The Nation

American Capitalism has failed us: We're overworked, underemployed and more powerless than ever before

Some years ago, I faced up to the futility of reporting true things about America’s disastrous wars and so I left Afghanistan for another remote mountainous country far away. It was the polar opposite of Afghanistan: a peaceful, prosperous land where nearly everybody seemed to enjoy a good life, on the job and in the family.

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South Carolina Governor Requested Exemption to Allow Foster-Care Agency to Discriminate Against Non-Christians

In an unusual move, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, a long-standing ally of President Donald Trump, has personally intervened with the Department of Health and Human Services to secure a religious exemption from federal nondiscrimination laws for a Christian foster-care-placement agency in his state. Without the exemption, the placement agency, Miracle Hill Ministries, of Greenville, is at risk of losing its license because it refuses to place foster children with non-Christian families. Like other such agencies that participate in state foster-care programs that receive federal funds, Miracle Hill would normally be barred from discriminating on the basis of religion.

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The Circular Firing Squad Isn’t Amusing Anymore

Notwithstanding the addictive daily drama of leaks, tweets, and resistance, there are major issues that exist separate and apart from the 24-hour news cycle. These long-term problems are as salient in the digital moment as they were in the analog ’60s.

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The Tired Myth That Progressives Lack Empathy Is Hardly the Problem

If I have to read one more article blaming liberal condescension toward the red states and the white working class for the election of Trump, I’m moving to Paris, France. These pieces started coming out even before the election and are still pouring down on our heads. Just within the last few weeks, the New Republic had Michael Tomasky deploring “elite liberal suspicion of middle America” for such red-state practices as churchgoing and gun owning and The New York Times had Joan Williams accusing Democrats of impugning the “social honor” of working-class whites by talking about them in demeaning and condescending ways, as exemplified by such phrases as “flyover states,” “trailer trash,” and “plumber’s butt.” Plumber’s butt? That was a new one for me. And that’s not even counting the 92,346 feature stories about rural Trump voters and their heartwarming folkways. (“I played by the rules,” said retired rancher Tom Grady, 66, delving into the Daffodil Diner’s famous rhubarb pie. “Why should I pay for some deadbeat’s trip to Europe?”) I’m still waiting for the deep dives into the hearts and minds of Clinton supporters—what concerns motivated the 94 percent of black women voters who chose her? Is there nothing of interest there? For that matter, why don’t we see explorations of the voters who made up the majority of Trump’s base, people who are not miners or unemployed factory workers but regular Republicans, most quite well-fixed in life? (“I would vote for Satan himself if he promised to cut my taxes,” said Bill Thorberg, a 45-year-old dentist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “I’m basically just selfish.”) There are, after all, only around 75,000 coal miners in the entire country, and by now every one of them has been profiled in the Times.

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Why Is Iran Our Enemy?

“Where are you from?” the elderly man asked politely, as my wife and I strolled through his small Iranian village in early May.

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How to Fight a Fascist and Win

In the second round of France’s presidential elections in 2002, the left was faced with an unfamiliar challenge: What accessories to wear to the polls? The Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, had been knocked out in the first round. Now the choice was between the fascist National Front candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and the conservative sleaze magnet, Jacques Chirac. There were no good options: Chirac had once opined that French workers were being driven crazy by the “noise and smell” of immigrants. But there was certainly a catastrophic option: the election of Le Pen, who had branded people with AIDS “lepers” and trivialized the Nazi gas chambers as “a detail” in history.

So the left debated casting ballots for Chirac wearing gloves or surgical masks (until they were told doing so might nullify their ballots), and in the end, many went to vote with a clothespin on their nose. “When the house is on fire,” François Giacalone, a Communist Party local councillor, told The Guardian, “you don’t care too much if the water you put it out with is dirty.”

