What Happens To The Bernie Sanders Movement If He Loses?

| Strategize!

Above Photo: Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, leads a group of supporters across a bridge ahead of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. With Vice President Joe Biden officially out of the presidential race, the nation’s first nominating contest between front-runner Hillary Clinton and Sanders is gaining steam, according to a new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Note: Popular Resistance does not endorse electoral candidates and believes our power lies in building a mass transformative movement that uses direct action to build people power not by supporting political campaigns. We are not saying don’t vote, support candidates or run for office, but the main work is building a mass movement for economic, racial and environmental justice.

You may have heard the story of the woman who was walking her dog one night and found a man on his hands and knees, searching the sidewalk under the streetlight. “Can I help you find something?” she asked.

“I dropped my house key over there,” he replied, gesturing behind him, “and I need to find it.”

“But if you dropped it over there, why are you looking here?” she asked.

“The light is much better here,” he answered.

I remember the story when I think about the many Americans who know that huge changes are needed in economic and climate policy, and turn to the electoral arena to find their power. They won’t find their power there because the system is so corrupted, but they nevertheless look for their power “under the streetlight,” where middle school civics textbooks tell them to look.

The corrupted system, however, does not lead me to dismiss Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. He and the many people working with him have already contributed mightily to the task of preparing Americans for a living revolution. How so?

First, he articulates clearly truths about our system that many Americans have figured out, but have wondered — for good reason — if they are alone. In a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, 68 percent agreed that we live in a country whose economic system favors the rich rather than the rest of us. (About half of Republicans thought this, too.) In another poll, 74 percent said they believe that corporations exert too much influence on American politics and life. As early as 2012, a poll found a staggering 75 percent of Republicans agreed there would be less corruption if there were limits on donations to super PACs.

Sanders is giving these views a voice. When Bernie asserts on national television that it is Wall Street that regulates Congress instead of the other way around, he strikes a chord that potentially enables people to resonate together — Republicans and Democrats alike.

Second, Sanders defies the political class by projecting a vision of how our country could move toward justice. U.S. politicians are notoriously vision-averse, except for neo-conservatives and libertarians. (Social justice activists are also remarkably vision-averse, even though the aversion undermines our effectiveness.) By contrast, Sanders repeatedly points to Denmark and other Nordic countries, thereby bringing vision into the conversation. While I have radical Nordic friends, who are critical of their countries’ achievements, in the U.S. context Bernie is performing a remarkable service. He even makes sure to connect the dots by offering a public course on democratic socialism.

Here again, the U.S. public is way ahead of the political class (and even ahead of many social justice activists). For over 30 years Gallup pollsters have found a steady majority who agree that the United States should redistribute the wealth by imposing heavy taxes on the rich. Gallup found in 2014 that even Republicans polled at 45 percent in favor of increasing taxes on the rich. The Pew Research Center found that more Republicans favored increased spending on Medicare, education and infrastructure than favored cutting those programs. The Economist worries that, “Anti-capitalism is once more a force to be reckoned with.” Among Democrats, in October 2015, a YouGov poll found 49 percent of Democrats viewed socialism favorably, while their approval of capitalism had fallen to 37 percent.

So Bernie’s campaign scores high in articulating both analysis and vision. He challenges other activists to stop holding back as we relate to the majority of Americans. Clearly, it is time to be bold and meet people where many of them already are.

A ‘political revolution?’

Sanders’s candidacy is, to be sure, self-limiting. The political revolution he calls for cannot be achieved through the ballot box. Most Americans would agree with me if asked, based on their perception of the corruption of the system. I’d recommend to the remaining true believers in “U.S. democracy” a Princeton study released in 2014.

Two U.S. political scientists conducted a broad empirical study that reveals who actually has the say in public policy. Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern examined the 1,779 specific policy issues that came to a head for national decision over the two decades between 1981 and 2002. Note: that period was before the Supreme Court made the Citizens United decision, before the billions released in the current money rush.

For each issue Gilens and Page determined from opinion polls and other evidence what the majority of the public wanted and what the economic elite wanted. When those two views differed, the scholars wanted to know whose view prevailed. They took into account the fact that ordinary citizens often combine to form mass-based interest groups like the American Association of Retired Persons.

