To keep the momentum going, the Bernie Sanders-inspired movement needs to identify new catalysts of political energy and develop new methods to engage the people and focus our efforts.
Only one year ago, every American knew that the only way to effectively compete in a presidential election was through big dollar fundraising and securing the blessing of financial and political elites. Those of us outside the loop had become resigned to our powerless position.
But over the last several months, the Bernie Sanders campaign redefined the idea of what is politically possible and, through that, sparked a new sense of hope and desire to engage in the political process. We learned that ordinary people do not have to be politically isolated and divided. Millions of us hope to reshape the distribution of political power, and are committed to exhibiting real respect and compassion for all people.
Looking to the Future
Looking to the future, many of us have been inspired by this democratic revival and want to keep the energy and enthusiasm going. For many Sanders supporters, the first instinct is to continue pushing for the Bernie 2016 agenda. There were, after all, over twelve million people who voted in favor of the campaign. Why reinvent the wheel? But in considering the next steps, two concerns should be on our minds — leadership and sustainability.
Bernie Sanders is a vigorous campaigner and a surprisingly charismatic figure; a true leader fighting for the concerns of all Americans. However, as he reminds his supporters so often, his campaign was never just about him or a single election. The purpose was always greater, to spark a new grassroots movement to take back our democracy from powerful elites; what he continuously refers to as the ‘political revolution’.
While the campaign was focused on winning votes, the greatest achievement of the political revolution has been to show each of us our own agency, voice, and power. None of us can individually stand up to a powerful political machine, but together we are a real force.
Keep the Momentum Going
To keep the momentum going, the movement needs to identify new catalysts of political energy and new methods to engage the people and focus our efforts. We cannot afford to stake our future on a single individual, nor can we afford to revert back to the politics of one year ago. Many of our problems are mounting faster than we solve them. We need new approaches to join together and organize for bold change. Emerging from a campaign for the people is a form of politics initiated and driven by the people — a movement that encourages and channels our diverse efforts, ideas, and values toward a true people’s revolution.
Most political campaigns and advocacy organizations have a small core of leaders who define the mission, goals, and methods for their group. Often, the internal decision processes are hierarchical, exclusive, and opaque. Individual supporters or members have limited input or control.
While this structure has clear merits — by lending to professional, knowledgeable management and efficient decision-making — it is fundamentally designed to empower the prerogative of top-level managers, large donors, and their associates. These organizations may be run to benefit a particular constituency, but they are not run by constituents. Undoubtedly, many of these organizations would make great partners for a people’s movement, but none can legitimately carry its banner.
A Legitimate People’s Movement
If we want a more inclusive, democratic, and humane politics, then we need to lead the way. We can best accomplish this by coming together and creating a workable model among ourselves. This will require identifying and developing approaches that foster participation and cooperation, tolerate difference and dissent, and redirect conflict toward constructive dialogue. Together we have the talents, knowledge, and skills to make that happen.
A new group called The People’s Revolution (TPR) turns the typical organizational structure on its head. Rather than building support outward from a core set of leaders, issues, and goals, this group is bringing together a broad and diverse set of people who unite behind an inclusive, participatory organizing strategy and a set of core shared values. Participation is based on a desire for more open, inclusive, and representative democratic institutions, and a willingness to work through differences in order to create a mutually agreeable agenda and stand together as a powerful force for change.
At the heart of TPR is an understanding of the linkages between democracy, solidarity, and decency. In order for the people to have a real voice in the democratic process, we need to be able to stand together, and that requires a spirit of trust, respect, cooperation, and patience. In a country as large and diverse as the United States, coming together as a people also requires an explicit acknowledgment of each person’s unique experiences, perspective, and needs.
In this type of project, there is always a risk of staying too hypothetical or getting bogged down in endless deliberation. TPR is action-oriented and willing to accept a level of fluidity and ambiguity as the group finds its footing. The growth path is not always smooth or seamless, but it is organic, grassroots, committed to democratic values, and built for continuous improvement.
The focus right now is creating a political community that works together, shares information and ideas, and pools resources to build and grow a unified front for the people. It is not centered on a single charismatic individual and does not seek to simply collect followers and fans. It is about people coming together, working out their differences, finding common ground, and organizing for change using a wide variety of tools including elections, advocacy, and non-violent direct action.
Our First Major Project
The first major project for TPR is to bring together participants and other partners to draft an agreement called The People’s Platform, which defines the group’s purpose and direction over the coming months. The drafting process employs a crowd-sourcing model — based upon the group’s inclusive, participatory, and values-based approach — that seeks to create a political document that best reflects the joint interests of all parties involved.
Their next big project is organizing and hosting The People’s Convention on July 23rd in Philadelphia. This event will offer an opportunity for TPR participants to meet in person and via live-stream to engage in political dialogue and ratify The People’s Platform. The event will also provide a space for grassroots organizers, activists, and other participants to meet, share ideas, forge new relationships, and continue organizing for the future of the movement.
The Bernie 2016 campaign has brought people together and has shown us our collective power. The future depends on our ability to engage one another in efforts that generate new energy and enthusiasm, and can hold us together as a powerful force for change. The People’s Revolution is a project built on a clear understanding of this political moment, and one that holds enormous potential to serve as the model for the next step in democratic politics.