In 2016, Donald Trump’s clinching the Republican nomination in the same week that a right-wing extremist narrowly lost the presidential election in Austria raises a serious strategic challenge for the progressive left. We are rightly buoyed by the notion that a better world is possible and have tasked ourselves with creating it. But it is no less true that, at any given moment, a far worse world is possible too, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that we don’t let somebody else create it.

There are two crucial distinctions to be made here. The first is to distinguish between those political opponents who are merely bad, and those who represent an existential threat to basic democratic rights. The second is to draw a clear distinction between the electoral and the political. For example, Mitt Romney was bad: Had he been elected in 2012, terrible things would’ve happened, and it is a good thing that he was defeated. But Trump is of a different order entirely. Xenophobic, Islamophobic, unhinged, and untethered to any broader political infrastructure, he has endorsed his supporters’ physically attacking protestors. His election would represent a paradigmatic shift in what is possible for the American right. To call Trump a fascist may suggest more ideological coherence than his blather deserves. But he is certainly part of that extended family and, as such, represents the kind of threat that Romney (for example) did not.

The same is true of Le Pen and Norbert Hofer, the hard-right Austrian presidential candidate who called gun ownership “the natural consequence” of immigration. The fact that the Austrian presidency is primarily ceremonial is beside the point; had Hofer won, others in more substantial positions would have followed.

Since this kind of threat is of a different order, so should be the response. While fascists have learned to cloak their bigotry in less inflammatory rhetoric (one more reason why Trump is an outlier: This is a trick he has yet to learn, though I’m sure the Republicans have their best folks working on it), their blunt message must be met with a blunt response. They must be stopped. And if their route to power is through the ballot box, they must be stopped there.

The question of whether, in America for example, one should forgo the two main parties for a third that is not beholden to big money and will back the interests of the poor and marginalized is an important one. But the question in these instances is not whether we will be in a better or worse position to organize and fight back after the election, but whether there will be future elections at all—and if so, in what atmosphere of intimidation and coercion they might take place.

In that case, one should vote for the largest immovable object in the path of the extreme right—whether that’s Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton or Jacques Chirac or Alexander Van der Bellen, the former Green Party spokesman who narrowly beat Hofer in Austria. But while defeating these forces at the polls is important, it is also insufficient. It does nothing to tackle the underlying causes for their popularity or address the grievances on which these parasites feed. Preventing them from gaining office is in no way commensurate with stemming their influence or power.

Take the most likely U.S. presidential matchup: Clinton and Trump. Trump’s rise is rooted, to a significant extent, in the profound disenchantment of a section of the white working class created by the effects of neoliberal globalization in the wake of the most recent economic crash. Hillary’s staunchest advocate (her husband), whose legacy she shares on the stump (“We lifted people out of poverty” and “We created jobs”) bears considerable responsibility for the conditions that made Trump possible. Bill Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act exacerbated the economic collapse, and his embrace of the North American Free Trade Agreement helped depress wages. Hillary Clinton backed these initiatives at the time, even if she has rowed back on some of them since. Setting her up in political opposition to Trump pits part of the cause against the symptom, with no suggestion of an antidote.

So even as one votes for Clinton—if she’s the nominee, then no one else is going to be able to stop Trump from taking power—one must prepare to organize against her. If she wins, her agenda will make an eventual victory for someone like Trump more likely, not less. More than a decade after Le Pen’s defeat, his daughter, who now heads the National Front, could yet reach the runoffs again. Hofer’s Freedom Party came in second place in the parliamentary elections in 1999 and was in a coalition government. Elections alone cannot defeat the populist right; we have to drain the swamp from which they gather their bait. When your house is ablaze, you grab whatever’s handy and put it out. But when the flames are quenched, the laborious task of fireproofing is in order.

5 Things Hillary Can Do to Win Over Bernie’s Supporters

As Bernie Sanders said Wednesday night, he’s “pretty good with arithmetic.” While a win in California might, just about, have furnished grounds for an appeal to the superdelegates based on momentum, or on his ability to take more votes away from Donald Trump, that isn’t how it turned out. Those of us who, after New Hampshire and Michigan, allowed ourselves to believe that the political revolution this country so urgently needs might start at the top in November—a group that might well include Sanders himself—will need some time, first of all, to mourn that dream.

