Bernie Sanders has annoyed political pundits and party strategists alike with his stubborn insistence on taking his campaign all the way to the Democratic party convention in July. On Tuesday evening he told supporters in Santa Monica, after the California primary: “We are going to fight hard to win the primary in Washington DC. And then we take our fight for social, economic, racial and environmental justice to Philadelphia.”
The New York Times described his speech as one of “striking stubbornness” that “ignored the history-making achievement of his Democratic rival.” Although Clinton has presented her delegate count as a victory for women’s rights, it is more a victory for the Democratic party machine, aided by the media that announced her presumptive nomination for presidential candidate on Tuesday, just before voting began in California and five other primaries.
Even after Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren had formally endorsed Clinton on Thursday, Sanders’ supporters backed his decision to carry on. Iliana Jaime, 18, a high school senior, welcomed the stance and said she wanted Sanders to remain in the race until the convention next month. “I don’t think a revolution ends with a certain number of delegates,” she said. “It’s crucial he keeps going until the end. His impact is really obvious in a lot of ways aside from just being president. It would kind of be giving into the system that he is trying to reject if he did drop out at this point.”
Sanders told a rally in Washington DC that the campaign would go on because it is “based on a vision that our country must focus on social justice, on economic justice, on racial justice, on environmental justice. And when the overwhelming majority of young people support that vision, that will be the future of America.”
The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote that “Clinton may take the nomination, but Sanders surely has won the political debate. … He has astounded even his supporters, winning more than 20 contests, 10 million votes and 1,500 pledged delegates, the most of any true insurgent in modern history. He has captured the support of young voters by record margins. And he did so less with personal charisma than with the power of his ideas and the force of the integrity demonstrated by spurning traditional deep-pocketed donors in favor of grass-roots fundraising. … Sanders has already nudged Clinton to the left on key issues during the campaign, including trade policy and the minimum wage. The Democratic National Committee made one important concession last month by allowing Sanders to name five strong progressive allies to the platform committee (though the DNC also vetoed one Sanders pick, National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro, on the strange grounds that it did not want labor leaders on the candidate’s lists).”
While early on Clinton was able to leverage her appeal among African American voters, especially in the South, by the end of the campaign Sanders appeared to have overcome his early missteps with this section of the American public. The Washington Post reported: “Summoning congregants last week in a historic East Oakland sanctuary that helped give rise to the civil rights movement and the Black Panther Party, he spoke passionately about the plight of many blacks: Too many children are raised in poverty, too many youths can’t afford to go to college and can’t find jobs, too many adults are locked in jails. The system is rigged against them, and he vowed to change it. The audience rose in applause and affirmation. There were hurrahs and smiles and shouts of ‘Amen!’ ”
Sanders has headed a movement that is not going to go away after the presidential election. Unlike Obama’s campaign in 2008, the movement is independent of his campaign organization, being based on a grassroots bottom-up approach rather than a top-down model. In particular, he has energized youth to support his social democratic program. The Huffington Post commented: “Sanders has not demagogued his way into relevance among the impressionable youth. He has simply stated their legitimate grievances directly and forcefully. Young people have been hit hard by the country’s economic anemia. It’s not surprising that they gravitated to the candidate calling for a major overhaul of the system. … Bernie Sanders did not create the movement that political pundits like to credit him with. He has, instead, spent a year serving rather effectively as the voice of people left behind by a broken economy. And until that economy is fixed, the movement will not go away, no matter who rises to lead it.”
A major survey of youth voters between 17 and 19 years old found overwhelming support for Sanders: 1.94 million voted for Sanders compared to 727,000 for Clinton. The Guardian reported: “Jasmine Brown, a student at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, is one of those young voters. She grew up two hours east of Orangeburg in Georgetown, where, according to the 2010 census, 24.1% of people live below the poverty line, a figure that rises to 34.9% for those younger than 18…. Brown came away from [Sanders’ rally] inspired. She would go back to Georgetown, back to the projects where she grew up, to tell young people – some of them in danger of going down the wrong path – that there was hope for the future. … She travels back to her home city every weekend, revisiting the Georgetown projects where she grew up, speaking to students from her old school.”
Brown says many students look up to her as someone who came from that neighbourhood and made it to college. “I don’t brag about what I’m doing, but I let them know: ‘Just because you’re from this area you can go out and, you know, do big things’.” Even if Sanders does not win the nomination, Brown says, she will continue to support him away from the presidential race.
While most of Sanders’ supporters will vote for Clinton in November to keep out Trump, many of his passionate volunteers will turn to state and local political fights to advance the ideas of the campaign. “Brand New Congress,” co-founded by the former director of organizing technology in the Sanders campaign, intends to impact the 435 Congressional seats up for election in 2018. “The idea is to pull in people who have not necessarily been involved politics before, people who are not willing to compromise their principles, people who truly believe that we can regain our democracy,” Yolanda Gonzalez, a BNC Team Leader told AlterNet.
Gonzalez, a teacher for 20 years, was the Latino Outreach Coordinator for the Bernie Sanders campaign and has spent a large part of the past year volunteering for campaign events in the Southwest. “These same volunteers [that] are often dismissed by campaigns are super organized and passionate about the political revolution,” Gonzalez explained.
The House and state elections are the battleground that the plutocratic elite is also aiming for with their checkbooks: billionaires like the Koch brothers have given up on the presidential race because of the disarray in the Republican camp. Trump’s nomination has coincided with a fragmentation of the campaign after his racist attacks on the judge in the fraud case against the real estate “Trump University,” which stepped over a line even for conservatives.
It’s possible the Democrats will take both the Senate and the House in November, because of the Republican meltdown; but what will dominate the political future of the United States is the social movement that has built up rejecting Clinton’s neoliberalism and Trump’s racism.