As the July Democratic convention gets closer, the party establishment is mounting pressure on Bernie Sanders to step down and give Hillary Clinton an uncontested path to the presidential nomination. They have been abetted by their allies in the corporate press who until recently have ignored the Vermont senator’s campaign, but now breathlessly repeat uncorroborated allegations of violence by Sanders’ supporters at the Nevada convention.
Media scholar Robert McChesney pointed out: “We had all this reporting about purported threats and violence in Nevada, but it was all based on basically taking at face value the words of one side and dismissing the words of the other side.” After a contested voice vote on convention rules, Sanders delegates had reacted to what they saw as a blatant maneuver to advantage Clinton. The claims of violence were based on a Clinton supporter’s now discredited report that chairs had been thrown at the platform.
What’s really going on is that the establishment elite are using their positions of influence – as they have since the start of the primary election campaign – to rig the process on behalf of their nominee, none more blatantly than DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz, who has consistently manipulated the campaign in favor of her preferred candidate, including the appointment of fierce Clinton partisans as leaders of important convention committees. That is why Sanders has said he will not support her primary campaign this year, and if he were president would not re-appoint her.
However, elite control of the two-party system has been destabilized by Donald Trump’s presumptive nomination for the Republicans. Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report comments: “What Donald Trump has done is to strip the Republican Party down to its white supremacist identity, and in the process he’s discarded much of the corporate and the Wall Street and the global militarist platforms of the old party. … The two-party duopoly, with Trump now leading the Republican Party, would now have only one reliable corporate collaborator, and that would be Hillary Clinton.” Corporate and financial interests would prefer to be assured of Clinton’s easy nomination victory.
Sanders’ resolve to contest the Democratic convention threatens to obstruct such a victory when neither candidate has an absolute majority of primary votes. Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future advises Clinton to take Sanders on board, if only to avoid a major conflict: “The Clinton team is intent on putting on a tightly scripted convention show that displays unity behind Clinton and focuses the attack on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. … Shutting Sanders out, however, would be the height of folly. He’ll come to the convention with more votes, more primary victories and a greater number of delegates — more than 1,500 — than any insurgent Democratic candidate in decades.”
At the convention, the Washington Post reports, Sanders “plans an aggressive effort to extract platform concessions on key policies that could prompt divisive battles at a moment when front-runner Hillary Clinton will be trying to unify the party. Among other issues, he plans to push for a $15 national minimum wage and argue that the party needs a more balanced position regarding Israel and Palestinians … the issue of U.S. policy toward Israel — which a Sanders adviser said ‘absolutely, legitimately will be a point of conversation’ — has made some of Clinton’s backers nervous. Sanders is seeking a more ‘even-handed’ U.S. approach to Israeli occupation of land Palestinians claim for a future state.” Even a rhetorical acceptance of even-handedness in the Democratic party’s platform, in the context of the over-sized influence of the Israeli Likud party in Washington, has created political tremors.
Washington insider journal The Hill comments: “Sanders’s prime points of focus — the influence of money in the political system and the question of economic inequality — have become the animating issues at the center of the Democratic race. … ‘He has created a movement within the Democratic Party for people who feel they have been left out of the economic system, who feel that elites are in control and offer them no entry point into the system,’ said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York Democratic strategist who has worked for Clinton in the past.”
But this begs a larger question: what will happen to the Sanders movement after the convention? Some of his critics on the left are urging him to run as an independent; others propose he host his own convention outside the party. Campaign participants are engaging in an important discussion about how the movement can achieve an organizational expression without liquidating into the Democratic party.
According to Seattle socialist Kshama Sawant, Sanders should run for the Green party, and if he endorses Clinton he becomes an impediment to progressive politics. She says the election campaign has shown “a tremendous fundamental shift in American consciousness, and that is an anger against corporate politics and a desire to fight against the establishment. … if we are looking for a real strategy to break working people away from Trump, then what we have to do is present a real alternative.” A group of Sanders’ campaign volunteers also argue against intervening in the convention, saying he should quit the race after the June California primary and build an independent organization aimed at defeating Donald Trump, or, as they put it, “single-mindedly devote itself to educating Americans about the threat of right wing (some say fascist) takeover and the task of identifying and mobilizing voters to defend our democracy in November 2016 and beyond.”
However, running outside the Democratic party risks Sanders isolating himself from the anti-Trump movement in the African and Latino American communities, who are likely to mobilize in a big way to vote for the Democratic candidate. As an African American voter in Baltimore said: “Sanders is not the only option. The other option is ‘down with Trump’.” Rocío Sáenz of the Service Employees International Union, which is part of a coalition that has helped thousands of Latinos apply for citizenship in more than 300 “naturalization workshops” around the country, told the Guardian: “There is a sense of urgency as a result of the hateful rhetoric about mass deportations, building walls, calling us criminals – this is personal for us.”
Sanders has already mobilized a sophisticated political network with more than 400,000 volunteers. In These Times reports that “autonomous grassroots organizations began campaigning for Sanders months before his campaign established any official presence on the ground. … Now, those organizations are beginning to build coalitions with labor, socialist parties and progressive groups to set a post-election agenda for the political revolution.”
While some campaigners question whether to continue participating in electoral politics, the focus of much grassroots organizing still includes influencing the platform of the Democratic party. The report continues: “National Nurses United, which endorsed Sanders, is organizing a People’s Summit on June 17 in Chicago, while the People’s Revolution, a group founded by former Occupy organizers, is hosting a People’s Convention in Philadelphia two days before the Democratic National Convention in July. … At the People’s Convention, the group plans to develop and ratify a People’s Platform to present to the Democratic National Convention and set an agenda for the broader movement.”
These intense discussions create the possibility of consolidating a movement inside and outside the Democratic party to combat the corporate takeover of politics and reclaim the party for the people. But it won’t happen without a major ideological battle at the party convention.