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How the NY Times' Use of False Equivalencies Badly Distorts the Presidential Campaign

On March 15, Donald Trump won Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, and Illinois, dispatching Marco Rubio’s campaign to the ash heap of history and giving every impression that he had become the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. Hillary Clinton also did extremely well that day, taking Illinois, Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina. The New York Times gave its prime spot—the top-right corner of the paper’s front page—to a story headlined “2 Front-Runners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Find Their Words Can Be Weapons.” Readers quickly learned, if they had missed it previously, that Trump frequently used words like “bimbo,” “dog,” and “fat pig” to refer to some of the women he didn’t like, and this had led to disapproval ratings among women that reached historic proportions. And what “weapons” did Clinton give her adversaries? During a recent speech in coal country, she had suggested that her support for sustainable, clean-energy jobs would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

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What's Next for Bernie Sanders' Grassroots Army?

The truth is, nobody knows how this story ends. We know what was supposed to 
happen: Bernie Sanders was a sideshow act, a relic to entertain the kids. After warming up the crowds and falling amusingly on his face in the primaries, Sanders was supposed to disappear, leaving the audience happy to settle down for four—or eight—more years of grown-up government under the Clintons. Instead, Sanders waged a campaign that stunned both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment. Raising in excess of $200 million through more than 7.4 million contributions, he proved that candidates no longer need rich donors or corporate money to compete.

Winning in state after state, Sanders refused to triangulate, instead expanding the American political universe to the left, putting the vision of a social democracy whose fruits have long been taken for granted in much of 
Europe—state-funded childcare, paid family leave, universal healthcare, free tuition at public colleges and 
universities—back on the American agenda. On foreign policy, too, he shattered decades-long taboos, denouncing the legacy of “regime change” from Chile to Iran, and even daring to defy the ban on criticizing Israel.

By the time the last primary votes are cast in California, Sanders will have taken his political revolution further than anyone—including Sanders himself—ever imagined possible. And if he’s had little impact on Clinton’s hawkish stance abroad, on the home front Sanders can claim victories in opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and in supporting a $15 minimum wage and even, as of a few weeks ago, Medicaid expansion. Bernie Sanders has won the battle of ideas, hands down.

But he isn’t going to be president. So if Bernie’s Army isn’t marching to the White House, where is it going? Over the past two weeks, I’ve spoken with dozens of Sanders supporters, staffers, and volunteers, in states from Vermont to Florida, California to the Carolinas. I heard both anger and acceptance, but very little agreement—although in all of those interviews, I didn’t find a single person who said they were going to work just as hard for Hillary Clinton. The closest I came was Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, the group founded by Howard Dean after his candidacy imploded in 2004. Although Dean, who is now a superdelegate, backed Clinton, DFA members voted overwhelmingly to endorse Sanders.

“Of the 88 percent that chose Bernie Sanders, 98 percent of them told us to endorse the nominee,” says Chamberlain, who also believes that Sanders should “continue to lead the political revolution. If he needs to set up his own organization to do that, then that’s a smart move.”

So far, though, Sanders has said nothing about his plans. Although all of the activists I spoke with would welcome his involvement, whatever happens after the primaries, four main groups have already begun to form:

• The Occupy Democrats, who see the Democratic Party as ripe for a takeover.

• Brand New Congress, an effort launched last month to elect a Congress in 2018 that will “enact Bernie’s program” regardless of who’s in the White House.

• The Working Families Party, which in many states provided the ground troops for the Sanders campaign and is now benefiting from—and struggling to digest—a huge influx of new recruits.

• The People’s Summit, an alliance of National Nurses United and People for Bernie—the latter a coalition of activists and online groups like Vets for Bernie and Jews for Bernie—that has called a “gathering of the tribes” in Chicago on June 17–19 and represents more of the “movement” elements of the Sanders campaign.

