An Inside-Outside Strategy For the Political Revolution

Raucous protests and down-ballot Democrats can beat the Bernie-or-bust blues.

Joel Bleifuss

Sanders fans are understandably raising Cain—but they should also keep working within the Democratic Party. (Jeff J Mitchell / Staff / Getty Images)

After a long intra-party campaign, your side — bucking the odds, and facing a hostile media and party apparatus — does extraordinarily well. Your movement encourages millions of Americans to question the assumptions of the neoliberal elite. Yet, in the end, your candidate loses. What do you do?

So what if Bernie’s most fervent supporters disrupted the convention proceedings? A vibrant and healthy political culture is by definition messy.

If you are one of the Bernie or Bust” delegates at the Democratic convention — a convention to which you have been democratically elected to support Sanders — you march out of the convention arena chanting, without a shred of irony: This is what democracy looks like!”

If the Sanders movement is premised on an inside/​outside” game, aren’t the elected delegates the people who are meant to work on the inside? It is easy to agree with Sarah Silverman when, from the convention podium, she scolded: To the Bernie or Bust people: You’re being ridiculous.”

But not so fast. The Bernie or Bust contingent comes from the tradition of Occupy Wall Street, not Democratic Party politics. Their tactics are bound to rub some people the wrong way. Recall Occupy Wall Street — with its fetish for horizontality and its endlessly deliberative meetings that excluded people with families and jobs. It was a movement that frustrated many traditional progressives.

Yet, it bears remembering that it was Occupy Wall Street that made the 99% and the 1% part of the world’s political lexicon, not the hidebound American Left. Similarly, the enthusiasm and hard work of the Occupy Wall Street generation catapulted Bernie Sanders within grasping distance of the Democratic Party nomination. So what if Bernie’s most fervent supporters disrupted the convention proceedings? A vibrant and healthy political culture is by definition messy. Get over it. That slight to political decorum is nothing compared to Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s gross violation of the Democratic National Committee bylaws.

Clinton clinched the nomination, but the political revolution will continue in the guise of what the Sanders campaign is branding Our Revolution.” Under that inclusive banner, the campaign will deploy resources to more than 100 candidates running for public office this fall.

If we are successful, what it will mean is that the progressive message and the issues that I campaigned on will be increasingly spread throughout this country,” Sanders told USA Today, explaining that Our Revolution will encourage grassroots activists to get involved, give them the tools they need to win, [and] help them financially.”

To nurture the grassroots, Our Revolution will pursue a 50-state strategy, beginning with a challenge to the Democratic Party leadership in many of the states that Bernie carried in the primaries and caucuses. Democratic establishment be warned: Expect Sanders’ supporters to run in party precinct elections from Vermont to Hawaii.

Since its founding 40 years ago, In These Times has advocated an inside/​outside strategy vis-à-vis electoral politics. On the outside, we raise Cain, agitate, and describe the contours of a just and more democratic future. On the inside, we promote meaningful change within the existing dominant institutions. The inside game inevitably involves joining forces with people with whom we do not always agree. The alternative to pursuing such a strategy is to cede control of the public sphere to the rich and the powerful.

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In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?

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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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