Bernie Sanders returns to the political stage on Wednesday to try to do what no progressive has successfully done in decades—keep alive national grassroots momentum that led millions to support him and his agenda in 2016’s presidential nominating contests.
At 9 PM Eastern, Sanders will address 2,600-plus meetings across the country to lay out the next steps in pushing the nation’s politics toward the progressive left. He will kick off a new group called Our Revolution, which will support like-minded candidates running for office and hold pro-corporate officeholders accountable on key issues.
Pressuring Congress to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact is perhaps the foremost immediate example.
“At this meeting, I and others will lay out some of the next steps we can take as a movement to empower a wave of progressive candidates this November and win the major upcoming fights for the values we share,” Sanders said in an e-mail to participants. “We’ll also talk about how you can be a key movement builder in your community for Our Revolution.”
Those 2016 candidates include House primary winners Pramila Jayapal (Washington), Zephyr Teachout (New York) and Tim Canova (Florida) who faces ex-DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a primary next week, and others seeking statewide office.
Sanders also will start campaigning for Hillary Clinton after Labor Day, The Washington Post reported. “I look forward to it. I feel very strongly that Donald Trump would be a disaster for the country. I want to do everything I can to see that Secretary Clinton wins.”
He is likely to hold rallies in swing states where he won caucuses or primaries, such as New Hampshire, Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin, and in others where he did well among voters who will be pivotal this fall—in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
While his next steps might more accurately be called evolutionary rather than revolutionary, Sanders has been anticipating building a national organization to train and field candidates for many weeks now, as well as planning to campaign in the fall for Clinton.
“If we are successful, what it will mean is that the progressive message and the issues that I campaigned on will be increasingly spread throughout this country,” he told USA Today before the Democratic Convention. “The goal here is to do what I think the Democratic establishment has not been very effective in doing. And that is—at the grassroots level—encourage people to get involved, give them the tools they need to win, help them financially.”
This past week, Sanders thanked supporters in an e-mail and reminded them what they had accomplished during his more than yearlong presidential campaign.
“We have transformed American politics,” he said. “On issue after issue—making college affordable, progressive taxation, climate change, trade and many others—more and more Americans are agreeing with us. People are ready to take on the 1 percent. During our campaign we assembled a movement of millions of people ready to fight for the country we know we can become. Election days come and go, but the struggle for economic, social, racial and environmental justice must continue. We have the guts and the energy to take on the special interests, win critical battles on the most important issues of our time, and redefine what’s possible in this country. Now it’s time for all of us to get to work. Please be part of our new organization, Our Revolution.”
The campaign did more than that. They also convinced the Democratic Party to adopt a series of ideological and electoral reforms to make it more welcoming for progressives. On the ideological front, Sanders’ team prompted substantive reforms of the Democratic Party platform, pushing the party’s political goals to the left. Procedurally, they convinced it to eliminate most super-delegates, making future presidential contests more receptive to grassroots insurgencies. And they won a commitment to review and reform how states holding presidential caucuses run those contests and award delegates.
While many Sanders supporters have been awaiting the campaign’s future plans, others have been busy creating new efforts to elect a more progressive Congress. One cadre of former staffers created a group called Brand New Congress, which hopes to recruit and support like-minded candidates running for every congressional seat in 2018. They are not looking for elected officials who want to climb the political ladder, but rather leaders in their communities and fields.
In their nationwide conference call last week, they reported having 30,000 supporters nationwide, 8,000 small donors raising $40,000, 35,000 likes on social media and 1.1 million people visiting their Facebook page in the past month. They are hoping to have a presidential-style campaign, where candidates challenge incumbents in what has traditionally been low-turnout primary elections in non-presidential years. They are also holding meetings and organizing themselves based on congressional district. During their call, organizers said they were hoping their efforts would be complimentary to what Sanders will be rolling out in Our Revolution.
In the meantime, there have been a series of behind-the-scenes news reports that Our Revolution has faced a series of bumps and staff disputes. Last week, ABC-TV raised questions about its 501(c)4 non-profit tax category, suggesting that was positioning to raise large anonymous donations. Politico.com reportedTuesday that four of 15 staffers abruptly left in a split pitting longtime top Sanders aides against the campaign’s younger organizing and online fundraising talent. NBC News reported that eight staffers left, frustrated they would have to work with Jeff Weaver, his presidential campaign manager and longtime aide.