Election 2016

Sanders Launches 'Our Revolution,' Dedicated to a Progressive Agenda and Better Democratic Party

Reminds supporters of all they accomplished and the work ahead.

Bernie Sanders’ revolution seeking a kinder, fairer, more egalitarian and dignified America will continue, working to elect progressive candidates, introducing nationally significant state ballot measures and pushing the Democratic Party to abide by its recently adopted platform, the ex-presidential candidate told thousands of supporters in a national webcast Wednesday night.

“We changed the conversation regarding the possibilities of our country—that is what we changed,” Sanders said. “We redefined what the vision and the future of our country should be and that is no small thing. And what our campaign showed, making the establishment very very unhappy—and that is a good thing—what our campaign showed the world is that the American people are prepared to stand up to a corrupt campaign finance system, a rigged economy, a broken criminal justice system and the global threat posed by the fossil fuel industry that is destroying our planet through their carbon emissions.”

The webcast was previewed as the launch of a new national progressive campaign organization, called Our Revolution, to pay forward the energy of the Sanders campaign that received 13 million votes nationally, won 22 states and virtually tied Hillary Clinton in several others. But it also served as an opportunity for Sanders to remind volunteers and followers about their accomplishments and to again feel the energy that was kindled by the campaign.

“It is important to say a few words about what we accomplished together, because by understanding what we accomplished we will know where we have to go in the future,” Sanders said. “As I have said a million times, and what I believe in the essence of my soul, is that real change never ever takes place from the top on down. It’s not some guy signing a bill. It always takes place from the bottom on up, when millions of people come together and demand fundamental change in the country.”

Sanders went on to cast his presidential campaign as part of a continuum that spanned decades and includes the trade union movement, the ending of child labor, women winning the right to vote, and the civil rights movement and now faces the unfinished business of addressing racial, social, economic and environmental injustices in America and across the planet. Before listing a litany of progressive stances that were adopted by Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party platform and Democratic candidates running for state and federal office—all as evidence of the Sanders campaign's unexpected and deep impact on the nation’s political culture and electorate—Sanders reminded those in the audience in Burlington, Vermont and watching online at 2,600 house parties across America, that their values and agenda were embraced by a majority of young Americans.

“Here is what I think is most important,” he began. “We won overwhelming support, in I believe every state in this country where we competed, from young people, people 45 years of age and younger. And by the end of the campaign, we were winning good majorities, not only from white young people, but from black youth, Latino youth, Asian-American youth, Native American youth, all across the board… The importance of that is when you capture, by large majorities, the young people of this country, it means that our ideas, our vision, is the future of this country.”

Sanders went on to describe what those ideas were and how many have been adopted by the Democratic mainstream, when just a few years ago they would have been dismissed as fringe. Though Sanders didn’t once say why it was important to support Hillary Clinton for president, which is surely going to be criticized by national political pundits, he did say several times that she adopted positions the campaign raised, such as making public college and universities tuition-free.

“If somebody had said that two to three years ago, what somebody would have responded is, You’re crazy! That’s too radical for the United States of America, making public colleges and universities tuition-free! Will not happen in our lifetime!” he said. “Well, guess what, as of today, there are Democratic candidates all over this country, running for the Senate, running for the House, and you know what they are campaigning on? Making public colleges and universities tuition-free.”

“And also, dealing with the horrific situation facing millions of Americans, in terms of outrageously high student debt. That is now mainstream,” he continued. “Now, I was able to work with Secretary Clinton, didn’t get her 100 percent onboard, but she is now out there talking about a proposal to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for every family in America earning less than $125,000 a year, 83 percent of our population. You know what? That is a major step forward.”

Sanders continued in that vein, listing the issues his campaign raised that have now been embraced by Democrats and even some Republicans. Those included raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour—which is doubling the current federal minimum wage; making people who earn more than $250,000 a year pay more in taxes, which polls say is now supported by 54 percent of Republicans; expanding Social Security retirement benefits, instead of cutting them; and reforming the criminal justice system, such as the Justice Department’s announcement it will stop using privatized prisons.