None of these people want Sanders to drop out before the convention or to run with one hand tied behind his back. But the groups do differ—on strategy, tactics, and most of all on their degree of distance from the Democratic Party. Like many divisions on the left, you can also read that as a contest between pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.

* * *

Larry Cohen has long been a paladin in 
the party of optimism. The former president of the Communications Workers of America founded Labor for Bernie last July and is a close adviser to Sanders and frequent surrogate on the campaign trail. He predicts that “the campaign will be there in force” at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this July, but he also expects the party to unify behind the nominee. “This isn’t about being in opposition” to Hillary Clinton or anybody else, he said. “It’s about what we stand for.”

At the convention, Cohen wants to see changes in the rules regarding superdelegates. “They need to be eliminated, or at least prevented from voting on nominations.” He also wants changes that limit the role of big money in the nominating process, such as a pledge from all Democratic candidates to reject absolutely the involvement of super PACs in the primaries. In short, Cohen adds, “the party must move toward populism and away from control by the financial elite.”

Cohen also thinks a progressive platform is worth fighting for—an effort bolstered by a recent deal between the campaigns and the party that allowed Sanders to name five out of 15 members of the platform committee. (Sanders chose African-American scholar Cornel West, climate-change activist Bill McKibben, Representative Keith Ellison, Arab American Institute president James Zogby, and Native-American activist Deborah Parker.)

“Platform planks don’t just exist on the platform,” Cohen points out. “They can send a clear message to Obama and Congress: ‘No TPP’—we can stop that slipping through in a lame-duck session. ‘We need a living wage of $15 an hour.’”

And though the nomination may be beyond Sanders’s grasp, Cohen thinks the Vermont senator is entitled to a considerable say over the direction of the party. “In some states, the Sanders forces already are the dominant structure, and we need to claim it. That’s probably going to be true for at least 20 states.” Instead of acting as ballot fodder while the party takes its cue from corporate donors, progressives “need to act like the majority. Because we are the majority,” Cohen adds—especially if you factor in voters who resisted Sanders’ candidacy but respond positively to his message.

Chris Covert, who ran the Sanders campaign in South Carolina, points to the appointment of Christale Spain, the campaign’s state political director, as executive director of the state party as an example of the way “Bernie-crats” are already making an impact. “Our people are very organized, very determined,” says Covert. “We’re going to see a lot of young people running 
for office.”

* * *

Stacey Hopkins started pushing back 
against the claim that Sanders couldn’t connect with black voters last summer. A mainstay of Atlanta for Bernie Sanders, Hopkins tells me: “I refuse to sit back and watch this incredible energy go dormant once again.” Her focus, however, isn’t on Philadelphia this July, but on 2018. “As far as the Democratic Party is concerned, I had an epiphany: It’s their party, and they can do what they want to. But I don’t have to attend.”

She’s decided her activism can be put to better use working for Brand New Congress. “When we talk about parties—especially when we talk about African Americans—there’s a machine that will protect their candidates.” Doing battle with that machine in Georgia—where Clinton pulled over 70 percent of the vote, and 85 percent of the black vote—gave Hopkins a respect for the machine’s strength. But it also showed her a way in: through the widening gap between the interests of the party’s corporate funders and its base among working people and the poor.

“We are seeing the rift that the Democratic Party has denied for so long crack wide open,” Hopkins says. “At the moment, we don’t really have a choice. Their strategy now is ‘Vote for us—because look at the other side!’ People are getting tired of being told, ‘We’ll get to you in a minute.’”

