Sanders Launch of ‘Our Revolution’ a Step Forward and a Step Backwards
Norman Solomon, coordinator of The Bernie Delegates Network, says the overall structure and objectives of ‘Our Revolution’ are encouraging, but Sanders retreated from positions he took towards the end of his presidential campaign by not addressing U.S. foreign policy and wars
KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid might be over, but he’s hoping to galvanize upon the unexpected success of his campaign.
BERNIE SANDERS: Want to introduce you to a new independent nonprofit organization called Our Revolution, which is inspired by the historic Bernie 2016 presidential campaign. Over time, Our Revolution will involve hundreds of thousands of people. These are people who will be fighting at the grassroots level for changes in their local school boards, in their city councils, in their state legislatures, and in their representation in Washington. Not only that, they will be involved in major ballot items dealing with campaign finance issues, environmental issues, healthcare issues, labor issues, gender-related issues, and doing all that they can in every way to create an America based on the principles of economic, social, racial, and environmental justice.
And let me, speaking only for myself, tell you what, to me, the political revolution is. It means to me nothing less than the transforming of the United States of America, the transformation of our country, into a society in which we will not continue to have a handful of billionaires controlling our economic, political, or media life.
BROWN: Our Revolution made its debut Wednesday night as part of a livestreaming event to Sanders supporters everywhere. Thousands of homes served as watch parties for people to check out this unveiling of this new organization. But Our Revolution has stumbled early out of the gate, with staff departures and criticisms of how the organization was set up to start.
Joining our discussion today we are speaking with Norman Solomon. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, and he’s also the co-founder of the national group RootsAction.org. Norman, thank you so much for joining us.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Glad to be with you.
BROWN: Norman, I watched Bernie’s spiel last night, and it reminded me a whole lot of a standard Sanders stump speech from him. He talked about his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he spoke about economic inequality, free college tuition, raising the minimum wage. But there were some things that were missing, like foreign policy. What were your thoughts about Our Revolution’s initial debut?
SOLOMON: Well, Bernie was the main speaker, and what he did say hit a very high standard. He was terrific as usual, I think, and among millions of other supporters of Bernie during his presidential race, I think he hit some great points which he articulated very well. For instance his attack, his deconstruction of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was terrific. On climate change, on healthcare, on racial justice, on corporate power, that was what had really grabbed and motivated so many people around the country during the campaign, and it was great to hear him in fit and fiddle form really going at it during the launch of Our Revolution.
That said, what was missing was quite troubling. And at RootsAction.org we launched a petition a year ago, very early on in Bernie’s campaign, asking him, urging him, to address the issues of war and the military-industrial complex, pointing out that Dr. Martin Luther King had denounced what King called the madness of militarism, and that that militarism had everything to do with corporate power, profiteering, the outlandish, bloated, and destructive Pentagon budget, and so forth. And Bernie during the fall and winter and spring of the campaign gradually began to address some of those issues, not in a full-throated way, but criticizing Hillary Clinton about regime change, that she’s continued to push during her career, and so forth in terms of foreign policy.
Long story short, all that was absent from Bernie’s 49-minute speech at the launch of Our Revolution. He literally said nothing about war, about Pentagon spending. In a sense it was a step backward for Bernie, and it shows, I believe, that Our Revolution, upper case Our Revolution, will be too narrow if it sticks to those exclusions of what is, after all, a huge part of government spending and policy, which is to say incessant war, the so-called war on terror now completing its 15th year.
BROWN: And a lot of people are wondering about the structure of Our Revolution. Specifically, it was set up as a 501(c)(4), which is basically a super PAC that could take unlimited big money from billionaires, from corporations, much like Sen. Sanders criticized not only Hillary Clinton but some of the Republican candidates as well, for relying so heavily on this so-called dark money. What do you think about Bernie now setting up somewhat of a dark money organization?
SOLOMON: Well, really, a 501(c)(4) is not a super PAC. It depends on how it’s administered, how transparent it is, and what happens going forward. I think it was a combination of the structure, which I think remains to be seen how it could be utilized, and the selection, particularly of Mr. Weaver, Jeff Weaver, who was the campaign manager for Bernie’s presidential campaign, evidently now running Our Revolution.
Apparently, and I have no inside information, but a lot of the major staff, the organizing and the digital action staff of Our Revolution carrying over from the campaign, just were [fed up]. They didn’t feel that Weaver’s the right person, and so it was sort of we’re going to stay only if he’s not running the show. And it appears that the message back to them from Bernie was I want to stay, but it’s Weaver’s way or the highway. So they took the highway.