Sanders, of course, also listed what needed to be added to that national political to-do list, such as guaranteeing health care as a right via a Medicare-for-all national health-care program; and stopping pharmaceutical companies from making tens of billions yearly when one in five people cannot afford to fill the prescriptions their doctors have ordered. He also praised Clinton for agreeing to double federal funding of community health centers, which he said would “create universal access to primary health care in America,” adding that was “no small thing.”

Then he turned to trade agreements, spending 10 minutes discussing why the Trans-Pacific Partnership must be defeated when it comes before Congress later in the fall. There are two main reasons: First, international trade agreements force American workers to compete with workers overseas who are paid pennies per hour, he said, causing a “race to the bottom” that benefits corporate bottom lines but abandons American workers. But they also contain what’s known as “investor state dispute" mechanisms, in which a private company can go before an international panel of corporate lawyers and try to collect billions from governments whose political decisions are impacting future profits. Sanders said Trans Canada, the corporation that wanted to build the Keystone XL pipeline which President Obama rejected, is suing the U.S. for $15 billion under those provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“The idea that a major, multinational corporation can sue us for $15 billion because the president made the decision that he thought right tells you what trade agreements are all about. They are designed to protect corporate profits and the hell with the environment, human rights, health care or the needs of the people,” he said. “And that is why the TPP has got to be defeated.”

Our Revolution

Three-quarters of an hour after he took the stage, Sanders turned to the launch of Our Revolution, saying it was the next step in his progressive political mission.

“Tonight, I think the question on the minds of a lot of people—OK, we ran a great campaign. We woke up the American people. But where do we go from here? And that’s kind of what tonight is about,” he said. “So 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 involved hundreds of thousands of people,” he continued. “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, health-care 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.”

Sanders said “a new, very diverse board of strong progressive men and women from across this country” was being put together to lead it. The chair will be Larry Cohen, the ex-president of the Communication Workers of America, who led the campaign’s anti-TPP protests at the Democratic National Convention. “As a United States senator, I will not be directing or controlling Our Revolution, but I have the utmost confidence that this leadership team and the board being assembled shares the progressive values we all hold and I expect very big things from them, and from all of you who join with them to carry the political revolution forward.”

Sanders gave a few examples of candidates and ballot measures that the groups will be supporting. He cited Vernon Miller, a native American teacher running for local school board in Nebraska; San Francisco supervisor Jane Kim running for the California State Senate; Mari Cordes, a nurse and union activist who just won the state Assembly primary in Vermont; Zephyr Teachout, who is the Democratic nominee running for the U.S. House from upstate New York; and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, seeking to return to the Senate. (He didn’t name Tim Canova, who is challenging former DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a Florida primary that votes next week.)

Sanders also said Our Revolution would be supporting a Washington ballot measure seeking to overturn the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that further deregulated federal campaign finance laws; California's Prop. 61, which would require state government to pay no more than the federal Veterans Administration for prescription drugs; and a Colorado ballot measure to create a statewide single-payer health-care system.

He predicted that Our Revolution would endorse upwards of “100-plus” candidates and ballot measures for the fall 2016 election and be active for a long time.

“In the months and years to come, Our Revolution will be involved in one important fight after another,” he said. “We have got to stand with our brothers and sisters all over this country in the fight to reform a broken criminal justice system and for comprehensive immigration reform, and also to end the injustices that are currently taking place again the native American people all over this country….
“But let me just conclude on a personal note,” he said. “I speak of Jane and my whole family in thanking all of you for the love and support you gave us all over this country. As I have said many times, election days come and go, but the struggle for justice continues. Thank you all very much.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet. He is the author of several books on elections, most recently Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election (March 2018, Hot Books).


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