What they found was that, when there was a difference, the economic elite almost always prevailed over the majority. Even the mass-based interest groups had little or no independent influence. In the scholars’ words, “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

Bottom line, there’s no reason to think that the election of Bernie Sanders as president, even with a Congressional majority of Democrats, could possibly deliver the changes we want. Both major parties are clearly owned by the economic elite, and what they want, they get — as long as movements for change stay within the framework of electoral politics.

The good news is that we have the option of moving outside that corrupted framework. What if the Sanders campaigners maintained their commitment to a progressive analysis and vision and simply acknowledged what so many Americans already know: The system is too rigged to be changed from within.

Looking for power where it actually resides

It’s no accident that schools and the mainstream media urge us to look for empowerment in the wrong place: “Over here, under this streetlight!” For the 1 percent the 1960s was a truly dangerous decade. Too many people at that time discovered their power.

Cultural influencers in the mass media and academia therefore minimized and even ignored what people had learned about power through their nonviolent campaigns. The ‘60s were characterized as either a hippy “summer of love,” or a violent time of the Weather Underground and Black Panthers, thereby ignoring the main events that involved the most people and had the largest impact. Martin Luther King Jr. was caricatured as the “Day of Service” guy — even though, as far as I know, he never did a day of service in his life.

Despite this, working class and poor people did wage campaigns in the 1970s and ‘80s through unions and groups like ACORN, with little support across class and color lines. Environmentalists won their largest victory by stopping the spread of nuclear power with nonviolent direct action. Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network kept nonviolent campaigning alive, but failed to get the support they deserved because the electoral streetlight remained so appealing. Under the radar, Movement for a New Society, War Resisters League, and other clusters of trainers and manual-writers helped keep the direct action craft in circulation, laying the groundwork for the Battle of Seattle and the subsequent resurgence of larger-scale nonviolent direct action.

Throughout the period covered by the Princeton study, 1981-2002, and since, many continued to cling to electoral politics despite the onslaught of what billionaire Warren Buffett later acknowledged to be a successful class struggle initiated by his class. Over and over middle-class liberal Democrats legitimated an arena that couldn’t work for them, acting against their own interests as the wealth gap grew. Some are now noticing that looking under the streetlight is the wrong place to find their power.

Plan B: A strategy for those who ‘feel the Bern?’

The Sanders campaign is doing fine work in projecting analysis and vision so people can recognize they are not alone, then claim it, and work side by side with those who share it. The question of strategy remains. When the electoral arena reveals itself to be an instrument of the 1 percent, where will the Sanders movement go? Will people accept the lessons of their own experience, integrate the Princeton study into their worldview, and re-form to claim their authentic power: nonviolent direct action?

Veteran campaigner Antje Mattheus suggests that the Sanders movement take a part of the vision that has the most potential and form a nonviolent direct action campaign to fight for it. Why not a national fight for free higher public education, say? Or fight for federally-guaranteed green jobs for all, a goal that would combine economic and racial justice with the climate justice imperative, and would expose the utilities and fossil fuel companies that try to stand in the way? Such a campaign could attract majority U.S. support across class and race lines and support us once again to go on the offensive for change.

When we don’t find our power under the streetlight, we need to shine a light of our own.

  • PaulK2

    Every 60 or 80 years, millions of people get really hungry. Our civilization’s mechanical technology never fails us, indeed, our mechanical technology only gets more and more efficient every decade. Rather, rich people buy the government and then give themselves far more money. Then the government is forced to renege on its promises to feed and house the poorer voters. It’s called “austerity” but calling it the end game of corruption would be far more accurate.

    Our revolution needs an inherently corruption-resistant form of election. Such things exist! You just won’t see them ever mentioned on your TV screen. Electing Bernie is nice but it won’t fix the election system.

  • atiba1997

    Excellent info. Now if we can just get the rabid Bernie supporters to pay attention. I’m finding them even more angry & closed minded than Trump supporters if you dare to doubt Him. Dangerous & wrong-minded.

  • mwildfire

    I like your capitalization of Him…that’s exactly the problem, this desire to annoint a savior and project all hope onto him, instead of getting to work on change ourselves.