BROWN: Indeed, but about the structure of the 501(c)(4), because there are some specific caveats about it, namely that federal employees can’t really interact with this, or elected officials, and that would be Sen. Bernie Sanders. So he can’t really have a whole lot of direct involvement with this, with his own organization that he’s setting up.
SOLOMON: Yeah. But I think actually that’s a positive in that, as Bernie said in the clip that you played, Our Revolution is going to be independent. And I see the problem, if there is one more in the other direction, in the sense that if it is going to be independent and have room to grow and not simply stay under the enormous shadow of the presidential campaign, as wonderful as it is in 2016. Independence actually makes sense.
BROWN: Well, Norman, the other part about the 501(c)(4) is that–so Our Revolution, as a 501(c)(4), is not going to be able to coordinate directly with some of the candidates that it wants to expressly offer support to. And one example of this is the congressional seat in Florida, that of Tim Canova, whereas they would like to offer him straight up support, straight up grassroots support, because they are not allowed to have direct dealings with him as a candidate with a 501(c)(4), doesn’t that sort of hamper what the stated purpose is, if they’re not allowed to directly engage with the candidates themselves, and try to coordinate a mutual strategy?
SOLOMON: I don’t see that as a problem. Whether it’s a 501(c)(4) or a PAC, legally coordination is not really allowed. And frankly, I wouldn’t want people, whether it’s Jeff Weaver or anybody else in a national headquarters in Vermont trying to run, and if not dictate, at least steer the direction of a grassroots campaign. I mean, in a sense that would be an oxymoron.
The role that I think Our Revolution can play is to have a unified set of principles that could be developed and that candidates around the country could sign on to, and also that Our Revolution could help raise money by providing information to people or progressives around the country about various races where they could send money, links they can click on to conceivably, directly contribute to a campaign or in some other way. And I see that as a positive.
So we can’t really have genuine grassroots campaigns that are run by some central organization. I see more of a, a challenge here is to inculcate the political culture among progressives that you don’t decide to run for office a couple or a few months before the election. It’s not, or shouldn’t be, an impulse item, a candy bar in the checkout line of the supermarket. And that is part of the progressive culture all too often. And one of the good things about Our Revolution is they’re saying let’s already start planning for 2018.
And I think that at the grassroots–you know, the cliché is all politics is local. And when you’re not running a presidential campaign that is the case. So all this is a challenge it needs to shake out, and I think we’re going to see what can be created in the process.
BROWN: Norman, you spoke about the appointment of Jeff Weaver, who was, as you said, Bernie’s campaign manager of his presidential campaign. Now Jeff will be overseeing Our Revolution. That caused for a bit of an exodus from some of the staffers who, you know, we’ve been hearing these sort of unattributed murmurs about the displeasure of Jeff Weaver’s leadership during the presidential bid, or during the Democratic nomination process. Is his presence there sort of emblematic of why Sanders’s presidential bid failed in the first place, because Bernie had galvanized a lot of support, but it was overwhelmingly white, it was overwhelmingly male. Not exclusively, but a majority of it was.
And it seems as if that some of the other members of Bernie’s campaign support staff, women, people of color, may not have been listened to by the white men, and here we are with Jeff Weaver, the same individual being placed at the head of it. And people left saying that they’re not going to deal with this again. What do you think about that?
SOLOMON: Well, in terms of hindsight in the campaign, all major campaigns make mistakes, and clearly we could take apart some of the mistakes made. But if we were talking a year ago we would have been astonished that Bernie would have come into the national convention with 45 percent of the delegates.
So to me, the crucial question now is what’s best for Our Revolution. And I have no inside information, not even secondhand information. But from statements that have been made by people who were at the core of the organizing and digital activism aspect of Our Revolution and Bernie’s campaign before it, I think that there are some real question marks, and I really would be concerned about whether it’s the right fit.
I mean, even if we stipulate, as the lawyers say, that Weaver overall oversaw a campaign for president that far exceeded anybody’s what seemed to be reasonable expectations, is that skill set the appropriate one for running Our Revolution, which is needing to interface with grassroots campaigns, to really work collegially with movements around the country that really are the essence of what this should all be about? Because election campaigns should be subsets of movements rather than the other way around if we’re going to have long-term change to bring the pressure to bear in Congress or the White House that’s needed.
