Bernie Sanders’ New Book Offers a Roadmap for Progressives to Challenge the Establishment

“Our Revolution” brims with the same righteous indignation and relentless optimism that drew bigger and bigger crowds to his rallies.

Steve Early and Rand Wilson December 5, 2016

Pramila Jayapal, an immigrants' rights activist endorsed by Bernie Sanders, won election to the U.S. House of Representatives from Washington State this November. (Pramila Jayapal/ Facebook)

Bernie Sanders’ segue from pres­i­den­tial can­di­date to barn­storm­ing author was seam­less. In between the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion in July and hit­ting the stump this fall to boost Hillary Clinton’s stock in bat­tle­ground states, Sanders cranked out a 450-page book, which hit book­stores Novem­ber 15. The author was not far behind, with sold-out appear­ances from Boston to San Francisco.

'We need to push the Democratic Party to once again be the party of the people.'

Often, quick­ie books from trade pub­lish­ers hop­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on an author’s new­ly-achieved celebri­ty are noth­ing more than ghost-writ­ten schlock. Cam­paign mem­oirs — like the autho­rized biogra­phies or ghost­ed auto­bi­ogra­phies of pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls — aren’t often mem­o­rable either, even when they dis­play some evi­dence of real can­di­date involve­ment or reflec­tion. But like Sanders’ 2016 cam­paign, his book, Our Rev­o­lu­tion: A Future to Believe In, great­ly exceeds expectations.

In the first third of the book, we get an insid­er account of his plunge into pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics when few in the cor­po­rate media, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty or the AFL-CIO took his demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist fringe” can­di­da­cy seri­ous­ly. Sanders also recounts his ear­ly life in Brook­lyn, his activism at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go dur­ing the 1960s and his four-decade career in Ver­mont pub­lic life. 

The author’s descrip­tion of the grass­roots strug­gle to trans­form munic­i­pal gov­ern­ment dur­ing his eight years as Burling­ton may­or is par­tic­u­lar­ly instruc­tive for pro­gres­sives think­ing about run­ning for local office. As Sanders proud­ly writes, the elec­toral coali­tion formed in 1982, became the foun­da­tion for pro­gres­sive third par­ty pol­i­tics in Ver­mont. Not only has it con­tin­ued in Burling­ton to this day, elect­ing two pro­gres­sive may­ors after me, it has spread statewide.”

With rep­re­sen­ta­tion in both hous­es of the Ver­mont leg­is­la­ture, the Ver­mont Pro­gres­sive Par­ty (VPP) has, accord­ing to Sanders, become one of the most suc­cess­ful and long-stand­ing third par­ties in Amer­i­ca.” Its sin­gu­lar sta­tus was fur­ther con­firmed on Novem­ber 8, when Sanders-backed David Zuck­er­man, a VPP state sen­a­tor and work­ing-class ori­ent­ed organ­ic farmer, got elect­ed lieu­tenant gov­er­nor — mark­ing the first time a pro­gres­sive, oth­er than Sanders, has suc­ceed­ed in a Ver­mont-wide race.

A post-cam­paign agenda

In the remain­ing two-thirds of Our Rev­o­lu­tion, Sanders out­lines his agen­da for the coun­try and talks about what it will take to achieve it. His sub­stan­tive pro­pos­als will be famil­iar to the mil­lions of peo­ple who vot­ed for him, and include rec­om­men­da­tions on every­thing from health care, crim­i­nal jus­tice reform, trade, Wall Street reg­u­la­tion, bank restruc­tur­ing and free pub­lic high­er edu­ca­tion to com­bat­ting cli­mate change, cre­at­ing clean ener­gy jobs, over­haul­ing our bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem” and get­ting big mon­ey out of politics.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly — for some­one from a state with large rur­al areas and rel­a­tive­ly few homi­cides — Sanders’ agen­da does not empha­size gun con­trol, although he does con­fess to hav­ing mis­han­dled that issue on the nation­al debate stage.

In a well-doc­u­ment­ed chap­ter called Cor­po­rate Media and the Threat to Our Democ­ra­cy,” Sanders updates his long-time cri­tique of the hand­ful of multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions that own a lot of the media and have an out­sized influ­ence on what peo­ple see and hear. Sanders him­self was, of course, a case study in hos­tile or non-exis­tent cov­er­age by major news­pa­pers and TV net­works for much of his campaign.

Both as a cam­paign his­to­ry and pro­gres­sive pol­i­cy guide, Our Rev­o­lu­tion brims with the same right­eous indig­na­tion and relent­less opti­mism that drew big­ger and big­ger crowds to Sanders’ ral­lies. It con­cludes with the author’s oft-repeat­ed call for fol­low-up activ­i­ty now at the local level:

Run for the school board, city coun­cil, state leg­is­la­ture. Run for gov­er­nor. Run for Con­gress. Run for the Sen­ate. Run for pres­i­dent. Hold your elect­ed offi­cials account­able. Know what they’re doing and how they’re vot­ing and tell your neighbors.”

