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In Chicago, Bernie Sanders Spells Out His Theory of Political Revolution

In two separate events, Sanders lays out his vision of change from the bottom up, and why mobilizing the American people is key to enacting progressive policies.

Branko Marcetic

Bernie Sanders brings his message of political revolution to a crowd of over 6,500 on Chicago's South Side. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)

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While the GOP candidates spent last night yelling at each other like a fantasy football league on draft day, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of 6,500 at Chicago State University about how to enact political change in the United States.

“What I am trying to do is not just pass legislation. I’m trying to change the face of American politics.”

Change happens from the bottom up, not the top down,” he told the crowd, rattling off a series of examples throughout American history: the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the battle for women’s suffrage in the early 20th century and the more recent fight for marriage equality.

It’s a line that’s been popping up in Sanders’ speeches in recent months, perhaps due to the questions he’s faced about the feasibility of his ambitious plans.

Just prior to the Chicago rally, in fact, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews grilled Sanders on this very issue. Matthews has made no secret of his disdain for Sanders’ populist campaign (though has kept his congressional candidate wife’s reliance on Clinton donors very much on the down-low).

In a somewhat contentious exchange, Matthews demanded to know how Sanders would get any of the things he’s promising passed in the face of Republican obstructionism. How do you get 60 votes for any of this?” he asked at one point.

The difference that you and I have is that you’re looking at politics in the way it is today,” said Sanders. What I am trying to do is not just pass legislation. I’m trying to change the face of American politics.”

Watch the whole exchange below:

Sanders has repeatedly told crowds throughout his campaign that he will not be able to turn his platform, which includes single-payer health care, free public college tuition and breaking up too-big-to-fail” banks, into reality on his own. Instead, he has called for what he terms a political revolution”: ongoing popular agitation by a broad swath of voters that would force Congress to enact his policies.

It’s a theory Sanders has said President Obama had the chance to test out back in 2008, when he mobilized a massive grassroots movement of voters as part of his campaign, but then squandered when he failed to make full use of that support as president. 

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Branko Marcetic is a staff writer at Jacobin magazine and a 2019-2020 Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting fellow. He is the author of Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden.

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