Bernstorming and Beyond: What's Different About Bernie's Campaign?

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Metro Atlanta DSA’s Daniel Hanley has helped coordinate MADSA’s efforts to support Bernie Sanders’ candidacy through the independent group Georgia for Bernie, and national DSA supports the related People for Bernie movement (see dsausa.org). As individuals, Daniel and other members also volunteer for the Bernie campaign. – Editor


As field offices open throughout the state, the Sanders campaign in Georgia rapidly announced multiple Bernstorm events (previously “barnstorms”) to launch the coordinated campaign effort, augmented by a foundation of community support built over the previous year by an authentic grassroots, independent coalition. On January 29, nearly 200 people packed the Communications Workers of America union hall to meet with national and local staff.

Some highlights:

An unscripted speak-out revealed how many first-time political activists there were in the crowd, moved to action by the prospect of transformational socioeconomic progress. Nearly 20% of the people present volunteered to host phone banks in the next month, and virtually 100% signed up to attend one. A friend noted that when Obama himself visited for the volunteer kick-off in 2008, he didn't draw as many people as we had at the CWA hall. Whoa.

And, following the Bernstorming, the moment I'd been waiting for: my apartment became a hotbed of democratic socialist organizing activity. For many present, this was an entirely new form of political engagement. Some new volunteers persuaded multiple voters to cast a vote for the people (not the billionaires) and informed voters about their caucus location. Most phone bankers, myself included, dealt with more rejection -- but we all understood we were improving the quality of the voter database and assisting our Iowan sisters and brothers canvassing out in the cold.

We were also deliberate about making a little time and space to introduce ourselves and discuss our personal and collective struggle(s) with the prevailing system, along with some opportunities to resist it. I was glad to hear some people express interest in Moral Monday GA's work to fight the regressive, hateful legislation at the state Capitol; Occupy Our Homes Atlanta's work to fight gentrification and forced displacement in Peoplestown; the Fight for $15's planned street agitation at the Republican debates in Greensville. In fact 4-5 people were moved to sign up to hop on the bus to South Carolina!

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Despite the growing grassroots momentum, we’re hearing a great deal of skepticism and disingenuous concern-trolling from the punditry and others about whether a progressive presidential campaign can help launch a political revolution. They ask, "How can Bernie get the legislature to pass all these programs, when Obama and his volunteer army couldn't?" I'd like to revisit some of my personal experiences in this area.

The inspiring effort to elect Obama in 2008 -- partly astroturf, but also genuinely grassroots in ways -- introduced an incredible number of people to community organizing and political activism for the first time, and I was one of those people. When Obama was elected, I urged my fellow volunteers to stay engaged and involved. There was no way we'd advance Obama's stated platform, I argued, without continued organizing, advocacy and direct action, given the narrow congressional margins, regressive Democrats, and continued corporate domination of society.

Very few people listened as we awaited our “orders” from Organizing For America (OFA) leadership. That was a mistake. The organization stagnated and fell apart after several months. Now, nearly all of my OFA friends and contacts are scattered, atomized, disengaged. A few of the paid organizers I'd met went on to contribute to the labor movement and other worthwhile struggles, whereas others joined the Democratic establishment. We see what happened over the past eight years of the Obama presidency.

If you listen to Bernie Sanders's reflections on all this, they line up with my first-hand observations, for the most part. That's heartening. It's a message that needs to be heard: if we want progress, we'll need sustained commitment to building a movement. We'll need substantial growth in grassroots, lowercase-D democratic labor, community, and socialist organizations such as DSA. We'll need comprehensive strategies, which include direct action, in order to disrupt and transform the prevailing order, which is deeply violent and antidemocratic.

Will this happen? There's no guarantee: it depends partly on us. However, I will say that I have noticed many of the newly-activated Bernie supporters participating in meetings and actions around the Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, StopTPP, the Atlanta Climate March, and so on. Some have joined Metro Atlanta DSA. That doesn't happen automatically, though. It will only happen if Bernie's campaign is highly unconventional, and if we deliberately do the work -- very early on -- to build these types of coalitions.

PAID FOR BY DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISTS OF AMERICA (dsausa.org). Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

 


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