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Bernie, Time to Grow the Seeds of Revolution

By       Message Rena Grasso     Permalink
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Bernie, Time to Grow the Seeds of Revolution

Even the public media serves establishment politics. Last week's NPR newscaster reported the opening of five Clinton offices In MA .Two Clinton supporters followed. One echoed Clinton's pragmatic progressive slogan (sub-message, Sanders is impractical). A Planned Parenthood executive reinforced the Clinton for women message. Maintaining the facade of objective coverage, the report gave a nod to Sanders' UMASS rally. No testimonials. No emphatic support/opinion to insinuate into public consciousness, and no spokesperson's appeal to a voting group.

Media manipulation in the service of corporate ends is not news. But the failure of the Sanders' campaign to foresee and develop strategies to counteract the media's powerful influence reflects a core problem. The Sanders' campaign invokes political revolution but has instead conducted a non-revolutionary campaign directed by professional campaigners (all white men), organized in a hierarchy and operating with a one- way communication chain from the top --down.

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I joined the Sanders' campaign because I viewed it as a vehicle for building social movements, a focal point for bringing people together to discuss, to plan, to organize for real change. Not because I thought he could win. Still when he said "political revolution," I felt elated; I was buoyed when he rebuked an audience chanting his name, reminding them that the revolution was them. Likewise when Sanders said he could get nothing done as President without the political revolution.

The crowds Sanders attracted shook my skepticism. I saw potential. But early on, I was troubled by campaign behaviors (domination by leaders, controlling behavior; no issue discussions; no concern for individual participation or for local base-building). Now seven months into the "game," on the eve of Super Tuesday, the political revolution has not advanced beyond rhetoric, and I fear that Bernie's "crusade to resurrect democracy" (Cornell West) will flounder and dissolve on the shores of defeat and disenchantment.

Sanders continues to invoke the emotionally resonating "political revolution." Yes, this references a public awakened and wanting big changes, but that's an ingredient, not the creation, of political revolution; the potential for, not the substance of, an organized political movement. I thought (and still think it an unrealized possibility) that a campaign could contribute to a political revolution, but that the political revolution, both conceptually and organizationally, must be the overriding force.

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However, the campaign is calling the shots and determining directions, and, in my opinion, its ideas and its methods have prevented political revolution. The campaign mindset is limited to the narrow, short term goal of getting Bernie nominated and its tactics are correspondingly narrow and myopic. Neglected (though the words are used) has been the grass-roots organizing and empowerment to build the long-lasting social movements/groups of political revolution.

Here in Worcester, MA, a working class city with a substantial Black and Latino population, zero effort has been expended to outreach to and engage these potential voters. Bernie would need them, yet the campaign's leadership didn't appear to think so. Bernie's agenda speaks most concretely to them and in their forthright language. But Bernie supporters weren't directed into these communities which, despite their potential, are also most vulnerable to media manipulation and prone to disengagement. The campaign formed eight months before the primary. Little enough time to reach out and engage this at one time Democratic base, but the mindset didn't embrace this base building effort. Instead, it called for house parties, - intrinsically incapable of reaching the unengaged and disaffected. Or stand outs on street corners (not including these neighborhoods and communities), or Bernie events that attracted supporters but failed to empower and engage them other than urging participation in "the campaign."

For instance, one I attended in September brought out 50-60 locals; when they left, they went their individual ways. No discussion and idea sharing was encouraged. No strategy brainstorming (how to break through the media stronghold, for instance, or how to mobilize locally). The communication was one way; no channels opened for the (unsolicited) viewpoints and ideas of the attendees. Attention to crucial organizational details was not evident. The men who organized the event collected an email list. Many of us asked, and were assured, the list would be shared. It never was. Anyone who wanted to do base building, or media disruption events, or to anticipate and take the lead on defining the Hillary for women message could not reach out to those attendees who might have wanted to participate.

At another Bernie group, the leader (also a mediator with the campaign hierarchy) controlled the email list; he filtered everything that could go out, and actually sabotaged activities that didn't accord with "the campaign" directives. A recent post on the MA for Bernie website deplored that Sanders commanded only a 7% lead in MA. Agreed, and I think I have identified some reasons for this.

People without a voice, not encouraged to express their political concerns, to debate issues, or to clarify their politics do not constitute a political revolution. This is perhaps most tellingly reflected in the prevailing lack of clarity about what 'political revolution' means. Absence of specificity on this fundamental message of Bernie's campaign impacts even the short term objective. For instance, people rightfully question how Bernie will make the radical changes he proposes. They know congressional gridlock won't dissolve; they may also know that the corporate powers are not going to throw in the towel. Canvassing, I have often encountered this barrier. I say, "You're right,"" he can't do it the regular way, but only with you and me. Because it's us up to us. Sanders never says this so that it's understood (if he believes it). But I don't know any other answer, and the campaign has not engaged its troops in developing ways to address peoples' fear that Sanders is an ineffectual idealist (Hillary is pragmatic). Nor has Sanders emphatically articulated the related idea that the political revolution is long-term.

The failure to engage committed supporters, much less the unengaged popular base, in critical discussion, or to provide channels for those in the trenches to express and enrich the campaign with their viewpoints and their on- the- ground experiences contradicts the very power of the people that the term political revolution evokes and purports to serve. A particularly reactionary idea that prevails amongst Bernie supporters is one that muzzles and constrains criticism of Hillary Clinton. We can't expose her campaign lies/distortions, or examine her distinctly anti-progressive militarism, or say too specifically or boldly that Hillary Clinton's past policies, her neoliberal ideology, and her neocon American Exceptionalism can only fail the people. Why this suppression? The rationale is that if Sanders fails to be the nominee, then we need an untarnished Clinton to defeat the Republicans.

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But Sanders himself has described the Clinton machine as the most powerful in Washington. A revolutionary analysis would perceive and resist the media's role in hiding Clinton's negatives. In the face of these monumental forces shielding Clinton from public scrutiny, are Bernie supporters to fight the world champion for the nomination with one hand tied behind their back? And is Hillary Clinton an acceptable option for a political revolutionary? Neither of these strategically critical questions could be answered without those discussions and debates that never happened.

From here-on-in, no matter what happens today, Super Tuesday, if there's any basis to Bernie Sanders' political revolution, he must dramatically change course. He must replace and /or supplement his leadership with men and women in touch with the issues, the needs, and the voices of those communities that he has neglected. He needs leadership that will organize and build coalitions with a myriad of progressive organizations and causes. If he doesn't win the nomination, he must not endorse Hillary Clinton, but, rather persist in building a powerful, organized counterforce to craft and back progressive demands at the Democratic Convention.

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A veteran of second wave feminism who was was actively involved in the development of women's studies when it wasunderstood as part of a social movmeent, and an activist engaged in struggles for reproductive rigths, violence against women, (more...)
 

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