After meeting with President Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders delivered a statement on the next and final phase of his campaign. It was abundantly clear this phase will not involve a hail mary attempt at the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Whatever Sanders fights for from this point onward will be driven by a commitment to having the greatest influence over what unfolds at the party’s national convention in July.
“Our campaign has been about building a movement, which brings working people and young people into the political process to create a government which represents all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors,” Sanders declared. “We will continue to do everything we can to oppose the drift, which currently exists toward an oligarchic form of society, where a handful of billionaires exercise enormous power over our political, economic, and media life.”
Sanders listed off some of the issues that his campaign will take to the national convention: expanding Social Security benefits, addressing high rates of child poverty, dealing with the problem of extremely low life expectancy for Native Americans on reservations, ending the burden of student loan debt, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, and forcing corporations to pay their fair share in taxes.
He said he would still compete in the primary in Washington, D.C. and indicated he strongly favors D.C. statehood. He also told the press he looks forward to a “full counting of the votes in California,” which he suspects “will show a much closer vote then the current vote tally.” (There are currently millions of uncounted votes that are left to be counted, even though the state was already called for Clinton).
The meeting with Obama comes as Sanders supporters are contemplating what to do next. Quite a number of supporters do not want to see his run for the presidency end and would like to see him run as a third-party candidate. When considering all that has been built, with networks of volunteers and reinforcement from grassroots activists, there may be great potential to mount a formidable campaign against Clinton and Donald Trump, who are two of the most unpopular presidential candidates in United States history.
Nevertheless, it appears supporters have seen the first signs that his campaign will no longer be an alternative to Clinton, although he may continue to aggressively challenge the Democratic National Committee, including its chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Sanders said during an interview at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in July: “If it happens that I do not win that process, would I run outside of the system? No, I made the promise that I would not, and I’ll keep that promise. And let me add to that: And the reason for that is I do not want to be responsible for electing some right-wing Republican to be president of the United States of America.”
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who is on track to be the party’s nominee, has appealed to Sanders and offered to help him get on the Green Party ticket as the nominee. She said on “Democracy Now!”:
If Senator Sanders made the case that now he understood, after the very, you know, disturbing experiences of the last many months and the way that he’s been mistreated and beaten up by the [Democratic Party], perhaps he has a different view of the potential to create revolution inside of a counterrevolutionary party. Maybe he has come to see the necessity for independent third parties to actually move this movement forward. That would be—you know, that would be a game changer if he made the case that he has come to understand the critical need to build the Green Party as the political voice of that revolution.
But the Sanders campaign has ignored her appeal, just like Sanders himself did in 2011 when the Green Party reached out and asked him to run on the Green Party ballot line against Obama.
Kshama Sawant, a socialist member of the Seattle city council, launched a petition in April.
“The stakes are too high to let this moment slip through our fingers. That’s why I’ve launched this petition urging Bernie—if he is blocked in the rigged primary process—to run as an independent, or as a Green on the ticket with Jill Stein. We can’t allow the corporate media, Wall Street PACs, and the Democratic Party establishment to derail this movement before the real presidential election even begins,” Sawant argued.
She highlighted the Democratic Party establishment’s opposition to a “political revolution” that was best positioned to defeat Trump, and instead, preserve the “Wall Street and big business interests who bankroll them” by supporting Clinton’s candidacy.
When Sawant appeared on “Democracy Now!” in May, she said, “Bernie is calling for a political revolution against the billionaire class; Hillary is the epitome of the political establishment that has promoted the interests of the billionaire class to the detriment of the interests of working people.” She said she had spoke with Sanders and disagreed with his decision to ultimately support Clinton if he did not win the nomination.
Back in February, a young woman asked Sanders at a town hall event in Nevada about reforming the system to allow more parties to participate in the political process. Pointing out that it was “nearly impossible for a third party candidate to be elected and the fact [Sanders] had to switch from an Independent to Democratic to be considered as a legitimate candidate,” the woman asked, “how would you suggest to reform our system and allow for other parties and ideas to be represented?”
