The populist insurgency is ratcheting up
“We” being the millions of young people, mad-as-hell working stiffs, independents, deep-rooted progressives and other “outsiders” who felt The Bern and forged a new, game-changing, populist force of, by and for grassroots Americans. True, this progressive-populist coalition did not win the White House on its first go ‘round behind the feisty Sanders insurgency (which the smug political establishment had literally laughed at when he began his run). But they are not laughing now, for even they can see the outsider revolt against the power elites won something even more momentous than the 2016 election: The future.
Back in April 2015, when the blunt, democratic socialist from Vermont issued a call for disenchanted voters to join him not merely in a campaign for the presidency but in a long-term movement to “revitalize American democracy so that government works for all of us,” even his more optimistic backers couldn’t have dreamed the movement would come so far so quickly. Let’s reflect on some fundamental changes this progressive uprising has achieved in the past 15 months:
- It yanked the national debate out of the hands of the Washington and corporate elites. Both devoted more than 30 years to rigging all the rules to further enrich the 1 percent at the expense of everyone else – and proved that future success requires Democrats to abandon their effete namby-pambyism and embrace the vision, message and issues of unabashed populism.
- It revived true bottom-up campaigning through innovative social media outreach, the empowerment of hundreds of thousands of engaged supporters and volunteers, instantaneous mass communication via cell phones, and turning people out by turning them on: by finally addressing inequality head-on and proposing bold policies that appeal directly to the workaday majority’s interests.
- It lifted. From the political scrap heap up to the top of our national discourse, the concerns of middle- and low-income families; creating good, middle-class jobs through a national program of infrastructure repair and development of the green economy; enacting a $15 minimum wage; removing crushing education debt from the backs of students; coping with the imminent crisis of climate change; repealing the Supreme Court’s democracy-destroying Citizens United edict; implementing pay equity for women; stopping the war machine’s constant adventurism; expanding Social Security; providing Medicare for all; halting the unjust mass incarceration of African Americans and Latinos; defunding the disastrous drug war; demilitarizing our police forces; replenishing our public treasury by taxing Wall Street speculators; and generally restoring economic fairness, social justice and equal opportunity for all as central purposes of public policy.
- It raised some $229 million in more than 8 million small donations (averaging only $27 each), including millions from low-income people who sent in $5 or even $1, thus debunking the myth that Democrats can only be competitive by joining Republicans in taking corrupting big money from corporations and setting up “dark money” SuperPACs.
More importantly, the Bernie movement created a hopeful, formidable and growing populist political channel that is both insistently democratic and independent of the Democratic Party. This state-based national network of Berniecrats will keep building its connections, pushing its agenda and backing populist candidates in the House, Senate and other races this fall. Then on to next year’s campaigns for mayor, city council, etc., which will be charged by the 20,000 Sanders supporters who have, according to Bernie, signed up to get info on running. Then on to the 2018 midterm congressional elections. And then to the 2020 presidential campaign. Onward.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.