Bernie Sanders supporters should go local

Photo: Phil Roeder, used under CC BY 2.0

Bernie is Leaving

The latest news is that Bernie is leaving the Democratic Party that he helped shape; what he called “the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.”

Up until this election cycle Sanders hasn’t been in the limelight, and with his recent announcement it seems like he’s stepping back once again. His deeply held vision for how the United States can be improved, shared by the millions of people who voted for him, won’t come to fruition if he decides not to work from inside the party system.

Political parties, for all of their flaws, are how things get done. It’s only by coming together, to form a group, a Party, that espouses the most essential ideals of all people who want to participate, that we can enact change. If you feel excluded by the big tent that is the Democratic Party, push the tent even larger.

Sanders started that work this election season, but stopped this week; he gave up. He decided to throw away his shot. He backed Clinton but hasn’t been able to wrangle his entire base.

Thankfully, 90% of consistent Sanders supporters favor Clinton over Trump, but that’s not enough. We need massive voter turnout if we want a more just and progressive future.

Power Doesn’t Corrupt, It Stagnates

They say that power corrupts, that doesn’t mean you were swindled out of an election, and certainly doesn’t mean that third parties are the answer.

The DNC’s email was hacked by Russia with the goal of swaying the US election like Russia did in Europe, and released by a man with a grudge against Clinton. Those sources don’t inspire my confidence that we’re seeing the whole picture.

The Democratic Party has problems, including some individuals who care more about winning than common decency, but as a friend recently reminded me, we shouldn’t paint with a broad brush. Every person who cares about politics has values that drive them to participate in public service, a bias. The Party is strongly biased in favor of its platform, because they have invested hundreds of millions of volunteer hours and donor dollars from millions of supporters to build an infrastructure to support that platform.

A party platform, especially in the big tent that is the Democratic Party, is naturally fragile. The platform has to support a wide range of, often conflicting, values that Party members care about. There is only so much that the Party has the resources to fight for, and choosing the best option is incredibly difficult. Advocacy organizations AKA special interest groups AKA lobbies, champion the issues they care most about. Groups represent small businesses, unions, banks, school districts, city councils, teachers, students, parents, children, police, firefighters, soldiers, doctors, people with disabilities, and many more. Once that delicate balance is reached, the Party will defend it on behalf of all of those groups, and the millions of people those groups represent. Lobbying isn’t a bad thing, it’s how our voices are heard in our current system.

The fragile Party platform only becomes strong when they present a united front. By working together, everyone’s voice is magnified. I speak in favor of your issue, and you speak in favor of mine. This strength can also lead to stagnation, and eventually intransigence. The people the Party represents will always move faster than the Party as a whole, after all, it has to represent the views of millions of people. This disconnect becomes disillusionment and a desire to break up the entire process, when all that needs to happen is a shift in focus.

This year we saw exactly that. When Sanders advocated for a new agenda, he upset that delicate balance. Hard working people who have dedicated themselves to defending the platform, their progressive dream, felt threatened by a candidate who had no loyalty to them, that openly rebuked them, and that called for their ouster. Sure they were set in their ways, but that doesn’t mean they’re corrupt, they simply had inertia.

Bernie helped develop the new platform, a better platform, one for the people he represents, and then gave up. He didn’t defend it. Until Democrats as a whole are convinced that this is the better option, and the new platform has been defended by advocates over multiple elections, it is still incredibly fragile.

Hillary Clinton’s views have evolved over the years, often (but not always) in line with the Party platform. This is a great thing. She does her best to reflect the views, concerns, and dreams of millions of voters. Earlier this election cycle Clinton began to realize that the platform had shifted out from under her. By co-writing the new platform, Sanders has helped her find her footing. Without advocates, like Sanders himself, inside the party pushing to enact these changes, she, and many other Democrats will lose their balance once again.

Third Parties

I would greatly prefer that the United States didn’t use first past the post voting, but right now we don’t have that option. Unless someone can create and ratify a constitutional amendment in the next couple months (good luck!), it’s not going to happen this election season.

Third parties in our current system are spoilers. Just ask Ralph Nader supporters how they feel about their votes from 2000. Instead of continuing to push the party to the left, many liberals voted for the Green Party. They could have had President Al Gore who wasn’t quite as liberal as they wanted, someone who reflected only the majority but not all of their views, and a presidency where they could have had a true voice. By supporting a third party, their votes ensured George W Bush along with two wars that we’re still fighting, tax cuts for the rich, and a disastrous education policy.

Stay in the Party. Go Local.

If Sanders truly wants to make a massive difference in this country, he should focus on making sure liberals win local elections for city councils, mayorships, and state legislative bodies. By turning local, he could impact the everyday lives of every American.

Even if Sanders himself doesn’t focus locally, his movement still should. If you’re a progressive who feels disenfranchised, work to change the system!

Cities and states can naturally move much faster than the federal government, and the same can be said for local/state parties and their national counterpart. Sometimes the Dems can’t get something through congress but maybe your mayor can help. If the DNC isn’t able to push through the changes to higher education you want past the Republicans, see if your local community college can do it. Clinton has been advocating on behalf of universal pre-Kindergarten since the 90s, you can bet that it will be a top issue for her in the White House. If you want to see it happen sooner, become an advocate in your school district. You can only complain if you’re also willing to take action.

You say the movement won’t stop, so don’t let it. Volunteer for local and state campaigns and ensure that your representatives actually represent your views.