Brand New Congress aims to give people a choice—in every district in the country. “Let’s run one campaign to replace Congress all at once (except those already on board) that whips up the same enthusiasm, volunteerism and money as Bernie’s presidential campaign,” says the group’s website. Zack Exley, who was the Wikimedia Foundation’s chief revenue officer before he started traveling the country to lead “Bernie Barnstorms” that trained thousands of volunteers for the Sanders campaign, is one of the group’s founders. They’re targeting the 2018 midterms because, Exley told me, “it takes a while to build the infrastructure to win elections—especially against entrenched incumbents.” The plan is to “recruit a full slate of candidates from people who are not politicians. People who never considered running for office. The majority will be women. A disproportionate number will be people of color. These will be people who are really good at what they do—nurses, engineers, teachers. People who have chances to sell out—but didn’t.”

That prompts lots of questions, beginning with how Brand New Congress can possibly win with progressive candidates in deep-red districts. Exley says the strategy is still up for discussion. And while the group may have set a hugely ambitious goal, I’ve met too many accomplished Sanders organizers in too many states who told me their only contact with campaign headquarters was “a visit from this guy Zack Exley” to dismiss the effort out of hand.

Ramon Ryan, a former organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees who’s been working for Sanders in Nashville, said the campaign taught him “how effective we can be organizing ourselves in our own communities.” Tennessee was another tough environment for Sanders supporters, and after the primary “a lot of us have been struggling to figure out where we fit in,” Ryan says. For him, Brand New Congress—which aims to build on the Sanders network, letting local campaigns run their own show while giving them access to a unified national campaign and national online fund-raising—offers an alternative to surrender or a return to marginality. “We’ve seen how the nature of presidential campaigns has changed from Dean to Obama to Sanders,” Ryan tells me. “We want to take this model and apply it to Congress. I love the simplicity of being able to use one campaign to effect so much change.”

* * *

When I last spoke with Billie McFadden, she was “on the road for Bernie,” changing a tire somewhere in California. Before that she was a volunteer shepherding the Sanders delegation at the now-infamous Nevada Democratic Convention, where Sanders supporters became enraged after some of their delegation were excluded and their motions dismissed by Nevada Democratic chairwoman Roberta Lange, who later became the target of sexist abuse. “I’m still confident that this man will be our next president,” McFadden told me in mid-May. But that hasn’t prevented her and others in the Nevada Sanders campaign from also starting a branch of the Working Families Party.

“We’re not abandoning the Democratic Party,” says Shirley Schludecker, another Las Vegas Sanderista who’s joined the WFP. I ask Shirley’s partner, Tazo Schafer, whether the unruly state convention would keep Sanders voters home on Election Day. “Most people are not going to give up on the possible for the ideal,” Schafer replies. “But we will want to hold people accountable.”

That yearning for accountability is a key part of the WFP’s appeal. “We’ve attracted a lot of new members in the fallout from the Nevada convention,” Schafer says. The idea is to create a vehicle—one both inside and outside the Democratic Party—to wrest power from the hands of the party establishment. In New York, the WFP has been both helped and hindered by its dependence on fusion laws that give it a line on the ballot, but also make its members ineligible to vote in the Democratic primary. Nevada doesn’t allow fusion voting, so the WFP is piloting a new strategy aimed at building a large membership base. Without a ballot line, the Nevada WFP functions more like a faction—or a caucus—than a party.

Why build a separate organization? The danger with an inside-only strategy, say WFP leaders, is that without a distinct identity, progressives will get shut out of power—or coopted. The WFP’s national director, Dan Cantor, once told me: “You can’t occupy the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party will end by occupying you.” Or as Waleed Shahid, a talented young organizer I met on the Sanders campaign in Philadelphia, put it: “The biggest lesson to be learned from the Tea Party’s playbook is that they don’t work for the Republicans ; they make the Republicans work for them.”

Bill Lipton, the WFP’s state director in New York, warns “there’s a lot of danger now for the left in a Clinton candidacy.” Reflecting on the New York primary, which saw most white progressives backing Sanders while Clinton took a heavy majority of the black vote, Lipton urges: “Let’s not rush into something—and replicate that racial fault line.” He’s also doubtful about Brand New Congress’ reliance on social media. “We’ve been working on this for almost 20 years,” he says. “You need a party—rooted in ideology, with an organic connection to a social base, and with a desire over the long term to systematically recruit people to run for office to contest state power.”

