By Michael Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ organization, Our Revolution, is focusing on empowering progressives to enter elected office, as state chapters across the country vet and rally support for putting Bernie Sanders style progressives into local offices. While political opponents have tried to focus on the election losses the organization has backed to develop a pejorative narrative, the victories are beginning to pile up even as the political revolution seeks to take on Republicans and establishment Democrats without the help of Super PACs and corporate lobbyists.
In Burlington, Vermont, where Bernie Sanders’ political career began as an Independent Mayor in 1981 before winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1991, Our Revolution’s first endorsed Burlington candidate, 35 year-old Ali Dieng, the fourth political candidate in Vermont the group endorsed, won a highly contested seat on the Burlington City Council in a special election this past June 2017, representing Burlington’s 7th Ward.
Dieng is the only black and muslim member on the city council, becoming only the second New American ever to serve on the council and third person of color ever to sit on the council. Born in Mauritania and raised in Senegal, Dieng met his wife while she was serving in the Peace Corps in Mauritania. They moved from Washington DC to Burlington in 2008, where he has worked at the Burlington City School District’s Family Outreach Coordinator and Manager of the Parent University, a program he created to help the most vulnerable families in Burlington.
In his recent City Council victory, his first political race ever, Dieng embraced a grassroots people focused campaign.
“To win a race, it will take a village. Only one person can’t do it. Make sure that you have people with you, people behind you, who are able to help you,” he said in an interview with me. “Knock at every single door in your area. Every single one. Take the time to make sure you knock at every single door. Talk to the people. Let them know who you are, let them know what you believe in, and just be yourself. I think that was really, really important in my campaign. Be yourself, don’t take corporate money, run a grassroots campaign, get people who can help you.”
He added, “it will take courage to door-knock, because some people are not welcoming. Especially when you are different, when you have an accent, when you are a person of color. They might not be welcoming, but your role is to make sure that you connect with them. And when you talk to them, be yourself, bring your policy ideas, just don’t be like a very big politician. Say things that you can deliver. Don’t talk about things that you cannot deliver. And then build trust, build a relationship.”
He cited that he ran on trying to improve the communication between the local government and its constituents, because there remains a disconnect between the two. This trend is increasingly occurring not just in Burlington, but across the country as corporations and special interests have yielded their own influence to assert power over government and democracy.
“I believe that it is now, more than ever, so important for people in America to get involved in politics. Get involved. In your local communities, in your state, in this nation. Because if you don’t do it, people will do it for you. And they will do it in a way that will benefit only the top one percent,” Dieng explained. “Get involved. Don’t just complain. Be part of the process. Fight. Fight for yourself, for your family, for your community, for working families. And until we all do it, until we all have that mindset of working for what we see, nothing will change. And no one will change it for you. Getting involved, getting the work done, that’s what it takes.”
Bernie Sanders’ consistent message of economic populism against the rigors of capitalism are part of what inspired Dieng to run for office and seek out Sanders’ endorsement along with Our Revolution’s in his bid for office. Dieng noted that the difference between Sanders and other politicians is that Sanders has consistently pushed back against the idea that its fine for billionaires, millionaires, and corporations to run the government.
“It’s not fair for an American to work forty hours a week and not being able to save any money,” Dieng added, “And elders, you retire, you don’t even have any money to live with dignity. And I think those are ideas that Bernie has been promoting since he was a young person and he never changed his mindset. He never wanted to take any money from corporations. He is building a movement to make sure the working class can strive and live American Dream. It starts in the grassroots. It starts from the school board. That’s why he is the most popular of all the senators in America. And also why I believe he will be the next president of the United States.”