So I, frankly, you know, personally I wish that there was a different set of backgrounds running Our Revolution, and for that matter the executive director is someone who apparently was, according to the Nation magazine, Bernie’s driver. And I just think that independence of Our Revolution in the long run will be healthy. Of course, it needs to be in the hands of leadership that Bernie trusts, and so forth. But it’s a big country. There’s diversity in the country. And as you allude to, at the top that needs to be reflected in an organization with the kind of ambition and breadth and width that we hope Our Revolution, upper case, will achieve.
BROWN: Wednesday night, Bernie asserted a priority in making sure that progressive-minded candidates get elected not only to Congress, but at the local level. School boards was a body that he referenced many times. To your knowledge, does Our Revolution only support Democratic Party members? Because Bernie ran as an independent, and we’ve seen and heard probably moreso from Libertarian nominee Governor Gary Johnson, and Green Party nominee Dr. Jill Stein, on a national level moreso than I can recall in recent history. Is this only going to be for Democratic Party members? Or is Bernie looking to build a bigger tent of multi-party candidates to support for office?
SOLOMON: Well, that remains to be seen. I mean, my impression is going to be a matter of which candidates for what races and what part of the country are really presenting in a possibly successful way a genuinely progressive vision? I think it’s a very good sign that Bernie has broken with the taboo that so many Democrats in Congress adhere to, which is to not support primary challenges against incumbents in their own party. While it may likely not be successful, the primary challenge coming up in days against Debbie Wasserman Schultz is one that Bernie has supported, has been willing to stick his neck out and say, I support Canova. Mr. Canova, the opponent of this powerful Democratic incumbent.
And that’s a good sign, because frankly, it’s going to be essential through Our Revolution and other means that we challenge so many incumbent Democrats as the primaries come along in 2018.
BROWN: Norman, that’s an excellent point, because the real question remains, is can the Democratic Party be reformed from the inside out? Or is this going to be a party that is serving the powerful, serving the oligarchy?
SOLOMON: Well, we have theory and we have practice. And as good as theories are, it would have astonished us to see the spectre of the Sanders campaign, or some of the elections that are happening in primary races, this year around the country, where progressive Democrats have had success. It’s been extremely frustrating. There have been way more defeats than victories among progressives running in Democratic primaries. But there have been some successes. And contrast that with Green Party races, where there is designation of the party affiliation on the ballot, which is to say for governor or for Congress you basically have zero success in the last decade. And that is, I think, necessary for us to come to terms with.
So it’s not a sort of an ideological or attitudinal litmus test of we hate the Democratic Party, or we think it’s salvageable. It comes down to practice, and let’s find out what can actually work. But what’s clear is that we need a wholesale transformation of power in this country away from what Bernie rightly calls the oligarchy. And that means huge changes. You know, nibbling at it is not going to do it. The progressive caucus in Congress, for whatever the virtues of some of its leaders and others, all virtually Democrats, they’ve really been unable, unwilling to challenge a corporate war White House run by a Democrat. That has to change.
And if it’s going to be a President Hillary Clinton, there should not be a nanosecond of political honeymoon, because so many of her policies are absolutely antithetical to any progressive principle.
BROWN: Norman, you bring me to your last and final question for you, which leads right into that. So if Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, and let’s look ahead to 2018 here, if she is not holding true to some of the promises that she made, some of the concessions that were afforded to in the Democratic platform, will Our Revolution, or even should Our Revolution seek to hold Hillary Clinton accountable, to make her a one-term president? If she is going hard, perhaps, with war, or with other things, like you said, that are antithetical to the progressive ideal, should they try to oust her, or put up a challenger against her in the year 2020?
SOLOMON: Well, I would say in the year 2020, even if she does adhere to the Democratic Party platform, the foreign policy and war aspects of that platform are so abhorrent to human decency from a progressive standpoint, those provisions are so militaristic that if she adheres to that platform, just on that basis, even if she didn’t backtrack on domestic policies or trade policies in the platform, which I think is highly unlikely. She’s–her track record is so duplicitous.
But I think that first, in 2018 for congressional races, then in 2020 we need to be willing and able to develop strong grassroots-based electoral challenges to the Hillary Clinton machine. It’s going to be absolutely necessary, or a dystopian future is really ahead of us.
BROWN: That’s Norman Solomon. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He’s also the co-founder of the national group RootsAction.org. Fantastic conversation, Norm. Thank you so much for joining us.
SOLOMON: Thank you, Kim.
BROWN: And thank you for watching the Real News Network.
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