* * *

Charles Lenchner is also wary of quick 
fixes. Back in 2013, he helped to start Ready for Warren, less as a vehicle for the Massachusetts senator and more as “a left power-building project,” he says. When Sanders announced, Lenchner cofounded People for Bernie. He argues that “the digital era has created a new basis for politics.”

“We used to need political parties to organize ideas—and they, in turn, would sponsor newspapers as a way of spreading their ideas. Now there are alternative methods to make a candidate viable, whether that’s through leveraging reality-TV celebrity, as Trump did, or through social media,” Lenchner says. “People for Bernie has had 2.5 billion interactions—shares, posts, comments, Facebook likes. There’s something out there. My prediction is it will continue.”

In a sense, the People’s Summit is a holding action. Not because the people involved are waiting for a signal from on high—“Bernie is not really an organization builder,” Lenchner notes—but because there is no shortcut to the hard work of building a genuinely diverse movement. “You have to understand that the early adopters for any effort are going to be a relatively privileged cohort,” Lenchner says. “That’s who can put in the time. So you have to always ask yourself, ‘Who are the leaders we want to have? And how is that different from who is in the room right now?’”

“We like Bernie,” said Leslie Lee III, the writer who, fed up with way “people used identity politics to keep the left and minorities apart,” came up with the Twitter hashtag #BernieMadeMeWhite. “But we don’t likelike Bernie… we respect him. And we do understand the limitations of Bernie as a politician.” For Lee and other millennial activists, the Sanders campaign was a vehicle, not a destination.

Lenchner says he has no idea whether a dozen different groups will show up in Chicago—or a thousand. “The question is: How many will still exist in a year or two? For now our role is to support these groups wherever they are. Whatever position they take on Hillary—or whatever.”

* * *

Sanders himself has pledged to support 
the Democratic nominee—and though he may not do so as fast or as fulsomely as Clinton’s supporters would like, he has never shown any desire to play the spoiler. Especially when the alternative is Donald Trump, a candidate he describes as “a pathological liar” who “has promoted hatred and division against Latinos, Muslims, women, and people with disabilities.” How quickly, and enthusiastically, Sanders fulfills his pledge will indeed be a test of leadership—for both him and Clinton.

Back in February, I asked Amos Miers, an Occupy Tampa veteran organizing in St. Petersburg, what would happen if Sanders didn’t win the nomination. “A third of our people will vote for Hillary, no problem,” he said. “Another third will never vote for her. And a third will do whatever Bernie says to do.”

At the time, I thought his estimate of the Bernie-or-Busters was far too high. But listen to Wendy Sejour, a former secretary of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party still on the board of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida: “I have always believed in the values of the Democratic Party. FDR is one of my heroes. But what’s happening now breaks my heart. I am not—not—
supporting Hillary Clinton in any shape or form.” Sejour, too, has signed up for Brand New Congress.

“The folks I know will vote Green,” says Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “I’m sick and tired of the lesser of two evils. I’m a registered Democrat, but they screwed us too many times.” He’s going to the People’s Summit.

Not even the specter of Donald Trump scares David Fredrick, who cofounded Grassroots for Sanders back in 2013. “We didn’t decide to support Bernie because we thought that Bernie was going to come in and save the day,” he says. “The ultimate goal is to get people away from Bernie Sanders and into going out and doing things. If Trump becomes president, I see a lot of anger; if Hillary wins, I see a lot of people sliding back to apathy.” And while Fredrick, a furniture designer from San Jose, might possibly be described as a “bro,” that label hardly applies to Espey, who is too old, or to Sejour, an African-American woman.

Nor is it so easy to dismiss Daniela Perdoma, the tech entrepreneur who created “If the DNC are smart, they’ll realize the future is in the Sanders-
Warren wing,” she says. “But I’m not sure they are, frankly. Though I am hopeful that at the convention they’ll finally [recognize] that no matter who the candidate is, the party’s platform has to look more like Bernie’s than Hillary’s in order to win the White House.”

