington, Vermont. The Miami Herald has a headline, "Bernie Sanders is a No-Show for Tim Canova," in his South Florida battle against U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Larry Cohen, do you know why?
LARRY COHEN: You know, I wouldn’t call him a no-show. I mean, Bernie is focused—he hasn’t—
AMY GOODMAN: He just didn’t mention him in this list of people he was talking about supporting, and he was so significant in going after Wasserman Schultz and supporting Canova before the Democratic convention.
LARRY COHEN: Yeah. Well, again, unless a mistake was made, I’m certain Tim Canova is on the initial list that was put up on the website last night. Huge amounts of money have been raised, you know, directly from donors, but through the emails from the Bernie Sanders campaign and from Our Revolution. Bernie has not campaigned since the convention in Philadelphia for anyone. He is actually writing a book. So I don’t think he’s running away from Tim Canova at all. I think the question is, you know, when does Bernie go back on the campaign trail? That is not what Our Revolution will manage. Again, what we will manage and support are these networks of people that are pushing to reform the Democratic Party, as I mentioned, at the state level, like a Jane Kleeb, at the local level, independents like two candidates running for the Richmond, California, City Council—in many cases, Democrats, in many cases, not. And so, I mean, that’s the story here.
AMY GOODMAN: And as we have 10 seconds, Claire Sandberg, what will you go on to do, given you’ve devoted your recent life to the Bernie Sanders campaign and now Our Revolution, before you quit?
CLAIRE SANDBERG: Myself and the other people who resigned will fight to continue the political revolution however we can, and do the work that we hope to do through this organization in some fashion.