On a cold Saturday, the first weekend in March, I trekked out to Brooklyn College to attend Bernie Sanders’ announcement that he was running for President in 2020. I had been Bernie’s NY State Counsel in 2016 and had attended the Democratic Convention as a Sanders’ pledged delegate, but I wondered for the next 2.5 years whether the astounding, energetic movement which so magically flowed out of his candidacy would survive.
I got there at 8 a.m. (for an 11:30 a.m. program) to help register voters, and to get people to switch from No Part to Democratic so they could vote in next April’s Presidential Primary. (The deadline is early October 2019 for changes, late March 2020 for new voters). It was snowing, but by 8:30 a.m. the line wound all the way around the campus. Clearly the energy was back. The crowd had seniors and college students, and was as much male as female, and a good number (but not enough) were people of color.
Several speakers, led by Bernie’s amazing Campaign Chair, Nina Turner (whose speech you must watch on You Tube), got the crowd warmed up. Nina spoke about Bernie’s childhood in Brooklyn, son of Holocaust escapees, graduate of Midwood High School, and Brooklyn College student. Sean King, the founder of Black Lives Matter, spoke about Bernie’s years at the University of Chicago, where he was a civil rights activist, who once got carried out of a sit in-under arrest—protesting public school segregation. Then Bernie and Jane Sanders came out and the crowd of 15,000 went wild. “Ber-nie, Ber-nie.” And then Bernie gave a thoughtful, issue-filled, self-reflective, speech, met with ovation after ovation.
What was different from 2016 was that while many of Bernie’s ideas and proposals, and his candidacy, was a progressive activist’s dream, which initially bore little relationship to reality, they are no longer a pipe dream. By the fall of 2016, as Hillary faltered, there was a sense that Bernie’s sincerity, and his identification with the 99%, would have given Trump a better run for his money, especially in the Rust-Belt states. But there was always a question about whether once out of the bottle, the Bernie-genie could be recaptured.
But the Bernie-crats, with Bernie’s encouragement, didn’t go away. The 2016 army of activists was shaped into groups like Our Revolution or, in New York, into the NY Progressive Action Network, and into hundreds of other post-Trump groups with “Progressive” in their name. This movement played a key role in many of the Democratic Party wins in 2016, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ victory (she was a Sanders’ staffer) to the State-wide movement which pushed the Republicans and their Democratic allies out of the NY State Senate.
And Bernie’s ideas and proposals have now become mainstream. Medicare for All, tuition free college, government provided daycare, the fundamentals of the Green-New Deal, the $15 per hour minimum wage, the easing of mandatory sentences and the elimination of cash bail were all part of his 2016 platform. And then there are major resolutions he got through Congress on foreign policy, like denunciation of the War in Yemen, and condemnation of the Saudi Government. The Bernie of 2019 is someone who threatened a campaign against Walmart over low wages and got them to agree to pay a $15 per hour minimum. He then turned to Amazon, and they did the same.
Still, isn’t a 78-year-old candidate a pipe-dream? I don’t think so. In the most recent Gallup Poll, he has a +15% positive approval rating. His favorable rating among non-Whites is 64-21. He is wildly popular with under-35 voters, and he does better with non-college educated Whites than any other Democratic Party figure. When I look at the field of 15 candidates who have declared, there is no one better situated to take on the Mueller-Report-Absolved Trump. He is the one candidate who can take Trump on in his base toe-to-toe. There is no candidate with more integrity. There is no candidate with a more consistent record; there is no leading candidate who can go back 25 years without embarrassing positions, like Biden’s support for Draconian sentencing laws and his vote for Clarence Thomas, or Gillibrand’s pro-NRA voting record as a Congresswoman. And there is no candidate with a built-in 50 state mass movement which worships him. I’m not talking about the Democratic establishment which will fall into line for Biden; I am talking about activists who have showed up by the tens of thousands at rallies across the US since March 2, even without big press coverage.
So here I am, YOUR Democratic District leader, on board with Bernie 15 months before the April 2020 primary. I invite my fellow WestView readers to join me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arthur Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village and Political Director for the NY Progressive Action Network (NYPAN)