Before a crowd in his home start of Vermont and speaking to supporters attending more than 2,600 watch parties across the country, Senator Bernie Sanders announced on August 24 the launch of “Our Revolution.” The newly created organization seeks to institutionalize the former presidential candidate’s progressive movement and develop a grassroots network whose three stated goals are “supporting a new generation of progressive leaders, empowering millions to fight for progressive change and elevating the political consciousness.”
Early in his speech, Sanders looked back on his campaign and touted its accomplishments: earning more than 13 million votes, winning more than 20 state primaries and caucuses, and acquiring 46 percent of the pledged delegates to the Democratic Party’s nominating convention. He also observed that through his campaign’s strong performance, he and his supporters were able to help draft an “extremely progressive” party platform.
Sanders then remarked on how his candidacy had changes the national political debate on many issues and cited several instances where he succeeded in shaping the views of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Sanders has proposed making public colleges and universities tuition free, for instance, and Clinton is now supporting a similar proposal – making tuition at these schools free not for all, but for those families earning less than $125,000 each year (83 percent of the population). Similarly, Sanders has proposed adopting a single-payer healthcare system to achieve universal coverage, and Clinton now supports doubling funding for community health centers across the country – funding he said would “create virtually universal primary healthcare in America.”
After acknowledging his candidacy’s successes, Sanders turned to what he said is “the question on the minds of a whole lot of people…’Where do we go from here?’”
Sanders then introduced Our Revolution, which he said plans to grow to include hundreds of thousands of like-minded activists fighting for issues “based on the principles of economic, social, racial, and environmental justice.” He stressed that to be successful and effect real change, the organization and movement must be built “from the bottom on up” rather than “from the top on down.”
To this end, he said, “Our goal must be to elect progressives at every level,” adding, “There will eventually be over 100 of them in every region of the country – candidates from the school board to the United States Senate.”
Sanders then spoke briefly in favor of several candidates the movement is supporting this election cycle at each level, ranging from Vernon Miller (running for school board in Nebraska) to Zephyr Teachout (running for the U.S. House in New York) and Russ Feingold (running for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin).
He also stated that Our Revolution is taking positions on seven ballot questions across the country. The organization supports Proposition 61 in California, which, if passed, would prevent state agencies from paying more for prescription drugs than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The group also supports a measure in Washington state that, if passed, would urge the U.S. Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision – as well as a measure in Colorado that, if passed, would bring universal healthcare coverage to the state’s residents.
In his speech, Sanders stated that he will not be leading Our Revolution – a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, and that it would be led by Jeff Weaver, the manager of his presidential campaign. These details, however, angered some staff members, causing eight to leave the group shortly after it was launched.
Claire Sandberg, the group’s former organizing director, criticized Our Revolution’s designation as a 501(c)(4) entity, since such groups can raise unlimited amounts of money – a privilege that contradicts Sanders’s preference for small-dollar donations during the campaign. She also impugned Weaver’s leadership abilities, claiming he “cost Bernie the nomination.”
While some are questioning whether the departures mean Our Revolution has ended before it began, the first true test of its endurance and influence will come in several months, after the candidates and ballot measures it is supporting have been put before voters this November.