Sanders’ Inspired ‘Our Revolution’ to Empower Local Chapters

Our Revolution’s Nina Turner and Larry Cohen tell The Real News that Sanders’ fundraising juggernaut will support progressives, including those outside the Democratic Party

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR: Our Revolution, the group founded on the initiative of Bernie Sanders, and aimed at continuing organizing around the movement that arose around, what Sanders called his political revolution, laid out its framework for passing progressive ballot initiatives, electing progressives in 2018… 

NINA TURNER: …local elections matter, and in many cases they matter more than the President, or more than the Congress.

JAISAL NOOR: … and a new bid for a progressive candidate in 2020.

NINA TURNER: We will take back school boards, and council seats, and legislature, and the Congress, and by the almighty power of God, we will take back the White House in 2020, baby! We will! We will!

JAISAL NOOR: A national Livestream brought together efforts from hundreds of chapter meetings around the country, aimed at deciding how Our Revolution would help facilitate the movement nationwide.

A critical issue is, who gets to use Sanders’s campaign donor list that helped him reach an unprecedented $226 million dollars through small donations, averaging about $27 each. The power of this list has been a source of debate. The Democratic Party has asked Sanders for the list, but thus far he has refused to hand it over.

We asked Our Revolution board member, and former Ohio State Senator, Nina Turner, about the significance of decentralizing the decision-making process of who gets Our Revolution’s backing, and the potential fundraising support that entails. 

NINA TURNER: They will get a chance to make a recommendation to the National Board, of which I am a member, about who in their particular communities should get the endorsement of Our Revolution. So, we really want them to have the power, and make the decision and not us making decisions. Especially for community-based races, local races, from on high, without really knowing the heartbeat and the pulse of that community.

This is about empowerment. This is about giving the power back to the people, and that is what Senator Bernie Sanders… that’s what he has wanted all along, and that is what the political revolution is all about.

JAISAL NOOR: So, we know that Trump is carrying out his agenda full steam. There’s also the fight within the Democratic Party, seems to be continuing full stream. How is Our Revolution going to prioritize those two different agendas?

NINA TURNER: Well, Our Revolution’s going to stay focused, and our focus is to get progressive candidates elected from the local level, all the way to federal level, and to push progressive initiatives, or issues that are on the ballot, like Medicare for all, like doing away with Citizens United.

We are not going to get distracted by Mr. Trump’s agenda because our agenda is Medicare for all. Our agenda is making sure that women and men receive a living wage. Our agenda is to push back. So, that’s not going to change, so we’re going to stay focused.

JAISAL NOOR: And does that also mean taking on Corporate Democrats and Primary Dem–?

NINA TURNER: Oh, without a doubt. We will take on Corporate Democrats all day long, because for Our Revolution, it is not about the D behind your name, it is about the heart, and the passion that you have for the people. And again, that is why any endorsement that we make, will be directed and led by the pulse of the people in those communities.

People want to know that the folks that they are electing, that they care about them, and their families and their future, and not so much about their political affiliation. I hope it is Democrats. This country needs the Democratic Party to stand up, and speak out, and really push strong policies for everyday people.

But we have been lacking, which is why we lost in 2016. So, Our Revolution is about people power.

JAISAL NOOR: So, does that mean there’s a chance that they could endorse third party, or Green Party candidates, if those are the most progressive candidates?

NINA TURNER: No, we don’t discourage any… this is not about your party affiliation, even though, you know, we would hope… we would like to hope that the Democratic Party would want to fill that space. But if there’s a Green Party candidate, a Libertarian that’s progressive –- hell, if there’s a Republican that’s progressive, bring it on. I would love to see some. We want to endorse the right candidates at the right time, so affiliates can recommend anybody they want to.

LARRY COHEN: So, that’s really where the focus is now: to try to go beyond just resistance and fighting back, but sustained political activity at every level.

JAISAL NOOR: And so, you know, Bernie Sanders’s campaign really highlighted the rift between elements of the Democratic Party, specifically the control… the part of it that’s controlled by the oligarch class…

LARRY COHEN: Yeah, that’s his word.

JAISAL NOOR: …and the working class, ordinary people. What is Our Revolution doing to address that rift that drove a lot of people away from voting for Hillary Clinton?

LARRY COHEN: Well, the story you heard today, Mike Connolly…

MIKE CONNOLLY: Now, last year, with the help of hundreds of supporters, and activists, and organizers in my community, I was able to take on the political establishment, and defeat a popular incumbent, who had won 38 elections in a row.

LARRY COHEN: …that would be an example. He ran in a primary against a long-term incumbent. He didn’t do that just to beat an incumbent. He did it, as he said, to stand up for $15, to stand up for workers rights, paid family leave, a millionaire’s tax to finance good public education –- public schools, not charter schools.

So, I mean, that’s what we’re doing is its not just against people, but we have to fight for something, and that’s both in the Democratic Party, but obviously in the country as a whole.

JAISAL NOOR: You mentioned Fight For 15. The mayor of Baltimore, a Democrat, recently vetoed a $15 minimum wage legislation that had widespread support in the city, city council. You think–

LARRY COHEN: I think shame on that mayor, for sure. But that’s an example, where Roxie Herbekian, who spoke here today, I’m sure she’ll continue that fight regardless of the mayor, and no one’s going to forget the mayor did that. I didn’t know that, but you know, that’s a major fight for us in communities across the country.