* * *

This doesn’t have to all end in tragedy. But it 
might. Because even if America could survive a Trump presidency—a doubtful proposition—we simply can’t afford to throw away the energy, the idealism, the thirst for justice that the Sanders campaign has revealed and revived. In the long run, that probably matters even more than who sits in the Oval Office.

For the Democrats, the road to reconciliation is not obscure. Sanders is right to rail at our rigged system—but if the Democrats win in November thanks in part to his ideas and his voters, he’ll be positioned to do something about it, fighting in the Senate alongside Elizabeth Warren and still the leader of a political movement that was always about more than winning the presidency.

If by some miracle he ends up with more votes and more pledged delegates than Clinton, she’ll need to step aside gracefully. More likely that will be Sanders’ role. Clinton can—and should—do a lot to make that easier, by remembering what it felt like when she came up short in 2008 and dropping the campaign to pre-position Sanders supporters for blame if she loses in November. Heartbreak doesn’t have to be fatal.

“If he doesn’t want to spend the fall saying nice things about Hillary, he can do issue events instead,” says Steve Cobble, 
cofounder of Progressive Democrats of America. “Besides, he doesn’t have to say Hillary is a goddess to point out that Donald Trump is a fraud.”

Sanders could also make good on his slogan “Not Me. US.” by supporting the wave of Berniecrats that his campaign has inspired to run for office—people like Dimitri Cherny, a former CEO turned truck driver running against Mark Sanford in South Carolina, or Jamie Raskin (who’s also joined Brand New Congress) in Maryland. Indeed, the Sanders campaign has already endorsed and raised money for Pramila Jayapal in Washington, Lucy Flores in Nevada, and Zephyr Teachout in New York, as well as for a slate of eight statehouse candidates from South Carolina to California. (Though a welcome move, Sanders’ recent endorsement of Tim Canova in Florida had a strong element of payback for DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s latest scolding.)

What Sanders himself decides to do with the power he has acquired is enormously important. Ultimately, though, what his people—Bernie’s Army—do with their power is even more important. And that might take some time to figure out.

“Movements are messy,” Larry Cohen points out. “That’s a good thing about movements: People have to try different things to figure out what works.”

“We have to be connected and stay in touch with each other,” says Leslie Lee III. Like everyone else I interviewed, Lee has no intention of giving up the fight—or the power he’s discovered these past few months. “Liberals were afraid of using their power. We have to get over that.” But he, too, understands that real change takes time—and is seldom smooth.

“Everybody might have to stay in their lanes for a while, fight their fights,” he says. “And it does not come together like a Voltron at the end. It’s not going to come together neatly.

What Black Americans Say About 'Black-On-Black' Gun Violence

Over Memorial Day weekend, at least 69 people were shot in Chicago. If past trends continue, most of them are people of color. Mass shootings in places like Newtown, Aurora, and San Bernardino grab national attention, but gun violence is a regular part of life in many communities of color. Among boys and men ages 15-34, for example, African Americans are over 20 times more likely than whites to be victims of gun homicide.

While more attention to gun violence in communities of color is sorely needed, too often existing coverage focuses on “black-on-black” dysfunction rather than structural causes and potential solutions.

A recent New York Times story provides an example. “A Drumbeat of Multiple Shootings, but America is Not Listening” chronicled the victims of 358 shootings with four or more deaths or injuries. Many stemmed from arguments over a petty grievance, an insult, or another sign of disrespect. The story emphasized the “black-on-black” nature of gun violence, and suggested black activists expend too much energy protesting police violence against African Americans and too little energy focused on “routine gun violence.” While the story’s narrative describing the death of an innocent bystander put a compelling face on statistics, the story did not offer meaningful solutions.