Sanders shared his belief that, “we flourish when there are different ideas out there, when there are more differences of opinions.”
He explained, “what happens in this country is sometimes the two party system makes it very, very difficult to get on the ballot if you are a third party. And I think that that’s wrong.”
“I think we should welcome competition, welcome different ideas. And I think the two parties should be open to making sure that people have a fair shake if they want to run on another party,” Sanders said.
Sanders’ willingness to express views like this, along with his commitment to what he describes as democratic socialism, is exactly why Clinton and her surrogates engaged in subtle forms of red-baiting during the primary.
In April, Clinton said, “He’s a relatively new Democrat. I’m not even sure he is one. He’s running as one. So I don’t know quite how to characterize him. I’ll leave that to him.”
Senator Barbara Boxer has also used this line. Last week, she said on “The Leonard Lopate Show” on WNYC radio, “Supposedly Bernie’s a Democrat.”
Part of why Democratic party insiders, who vote as superdelegates, aligned against him during the primary is because they do not see him as one of them. He is not part of their club. However, when Sanders signed up as a Democratic candidate, the club expected him to adhere to their morally bankrupt ideology and political culture even if they had every intention to prevent his candidacy from defeating Clinton.
The Democratic National Committee put its thumb on the scale and tipped the primary to favor Clinton because it resented everything Sanders represented. Yet, as Shadowproof journalist Brian Sonenstein highlighted months ago, Sanders has straddled a position between willing representative of popular uprisings and ally of Democrats. Sometimes this has greatly inhibited efforts to bring about reforms.
“While Bernie Sanders may be better than most, he is still a politician. He may be building a progressive movement, but he has, time and again, seized upon such movements, generated by months and years of incredibly hard grassroots organizing, only to severely compromise on positions for which there should be none, oftentimes siding with Democratic Party elites and the surly characters with whom they cavort,” Sonenstein declared.
As much as there is evidence Sanders would reach this moment and make common cause with Clinton and Democrats, who will never work for the political revolution for which he has built widespread support, there is no value in begrudging or mocking those who were attracted to his campaign. The fundraising machine his campaign developed, which brought in millions of dollars, became an incredible counter to a candidate heavily dependent on rich and corporate campaign contributors. His massive rallies, along with the organizing tools wielded by volunteers, suggested he might be able to overcome lack of media attention and the pundit class’s utter disdain for his vision.
The Sanders campaign made millions believe that it had enough to potentially defeat the most powerful politician in the Democratic Party and repudiate all the worst corporate and militaristic policies, which she has championed. Sanders won 22 states because so many had the audacity to think he could really win. But now Sanders supporters have reached the moment of truth.
Sanders will not be the Democratic nominee. Referring to the uprising he has fueled, he said in California, “You all know it is more than Bernie.”
There will be differences of opinion among Sanders supporters, however, there are some actions, which the political climate calls for. Supporters can wield their power and urge Sanders to keep the campaign going into the convention, without letting up in the face of staggering pressure from the corporate media and Democratic Party establishment.
Another option is supporters can plead with Sanders to not waste an opportunity to challenge the system. Push Sanders to change his mind and run against Clinton and Trump for all the reasons Sawant and Stein have argued. Supporters can also pledge to break free from the two-party system, regardless of what Sanders does, and prove to the world that the campaign is truly about more than Bernie.
Supporters may choose to recommit themselves to key issues of social, economic, racial, and environmental justice during and after the election. Consistently challenge Clinton on these issues all throughout the rest of the election and seek ways to stand up for the marginalized communities most impacted by forms of injustice.
These choices are in line with the political revolution. They are not the only options available, but some which are clear possibilities currently. And, most importantly, these actions are positive ways to keep having an impact on politics without being overwhelmed by cynicism and demoralization that understandably is present because it feels like the system robbed citizens of a candidate who would actually represent them.