JAISAL NOOR: Right now, Bernie Sanders is on a Unity Tour with…

LARRY COHEN: That’s over.

JAISAL NOOR: Right. It just ended. Right. But some people are asking, why go on that tour when the Democratic Party still represents the interests of the oligarchs?

LARRY COHEN: Yeah. I think it’s a fair question, frankly, but the question is, how do you balance out transformation, and at the same time fight Trump? I think that’s what Bernie’s really wrestling with, and he’s in the U.S. Senate, he chairs Senate Outreach for the Democratic Caucus. So, you know, that’s a complicated existence for Bernie Sanders. For some of us, like, Fighting For 15 is not complicated.

JAISAL NOOR: When Our Revolution was launched, there were some folks resigned from the staff over its tax structure, 401(c)(4) not being able to directly coordinate with local candidates. Now you’ve… Senator Turner discussed how local groups are going to have more autonomy. Do you think this will help address some of the criticisms that existed during its foundation?

LARRY COHEN: Yeah. That’s a longer conversation about what the structure is, and how we relate to other organizations, as well. But, I mean, I think that initial belief we still are sort of grounded in, that a little… at least a little less than half of our activity is electoral, so therefore the (c)(4) structure works.

Because we really want to emphasize local organizing, not just for somebody’s election -– they may be wonderful, like Bernie — but ongoing political change, which isn’t just electoral. It means ballot measures. It means taking on issues. It means providing sanctuary. It means organizing more people and doing educational work: what do we stand for?

So, you know, I think it’s fair. People have different ideas of how they want to change the country. It’s great. They’re all… there’s room for all of it. But that’s really where the (c)(4) structure comes from. But our board did authorize a PAC that has not been done for a bunch of reasons. We really want to get grounded in these groups.

BASILISA ALONSO: And being a proud immigrant is now putting me at risk, along with 11 million other people, at risk for deportation. I currently have DACA, and if you don’t know what that is, it’s a program that was implemented under the Obama administration that grants 800,000 people like me, people who were brought to this country as children, temporary protection from deportation and work authorization.

But even with DACA, someone who has that status recently got deported. So, this administration is making it clear that it doesn’t matter if you have protection, it doesn’t matter if you’re a student, if you’re a mother providing for your family. If you’re an immigrant, you’re not welcome here.

JAISAL NOOR: We also talked to Our Revolution staff member and DACA recipient Basi Alonso, about a new Our Revolution initiative to support sanctuary policies nationwide, as well as the millions of immigrants Trump has threatened to deport.

BASILISA ALONSO: But we’ve been working with immigrant rights groups, with people that do work on decriminalization, to develop the questions that we want to use. So that we can really show what policies are harmful and helpful to people in that community. If you go to the map, you’re able to see state policies that are either harmful or helpful.

We have a question right now about what are the police wears, have any laws about body cameras, right? Or, whether they have anything around that issue. We look to see if there’s any ICE contracts. Does the state or the county or city have any ICE contracts with ICE? So, those are the type of questions that we’re looking at.

But, also we’re going beyond that and thinking about quality of life issues, like do immigrants have access to drivers’ licenses, right? Those are the things that we also want to look at.

JAISAL NOOR: And so, now Trump is essentially using the enforcement infrastructure that Obama expanded, and he used as well, and that was under a Democratic administration. He didn’t dismantle those. He carried out a record amount of deportations, and did not dismantle the infrastructure. Is that something that Our Revolution is going to challenge, as well?

BASILISA ALONSO: Yeah. I mean, we signed on to a letter, asking that Obama dismantle PEP, and all the other programs… and also really just start tearing down the private detention system complex, like he did with private prisons. And, you know, he didn’t do it. And so we are not naïve in saying that this didn’t happen under the Obama administration. He set this up for this to happen, right?

And I think that is important to remember, that it wasn’t President Obama who passed DACA, it was the activists that fell for it, and there’s people who don’t qualify for DACA, because they were fighting for it.

MICHAEL BRENNAN: We hope to accomplish reform of the Democratic Party. We want -– regardless if they’re new or old — to start representing what the people want, rather than what the donors want. I think that’s a good starting point. To apply that pressure, and make sure that it’s truly representative of what the people want.

JAISAL NOOR: Is that going to be a litmus test? If a candidate will accept money from billionaires, from corporations, that means that it’s probably not going to get the support of Our Revolution?

MICHAEL BRENNAN: I think a litmus test on any issue will be divisive, so I don’t like labeling it that way. I think if you have an issue, say, like single payer healthcare, and someone is just taking money from pharmaceutical or health insurance companies, and they oppose H.R.676 because it doesn’t… you know, they give some reason, but we can see where the money’s coming from, I think that’s a good litmus test.

Rather than saying outright, “If you take money, we won’t vote for you,” maybe, say, applying it to these issues, and saying, “Okay, you oppose it for X reason, but we actually see you’re receiving money from the industry that would opposes it,” or something like that.

JAISAL NOOR: With Cameron Granadino, this is Jaisal Noor reporting from Silver Spring, Maryland.