The problem of gun violence stems not just from petty grievances among impulsive youth of color, however, but from larger structural issues such as credibility of law enforcement, easy access to guns, and a lack of job skills and opportunities. Communities of color care about both gun violence and police violence. Further, communities of color are not simply sources of problems—they also provide important solutions.

Last month, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the Urban Institute, and the Joyce Foundation released Engaging Communities in Reducing Gun Violence: A Road Map for Safer Communities. Our research debunked the notion that African Americans are less attentive to the problem of gun violence than police violence.

In compiling this report, we brought together and listened to residents of communities hard-hit by gun violence—faith leaders, formerly incarcerated individuals, law enforcement, elected officials, social service providers, community activists, and others. Most of the participants were black or Latino—people like Fathers & Families of San Joaquin Executive Director Sammy Nunez; Petersburg, Virginia, Police Chief John Dixon; and Wanda Montgomery of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Others were members of our steering committee and have devoted their careers to building safer communities—people like Gary, Indiana, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson; Rev. Michael McBride of PICO National Network; and Kayla Hicks of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. We then tested the ideas that emerged against a nationwide survey of 600 African Americans and 600 Latinos conducted by Benenson Strategy Group (BSG) and Ron Lester and Associates.

While about half of African Americans we surveyed nationally described police brutality (54 percent) and police misconduct (50 percent) in America as extremely serious problems, 80 percent of African Americans described gun violence in America as an extremely serious problem. Indeed, rather than discounting gun violence or seeing it in a silo isolated from police violence, many African Americans see the problems as interconnected. For example, 61 percent of African Americans agreed with the statement that “fewer guns on the streets would improve the relationship between the police and the communities they serve.”

Similarly, the communities with which we met thought improving police-community relationships was a key factor in reducing gun violence. Distrust that stems from arbitrary stops and discriminatory enforcement makes residents less willing to work with police, and makes communities less safe.

Solutions put forth by community members were supported by the survey research. Over 90 percent of African Americans and Latinos supported strengthening police accountability through civilian review boards, body-worn cameras, and racial bias assessment and training of police (including new recruits). Over 76 percent of both groups support prioritizing enforcement on higher-level gun violence offenders rather than lower-level “broken windows” offenders.

Community members also emphasized other solutions that address structural factors that underlie gun violence.

For example, community residents recommended limiting access to guns by the small group of people at high risk of engaging in violence—sometimes no more than 0.25 to 1 percent of a city’s population. Rather than looking to greater penalties for handgun possession that could increase mass incarceration, community members emphasized universal background checks, mandatory reporting for lost and stolen firearms, and increased oversight of licensed firearm dealers. Each proposal was supported by over 86 percent of African Americans and Latinos in the survey research. These restrictions are seen as reducing rather than fueling mass incarceration. About three-quarters of both African Americans and Latinos agreed that “if we keep guns out of the wrong hands, we can also help decrease the number of people who are in prison.”

Community members also recognized that areas hardest hit by gun violence often have suffered disinvestment of resources by companies and the public sector, and that many of those at high risk to commit or to be victimized by gun violence face a lack of job skills and opportunities, addiction, and other challenges. Thus, our report recommends increased investment in social services targeted at high-risk populations and their families, such as drug treatment, mental health services, job training and placement, and conflict interrupters who mediate disputes and discourage retaliation. Over 92 percent of African Americans and over 88 percent of Latinos support solutions like job training, life skills support, and mental health counseling available to young people and people just released from jail or prison.

In addition to these solutions, we heard a deep desire for community members to engage with law enforcement, elected officials, and other community leaders in developing and implementing solutions to gun violence.

While we should be honest and give much-needed attention to gun violence in communities of color, we need to consider all the facts. Focusing largely on shallow black-on-black spats makes gun violence a “black and brown” problem, masks deeper structural causes of gun violence, and obscures the responsibility of all Americans to help solve the problem. Our new research suggests that communities that are most affected by gun violence understand the challenges, know the solutions that will have the greatest impact, and are eager to be at the table to drive those solutions forward.


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