The Progressive Movement At A Crossroads: An Open Letter To Bernie Sanders

Those of us who have followed your lead to this point are eager to see evidence of your message being heeded.
<em>Crossroads</em>
Crossroads

Dear Senator Bernie Sanders,

Prior to 2015, I was an Independent voter who had voted Democrat in every presidential election I had been old enough to participate in. I considered myself to be performing my civic duty by voting once every four years for the least-bad presidential candidate. I had never voted in a primary election nor a midterm election and I had never donated to nor volunteered for a political campaign. In my mind, there were no candidates worthy of that sort of support, none who represented my views on the issues facing our nation; so the lesser-evil became the only sensible option. In short, I was politically disillusioned and disengaged. 

All of that changed when you announced your candidacy in 2015.   

I was an early supporter of your campaign for the Democratic Party nomination and a founding member of your “Super Pack” of small-dollar donors, donating $10 a month starting in August 2015. During moments of the campaign when the odds seemed particularly stacked against you, your positive, progressive, politically revolutionary message shone through as a beacon of motivation and hope. In those moments, and there were more than a few, I would donate $50. I attended multiple rallies, voter registration drives and phone-bank sessions in the months leading up to the first primary contest. You inspired me, and millions of progressive Democrats and Independents alike, to stand and fight for a brighter political future. You showed us we are not alone in our values, that we can be a powerful force for change when we stand together. I cannot thank you enough for waking us up.

That being said, the chicanery of the Democratic National Committee leadership to subvert your campaign, as revealed in leaked DNC emails, combined with widespread voter suppression efforts by party officials and mainstream media outlets was, to say the least, hard to bear. For months, many millions of your supporters (the vast majority of whom followed your lead and voted for Hillary Clinton in the end) were crying out for the party elites to realize what was plain to see: You were the only candidate who could beat Donald Trump because of your strength with working class and Independent voters. National polling just days prior to the general election showed you crushing Trump by double-digits in a hypothetical matchup, whereas Clinton remained in a statistical tie. We are all now living with the results of the Democratic Party establishment’s colossal error in judgment.

The selection of DNC chair is eerily echoing the Democratic primaries. The parallels are all present: progressivism vs. neoliberalism, reform vs. status quo, grassroots vs. establishment.

Since the election, I’ve been searching for signs within the Democratic Party leadership indicating a lesson has been learned and the necessity for substantial reform is recognized. Unfortunately, those signs have been few and far between. The Democratic punditry is quick to place blame on any number of outside factors but loath to introspect. Due to seeming intransigence and lack of contrition by party leaders like Nancy Pelosi and others, party membership has reportedly dropped by 14 million in just over three months. 

The progressive movement you inspired, the “political revolution”, has thus reached the crossroads. The members of the Democratic National Committee must choose if they are willing to reform and be the vehicle for progressive change or not. That choice is fast approaching this week in the form of the DNC chair selection (February 23rd - 26th). 

You, of course, have been leading the push to reform the Democratic Party away from neoliberal corporatism and back into the party of working people. Your choice to implement that reform as the next DNC chair is Keith Ellison. Regardless of my own feelings about Congressman Ellison, he was an early supporter of your candidacy for president and was also a member of your platform delegation. He has clearly earned your trust and support. 

Ellison’s main opponent, Tom Perez, is a progressive the likes of Hillary Clinton. His recent admission at the DNC forum about the primaries being rigged along with the subsequent twitter retraction demonstrate both his blatant political opportunism and his quick capitulation to establishment elites in one fell swoop.

The selection of DNC chair is eerily echoing the Democratic primaries. The parallels are all present: progressivism vs. neoliberalism, reform vs. status quo, grassroots vs. establishment. It even includes a premature, anonymous accounting of support, similar to the AP announcement of an inevitable Clinton nomination the day before the California primary.  

Many progressives, like myself, see this as the last chance for the Democratic Party to change its present course at the national level. For others, the last chance already came and went with the tainted primary race. Although their support may never return, ours can and will if real structural changes are implemented within the party. The first step toward that change, I think you would agree, is for DNC members to select Keith Ellison as chair. 

If Perez is selected, however, your brand of progressive reform will have been rejected once again by the Democratic Party establishment, proving that, even in the wake of a devastating election loss and a national repudiation of the status quo, they are incapable of reform. They would be demonstrating the definition of insanity by doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. 

The herculean goal of reforming the Democratic Party is commendable and I truly hope still achievable, but if it’s proven otherwise, I would implore you to reconsider the idea proposed by your former campaign staffer, Nick Brana, to form your own party. The integrity of your ideas and ideals which you’ve expressed long before, during, and since the 2016 campaign inspired and united so many of us, who had all but given up on the political process, to get involved and be the change we wish to see. A party with such a powerful message as yours, with your honest leadership and the enthusiasm of the nation’s young people and progressive Independents would be a formidable, viable electoral force, indeed.

Those of us who have followed your lead to this point are eager to see evidence of your message being heeded, but we will not support a party if it doesn’t support us or share our values. We cannot gain significant power within a party whose leaders actively sabotage progressive candidates. Although I know you will always stand up for us, I hope that you will also stand with us outside the Democratic Party if its establishment refuses to change. Whether or not that is the case will become clear this week in Atlanta as members of the DNC choose their next leader and thus the future of the progressive movement within the party.  

Sincerely,

A Progressive Voter

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