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Thursday, July 28, 2016 12:16 am

What’s next for the Bernie Sanders revolution?

Jim Hightower
PHOTO BY LARRY D. MOORE
Outside of Bernie Sanders’ circle, a multitude of Bernie supporters are not waiting on a smoke signal from headquarters. With the primaries over, a mushrooming, percolate-up creativity has already burst into new organizing projects that are advancing this energized populist movement. Here are just two examples:

The People’s Summit. In the world of politics as usual, a losing candidate’s supporters just drift away, but all things Sanders tend to be unusual. So, on June 17, just three days after the final Democratic primary, some 3,000 Berniecrats from all across America gathered in a Chicago convention center to “Keep the Bern Alive.” Rather than being morose or cynical about Sanders not winning the nomination, attendees were exuberant about the future and the movement that he galvanized. This extraordinary, uplifting event was a combination of tent revival and workshops for serious strategizing and organizing, and was rightly labeled a “Festival of Joyous Rebellion.” The two-day summit was convened by National Nurses United (a scrappy, aggressively progressive union) and co-sponsored by more than 50 diverse and effective democracy-building groups.

This meeting had a minimum of blah-blah and a maximum of planning on how to put experienced, locally-based organizers and volunteers directly into growing the movement – starting now. These ever-larger and broader local coalitions will: (1) be rooted in principled, anti-corporate politics; (2) launch direct grassroots initiatives and actions on a range of populist issues; (3) recruit, train and elect thousands of movement candidates to school boards, city councils, state legislatures and other offices; (4) deepen the relationships and sense of shared purpose in this revolutionary democratic movement. And (5) – make it fun – putting the “party” back in politics.

Brand New Congress. What if progressive organizers and volunteers joined forces to run a nationwide campaign to replace today’s corporate-owned congress – all at once? Yes, one sweeping campaign to oust all incumbents of either party who owe their jobs to the Big Money powers. Those congress critters, feeling snug in their gerrymandered rabbit holes, could be outed by hundreds of coordinated Brand New Congress campaigns running simultaneously in every state. Each local campaign would back candidates publicly pledged to fight for an agenda of economic, social, environmental and political justice.

Impossible? Not in the minds of Zack Exley, Becky Bond and other former Sanders staffers who conceived and implemented this campaign’s successful grassroots model that Exley calls “distributed organizing.” They trained and empowered tens of thousands of far-flung volunteers to be autonomous organizers, digitally linked into a nationwide network, eliminating the need and cost of a rigid hierarchy of “leaders” to boss volunteers, recognizing instead that volunteers themselves are leaders – in churches, clubs, workplaces, community groups, etc. Now they’re applying this model to Brand New Congress that will carry the message of authentic populism and a shared agenda of populist policy proposals.

BNC is to be a true bipartisan effort running Dems in blue districts, Repubs in solid red ones and independents wherever that makes sense. But wait – how can BNC get Republican candidates to run on progressive values? By recognizing that true populism is neither a right or left theory but a top-versus-bottom reality that even middle-class and lower-income Republicans can relate to. Indeed, outside of the right-wing Congress, many rank-and-file Republicans would support stopping global trade scams and crony-capitalism corruption, as well as assuring health care for all, recognizing climate change and standing up to bigotry.

Bernie has urged his supporters to keep pushing for their democratic ideals. “Real change never takes place from the top down. It always occurs from the bottom on up – when tens of millions of people say ‘enough is enough’ and become engaged in the fight for justice.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.


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