Our Revolution Is Better Than You Think
As I expected, the world unleashed a boatload of silence in the wake of yesterday's non-event, the OurRevolution launch. Below I describe what I think the event means and doesn't mean, why it was so disappointing to the tens of thousands of viewers who tuned in live, and why it deserves our continued support.
Mostly we are hearing gossipy analysis about who leads and funds the new group, which is mostly inconsequential, unsophisticated bullshit. I'll say why in a moment, but first here is what was REALLY wrong with the event:
There can be no doubt that Sanders supporters have survived a severe emotional rollercoaster. A large percentage feel that they were cheated, or even defrauded. There is widespread anger in search of a target. There is a fair amount of depression. And there is a great deal of confusion about how to proceed next.
Unfortunately, very few Bernie supporters are ready to talk about what comes next, because we can only understand that in the context of what just happened, which is mostly unprocessed.
At the top of people's minds are questions like, "Does Bernie really support Clinton? If so, does that mean he betrayed us? That he is endorsing the Establishment after all? And why should we be donating our time, energy, and money if votes are suppressed and the system is rigged?"
Until these issues are addressed, even a smart plan for how to proceed can't get emotional buy-in, because it will inevitably be met with, "Yes, but..."
So what Bernie SHOULD have done last night was to start by addressing his supporters on an emotional level, and talk about feelings of loss, betrayal, disappointment, disillusionment, etc., and put some historical context around that:
He should have said, "It's not the first rigged election, it's not first uneven playing field, but we are going to strengthen our movement while simultaneously unrigging the system with structural changes that include open primaries, automatic voter registration, guarantied access to polls, election audit requirements, and of course an end to SuperDelegates. The scales were unfairly tipped against us, but not nearly so bad as blacks faced fighting slavery and segregation, but blacks won, and so will we, over time. So, yes, the primary was stolen, we should have won, and next time we will. But only if we stay together, stay focused, and implement the program I am about to describe."
Next he would tell us about Our Revolution's unified reform platform, which is much larger than the tidbits that found their way into the Democrats' 2016 toilet paper platform. Finally, he would explain how the new organization would coordinate policy, planning, and communication among a vast army of grassroots organizations to drive systemic change at all levels simultaneously, building a tidal wave of change that will crash ashore in our lifetimes, but not as early as this November.
That's most of what we needed.
What we got instead was an accurate but unsatisfying account of the real changes we had already achieved (changing the conversation, mostly), a re-articulation of Bernie's domestic policy platform, and the introduction to a not-ready-for-primetime organization that Bernie would not be leading, and whose face was a nervous 20-something kid working outside his comfort zone.
Nearly all the Berners who are critiquing Jeff Weaver and complaining about how OurRevolution gets funded are mistaken and missing the point. First, Jeff Weaver pulled off one of the most amazing political feats in modern American history in advancing Bernie's cause in the face of every ferocious lying cheating scheme on God's earth. Jeff deserves a great deal more respect than he is getting. Claire Sandberg's claim that Jeff "mismanaged" the Sanders campaign is ludicrous, even if Jeff should have done things differently. Bernie obviously respects Jeff's judgment, and you'd think Bernie's supporters would pause to trust Bernie's judgment on this.
Second, as Bernie has often said, movements succeed not by dividing people but by bringing them together. Gay rights activists relied heavily on their straight allies. Suffragettes relied heavily on sympathetic men. Black civil rights activists could count on whites like Bernie Sanders to put themselves in harm's way in solidarity.
So naturally the 99% must welcome their wealthy allies, and even their allies in the 1% (there aren't that many allies among the 1%, but Nick Hanauer would be one example). The problem with billionaires is not that their money is dirtier than yours and mine; it's because billionaires tend to use their money to rig the economy and control the political process.
What we are fighting against is not money, but the abuse of money. So if a few millionaires, billionaires, or lottery winners want to fund candidates who will save our planet by limiting the political and economic power of ALL millionaires and billionaires -- and perhaps also by ending state lotteries! -- there is NOTHING wrong with accepting those contributions.
You'd be surprised how many wealthy people have been supporting Bernie, and those people care just as much about saving the planet as the poorest amongst us.
I don't know whether Jeff Weaver is right or wrong to want to use television ads to sway popular opinion and educate people. But that kind of tactical argument has been going on throughout the campaign, and it will continue far into the future. We'll be learning from both our successes and mistakes.
There is no reason for street-level activists to be attacking Our Revolution based on tactical decisions. If the platform is clear, and the platform is right, then we will together find ways to advance it. Not everything we do will work, but we'll learn along the way.
So my guidance to Our Revolution would be:
(1) Deal with your supporters' distressed emotional state. It's way out of Bernie's comfort zone to do so, but getting alignment here will make a lot of other things easier;
(2) Go back to the drawing board and give us a clearer answer to what Our Revolution will be doing different from the many other groups that raise money for candidates;
(3) Explain why Our Revolution is the right home for Bernie's followers even if Bernie isn't there.
My guidance to Berners everywhere would be:
(1) Chill out. Bernie's still Bernie, we're still us, and now that we have each other, we can do some amazing things together. Don't panic, don't freak out, and stop attacking your friends;
(2) Support the new organization for a year. Give it a chance to get settled and started, and then revisit later whether it's on the right path;
(3) Forgive Bernie for supporting Clinton. We do not know all of the pressures he is facing. Moreover, he might be right that the work of Our Revolution will be more successful if we are merely fighting the corporate oligarchs, which we know how to do, and not ALSO fighting the chaos that will be unleashed by an unstable narcissist in the White House. I actually disagree with this view -- I won't be voting for Clinton -- but it's a perfectly reasonable position to take, and we must not attack anyone amongst ourselves who views it that way.
Like Bernie, we are expecting great things from Our Revolution. We have been disappointed before, but instead of sowing doubt, let's choose to keep hope alive.