Reprinted from The Nation
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders told The Nation more than a year ago that he was "prepared to run for president of the United States." But he said he had to determine whether grassroots activists were ready to back an insurgent progressive-populist candidacy. And he had to sort out the question of how to mount a campaign that he said would require a "political revolution" to upset politics as usual.
Sanders has gotten the answers he was looking for, and aides and allies say that he is preparing to announce his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination later this week. That's a big leap for the senator, who has caucused with congressional Democrats but has always been elected as an independent.
Sanders, who Vermont Public Radio says will launch his challenge to the supposed inevitability of Hillary Clinton's Democratic candidacy on Thursday, made no secret of the fact that he was wrestling with the issue of how to run. The only democratic socialist in the Senate has been a fierce critic of both major parties, and he listened closely over the past year to counsel from those who wanted him to mount an independent or third-party bid and to those who said the only practical option was to run inside the Democratic Party.
The senator always said that he would not be a spoiler -- pulling votes from a Democratic nominee in a November race that might tip to a right-wing Republican. And the intensive "Run Bernie Run--as a Democrat" campaign mounted by the group Progressive Democrats of America made the case that Sanders could run his kind of campaign in the Democratic caucuses and primaries.
For Sanders, a politically savvy and serious political figure, that was not just rhetoric. More aware than any current or potential presidential contender of the extent to which corporate money and billionaire influence has warped American politics, he wanted to see whether there were still enough citizens who were ready to buck the bucks and pour their hearts and souls into an economic populist candidacy.
So Sanders went to Iowa, and New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and California. He logged tens of thousands of miles traveling to the union halls and church basements and school auditoriums of America.
When Sanders was in Chicago earlier this month to campaign with insurgent mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and newly elected city council candidate Susan Sadlowski Garza, he was mobbed by a multi-racial crowd that embraced his message that "What we need are millions of working people to begin to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough.' The billionaire class can't have it all, and we need government to start representing ordinary America."
Sanders delivered that speech in an old United Steelworkers union hall on the south side of America's third-largest city.
But Sanders got a similarly boisterous response in South Carolina last week, when he appeared at a convention center in Columbia and told the Southern Democrats, "They have the money, but we've got the people... America does not belong to the billionaire class, it belongs to all of us."
For Sanders, however, the most inspiring response has come in recent weeks from opponents of President Obama's request for Trade Promotion Authority to "fast track" the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. A staunch critic of free-trade policies that invite multinational corporations to embark upon a "race to the bottom" when it comes to wages, environmental protection and human rights, Sanders has rallied workers in Washington and across the country to block the deal.