Going local with Our Revolution”

Sanders’ encour­age­ment and sup­port for like-mind­ed can­di­dates began dur­ing his own test­ing the waters” tour of the coun­try, as a not-yet-declared con­tender for the White House. He was invit­ed to Rich­mond, Cal­i­for­nia, in 2014 by Green may­or Gayle McLaugh­lin and oth­er pro­gres­sive city coun­cil can­di­dates fac­ing an avalanche of cor­po­rate spend­ing against them by Chevron, the largest employ­er in town.

Sanders writes that his town hall meet­ing turned out to be one of the largest and loud­est audi­ences that I had spo­ken to since I began trav­el­ing around the coun­try.” In Rich­mond, four can­di­dates he backed two years ago won their elec­tions, as did two more mem­bers of the Rich­mond Pro­gres­sive Alliance this fall. This time, they were endorsed by Our Rev­o­lu­tion, the post-cam­paign orga­ni­za­tion cre­at­ed by for­mer cam­paign staff and Sanders vol­un­teers. Richmond’s top vote get­ter was 26-year-old Melvin Willis, an African-Amer­i­can Bernie fan, rent con­trol advo­cate and local orga­niz­er for the Alliance of Cal­i­for­ni­ans for Com­mu­ni­ty Empow­er­ment. Else­where in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Our Rev­o­lu­tion-assist­ed can­di­dates won may­oral races in Berke­ley and Stockton.

Nation­wide, Our Rev­o­lu­tion endorsed 106 local, state, and fed­er­al can­di­dates and 34 bal­lot ini­tia­tives. Fifty-eight of those can­di­dates were suc­cess­ful; twen­ty-three of the bal­lot mea­sures suc­ceed­ed, includ­ing sev­er­al deal­ing with cam­paign finance reform. Among those backed by Our Rev­o­lu­tion was Mike Con­nol­ly, a lawyer and com­mu­ni­ty activist in Cam­bridge, Massachusetts.

Like Zuck­er­man in Ver­mont, Con­nol­ly com­pet­ed in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry to clear the field. He nar­row­ly defeat­ed a 12-term Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bent backed by most Bay State unions and near­ly all his Bea­con Hill col­leagues. On Novem­ber 8, Con­nol­ly won the seat, run­ning unop­posed in the gen­er­al elec­tion. Three oth­er Our Rev­o­lu­tion-backed leg­isla­tive can­di­dates in Mass­a­chu­setts, all incum­bents, also won their pri­ma­ry bat­tles and/​or gen­er­al elec­tion cam­paigns as well. They were state Sens. Pat Jehlen and Jamie Eldridge and state Rep. Mary Keefe.

Con­nol­ly is now work­ing with Our Rev­o­lu­tion sup­port­ers to build a new state struc­ture that bet­ter links issue-ori­ent­ed cam­paigns with elec­toral politics.

We need to push the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to once again be the par­ty of the peo­ple,” he says. We need to turn pol­i­tics around so that it is move­ment-cen­tered and dri­ven by the grassroots.”

At a Boston book tour stop in late Novem­ber, Sanders stressed sim­i­lar goals in his talk to an esti­mat­ed 1,000 peo­ple. Bernie’s most­ly young fans paid $33 to attend and got a copy of Our Rev­o­lu­tion. The author was in fine form, shar­ing clear, con­cise, and use­ful insights into the lessons of his cam­paign and the chal­lenges under Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump. Dur­ing the ques­tion peri­od, a young Lati­na woman who was think­ing of run­ning for office her­self, asked for Sanders’ advice.

It’s not good enough for some­one to say: I’m a woman! Vote for me!’” he told her. No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insur­ance com­pa­nies, to the drug com­pa­nies, to the fos­sil fuel industry.”

The crowd chant­ed Bernie, Bernie” but the future clear­ly belonged to Sanders-inspired can­di­dates of the sort he described, fol­low­ing in his foot­steps and get­ting involved in pol­i­tics at the local, state and nation­al levels.

Steve Ear­ly was a long­time New Eng­land staff mem­ber of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca. He was active in Labor for Bernie and is the author of Refin­ery Town: Big Oil, Big Mon­ey, and the Remak­ing of An Amer­i­can City, which is about the chang­ing pol­i­tics of Rich­mond, Cal­i­for­nia.Rand Wil­son works for SEIU Local 888, was a vol­un­teer orga­niz­er for Labor for Bernie, and a Sanders del­e­gate from Mass­a­chu­setts at the 2016 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion. In 2006, he was the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Par­ty can­di­date for state audi­tor in the Bay State.
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