Sanders Is Done Running, But He Has Inspired Something Bigger

Bernie Sanders, DNC, 2016
Bernie Sanders: “I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States.”  Photo credit: CSPAN Screenshot
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Senator Bernie Sanders’s fierce, resolutely determined quest to become president finally came to an end on Tuesday. At the conclusion of the roll call at the Democratic National Convention, a noticeably tearful Sanders stood and made a motion that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, be confirmed as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.

Sanders told the convention on Monday that he had started a revolution. To some of his supporters inside and outside the Wells Fargo Center, that revolution does not necessarily include exercising the right to vote. They have more faith in the power of political protest.

“I’ve never voted ever,” said Jonathan Hernandez, 22, a software developer from Virginia who on Monday marched down Broad Street in Philadelphia towards the Wells Fargo Center, the site of the Convention. He believes that the electoral college makes his vote meaningless.

“That’s why I’m here,” Hernandez told WhoWhatWhy. “Protesting enlightens people by making them aware of what’s actually going on out there.”

“If Martin Luther King can change laws in general, then we can change things through peaceful protest. There are ways of doing it.”

Bernie Sanders, Supporters, DNC, 2016

Sanders supporters at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Photo credit: Jon Hecht / WhoWhatWhy

WhoWhatWhy spoke to activists from as far away as Oakland, CA, and Austin, TX, who took planes, or buses, or long car rides in order to be heard.

They viewed these protests as the most important part of democracy — even more than the ballot box.

“From my perspective, it really feels like my vote doesn’t matter,” James Perault, a 28-year-old lumber mill employee from Austin, TX, told WhoWhatWhy.

Perault sees his residency in Texas — a traditional Republican stronghold that would likely only elect Clinton as part of a landslide — as a reason not to care about the impact of his ballot.

“And that’s a reason why I’m here. Because just getting out to vote isn’t involved enough.”

Making Insiders Out of Outsiders

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The protests could not just be found in the streets. They were inside the convention hall as well, where many Sanders delegates treated the event as their own rally.

They booed speakers supporting Clinton, they chanted “No TPP!”, and many walked out when it was announced that Clinton was nominated.

While nominating conventions usually are defined by party unity and delegates that fall quickly in line behind a prepared message to heal the divisions of a campaign, the 2016 DNC has become something else for thousands of Sanders supporters: yet another staging ground for the activism that has defined the campaign of the Vermont senator.

Usually, delegates to the party conventions are party insiders — people who have held elected office in their states, or worked for state and national parties, or advocated for issues alongside the party. But Sanders’s delegates are different.

Sanders’s delegates are activists. They come not from the longtime political class — which supported Clinton’s bid overwhelmingly — but from organizers and protesters that usually work outside the system.

Bernie Sanders, DNC, supporters, 2016

Sanders supporters at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Photo credit: Jon Hecht / WhoWhatWhy

Sanders has brought these people into the system by making them delegates, but, as is clear from their actions, many continue to consider themselves outsiders.

“Voting is definitely not the only way to try to stop a politician,” said Jacob Moss, 24-year-old recent college graduate from Maine. Moss wore a homemade costume of a dollar bill with the words, “Not 2 Be Used 2 Buy Elections” across it. He traveled to Philadelphia with his family, who were selling posters that pit Bernie “Birdie” Sanders against Hillary “War Hawk” Clinton, “Printed at a union print shop in Vermont.”

“I’m here right now. I’m here to protest,” Moss told WhoWhatWhy. “I’m here to have my voice heard. I don’t know what better way I could.”

Moss pointed out that protests had changed American policy in recent years, in ways that made him hopeful for their effect on the political process.

Moss referred to the decision by President Barack Obama to not approve the Keystone Pipeline, a decision, he said, that resulted from the activism of environmentalists like Climate Change activist Bill McKibben. He credits a rally that McKibben led in front of the White House as influencing the president’s decision to reject the pipeline

“And if that many people can show up on the steps of the White House, and make that argument, and he listens,” Moss said, “then I have a mild amount of faith in democracy.”

Sanders is not the only one to organize a new generation of activism. Black Lives Matter has become a major force on the political stage by emphasizing not the work of electoral politics and deal-making, but on-the-ground activism.

Will the Revolution Continue?

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Before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, WhoWhatWhy joined in with much of the media in anticipating a week of hell and tensions in the city. But that never materialized. The mood outside the arena, as the political party that once nominated Abraham Lincoln nominated Donald Trump, was fun, peaceful, and even happy. Just 24 people were arrested in the whole week of demonstrations, most in a single action by a group of revolutionary communists who burned an American flag.

DNC, Protesters, 2016

Sanders supporters marching with a giant cigarette at the 2016 National Convention.
Photo credit: Jon Hecht / WhoWhatWhy

Early reports from the Democratic National Convention suggest that the huge crowds of dissent expected in Cleveland are descending on Philadelphia instead.  WhoWhatWhy estimates that the number of protesters assembled in Philadelphia on the convention’s first day was greater than the total number of protesters during the entire week of the Republican convention.

For these protesters, standing in the streets and being heard is more important than voting. In an election that several described as the choice between “the lesser of two evils,” the need for something greater felt necessary.

It is clear from his Monday night speech that Sanders wants his revolution to continue, as he fights to push the Democratic party to endorse his progressive agenda. What is not clear is whether his supporters will follow, and what direction their activism will take.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Jon Hecht / WhoWhatWhy

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6 responses to “Sanders Is Done Running, But He Has Inspired Something Bigger”

  1. toto says:

    Because of state-winner-take-all laws, James Perault, from Austin, TX is correct that a minority party voter in Texas, or any other state, in presidential elections, doesn’t matter. Just getting out to vote isn’t involved enough.

    Activists should consider supporting the National Popular Vote bill to make every vote equal and matter in every presidential election.

    Presidential elections don’t have to continue to be about a narrowly focused barrage of attention by the media, candidates, pollsters, strategists, organizers, and ads in the handful of unrepresentative swing states that dominate and determine the general election, while most of the country is politically irrelevant.

    Instead, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes, the National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country.

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support among voters) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable states that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the Conventions.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    The bill has passed 34 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes.
    The bill has been enacted by 11 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

    National Popular Vote

  2. toto says:

    If Virginia remains a battleground state, Jonathan Hernandez from Virginia doesn’t understand that the electoral college makes his vote very meaningful.

    Because of state-by-state winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution. . .

    In the 2012 general election campaign, Virginia was among the 12 battleground states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support among voters).

    38 non-battleground states (including 24 of the 27 smallest states) had no campaign events, and minuscule or no spending for TV ads.

    More than 99% of presidential campaign attention (ad spending and visits) was invested on voters in just the only ten competitive states..

    Two-thirds (176 of 253) of the general-election campaign events, and a similar fraction of campaign expenditures, were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa).

    Issues of importance to non-battleground states are of so little interest to presidential candidates that they don’t even bother to poll them individually.

    Over 87% of both Romney and Obama campaign offices were in just the then 12 swing states. The few campaign offices in the 38 remaining states were for fund-raising, volunteer phone calls, and arranging travel to battleground states.

  3. Paschn says:

    How many of you are familiar with the Central Bank? How many of you know Sanders gutted the audit the fed bill? Wake up…

  4. (Comment by reader @janicebeyondlaw) Proud of Bernie.

  5. (Comment by reader @Maggiestoneham) in the end Bernie sold out to #wallstreethillary and her big money supporters Bain capital, pharmaceutical companies, big banks.