  • atiba1997

    Exactly. It’s rather lazy, but also demonstrates the total loss of hope Americans are feeling.

  • smendler

    The better question is, What happens if he WINS? “cause then he has to make things happen… which will be very very difficult.

  • lcotler

    Bernie has promised to support Hillary if he loses. What does that say about how deeply Bernie’s commitment is to the People?

  • AlanMacDonald

    Democratic Socialist Party or Social Democratic Party, either is fine for the restructuring of the current, ‘captured’, and corrupted Democratic Party.

    Bernie has the realist sense of 60s generation by age of principled anti-war, and peaceful anti-empire revolutionaries like SDS (students for a demoractic society) — who are now the 60s even 70s generation by age!

  • Hutch

    It may just say that he recognizes the terrible damage that will be done by another Republican in the white house.

  • Xxian

    But not ANY more difficult than it will be for Hillary to get things done. Unless you figure in the fact that Hillary is republican lite, which means you are not getting liberal things done, you are getting reich wing things done.

  • kcdad

    What happens?
    America declines further into obscurity, and then we start a global war.

  • atiba1997

    Yep, the “Lesser of the Two Evils” vote, always works.

  • AlanMacDonald

    The principled progressive democratic socialist, anti-war, anti-Empire, and non-violent revolutionary Bernie Sanders (who is both Jewish and smart enough to have started his insurgency against this Disguised Global Capitalist Empire within the carcass of the laugh lying mis-named “Democratic Party” in order to block being easily excluded from the rigged (s)election process) has apparently been far more sucessful than the Empire imagined in being able to both expose and ‘out’ the Empire (as the “Occupy” movement partially achieved, even without calling itself “Occupy the Empire”, which expresses a full sentence containg an ‘object’) and this 60s generation radical political Jew has managed to re-start the Revolution of my generation more effectively and peacefully than the SDS, Weathermen, and Black Power movement combined.

    Yea! Bernie. Who will slowly, steadily, and peacefully educate, inform, and ignite a Second American Revolution against Empire again — but with a peaceful and even joyous ‘shout heard round the world’ instead of a deck-clearing and violent “shot heard round the world”.

    As JFK warned, “those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution (against Empire) inevitable” — except that Bernie seems to have found the ‘path’ to making non-violent Revolution against this first and last fully ‘disguised’ global Empire quite possible because the most dangerous thing in the world to a disguised (and hidden, like a cancer) Empire is to merely but publicly ‘expose’ it to the light of average people “of good will” — just as ‘the light’ will dispatch a Vempire or a cancer.

  • AlanMacDonald

    LOL irony, my brother.

  • AlanMacDonald

    Reich is German for Empire. Thanks for More LOL irony

  • AlanMacDonald

    Here’s the biggest “spoiler alert” for this (S)election year: —- Bernie will spoil this damn Empire!

    Or more accurately, Bernie will spoil the Disguised Global Capitalist Empire’s facade of merely ‘posing’ as our once proud country for the last four decades.

  • Steven Berge

    If Bernie should have won but doesn’t, we should take back our power by striking. It seems to be the only power we have left. Come to think of it, we should set a date for big money to be taken out of politics and strike if it isn’t met. There are enough groups out there fighting for it, if they could only coalesce.

  • Judith Johnson

    They are terrifying, and delusional. There is no way in hell a leftist ideologue will ever get 270 votes needed from the Electorial College. Having fouled Clintons run, then Bloomberg will run as a 3rd party candidate and siphon Dem, Rep and Indie votes leaving Trump the winner or God forbid Ted Cruz. President Trump can follow in the footsteps of another German (well Austrian really) and continue the 3rd Reich which was always predicted to last a thousand years!

  • atiba1997

    sister <:

  • Jon

    Reading this discussion (including comments) of the value (or lack thereof) of elections, ALL the references were within the context of the two corporate parties. If only people would abandon them and go Green, we would see some change. Look at the platform and Jill Stein’s speeches! Then we can take bolder steps as needed.

  • pbr90

    Inciting vioence or inciting Revolution: which is worse?

    Don’t recall many peaceful revotuions in society!
    More of Sander’ two faced rhetoric, pot calling the Trump kettle black, and Hillary mimicing like a parrot!