Last month, Nina Turner was named the new President of Our Revolution, where she replaced Jeff Weaver. Weaver was Sen. Bernie Sanders’ former campaign manager, and Turner was a campaign surrogate herself. Both fiercely defended Sanders on the campaign trail, and have continually railed against the Democratic establishment. Our Revolution is technically an independent 501(c)(4), but it functions as an arm of Bernie Sanders’ political interests. Its Board of Directors is full of former Sanders campaign staffers and even includes his former chief of staff. The group backs candidates that Sanders himself endorses—such as Rob Quist in Montana, Heath Mello in Omaha, and James Thompson in Kansas.
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Our Revolution is basically an extension of Sanders and that its political goals and his are one in the same.
Unfortunately, the interests of Sanders and the interests of the Democratic Party don’t necessarily align.
As the Democratic Senate Outreach Chair, Sanders’ job is to promote the Democratic brand in a positive light, expand the base, and help more Democratic candidates get elected. Our Revolution has come out and explicitly said that its goals are not the same as the Democratic establishment. In an interview with The Nation Nina Turner is quoted as saying “If there is a Republican or a Libertarian or Green Party person that believes in Medicare for all, then that’s our kind of person.” She went on to say that the organization is also open to endorsing candidates of any party who oppose corporate money in politics.
The litmus test for the Republican Party is social conservatism. There are some Republicans who are more moderate on economic issues, but the Republican platform is anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, pro-law enforcement, and pro-voter suppression.
Turner’s openness to endorsing Republicans who believe in Medicare for all or getting corporate money out of politics means Our Revolution is open to endorsing social conservatives whose platform explicitly harms marginalized people.
We got an example of what this looked like when Sanders (and Our Revolution) endorsed Heath Mello earlier this year. No, Mello wasn’t a Congressional candidate and he wasn’t a Republican. But, Our Revolution endorsed Mello’s Omaha mayoral bid knowing that in 2009, he co-sponsored state legislation requiring women to be informed that they could see an ultrasound before having an abortion. When Daily Kos, a liberal website, and a significant fundraiser, learned of Mello’s anti-choice stances, they pulled their endorsement. However, Our Revolution stuck by Mello. DNC head Tom Perez, touring the country with Sanders at the time, added Mello to the organization’s “Come Together Fight Back” tour.
Would the DNC have added Mello to the tour if Bernie Sanders hadn’t endorsed him? Is the Mello endorsement a sign of things to come for Our Revolution, who could endorse other social conservatives as long as they support aspects of Sanders’ economic platform or getting corporate money out of politics? These are legitimate questions for marginalized people to have, especially after Sanders himself has called for Democrats to drop “identity politics.”
The Priority For The Sanders Left Is His Economic Agenda, Even At The Expense Of Social Issues
If we can take anything away from Turner’s statements and the direction of Sanders and his political arm, it is that they are focused on an economic agenda. They are willing, and even wanting, to drop issues of identity in order to push free college or single payer. There is an argument from the far left that “identity politics” is what is keeping the white working class from voting for Democrats, and that dropping issues of identity would lead to renewed support from that demographic.
But the prominent candidates that Sanders has endorsed in 2016—Quist, Thompson, Canova, Teachout, Feingold, and Perriello—lost without winning the white working class.
The Sanders left has struggled mightily against Republicans at the Congressional level, and a big part of that struggle is that they haven’t been able to win over white voters.
Ostensibly, the Sanders left would do better with this demographic if they supported candidates who were social conservatives who shared some of Bernie’s economic agenda. But moving right on social issues and dropping “identity politics” to chase the white working class comes at a cost. Marginalized people are under siege from the right, especially on issues of choice, voter suppression, and immigration.
If Our Revolution is endorsing Republicans and other social conservatives, what does that tell Democrats of color about Bernie Sanders and his movement?
How does that engage people of color to come out and vote for the Sanders left? And how does that serve the interests of the Democratic Party? If people of color aren’t engaged, what does that mean for a party that is a plurality nonwhite?
Our Revolution Is Not a Friend of The Democratic Party
The most reliable Democratic voters are Black people. Black women in particular. In 2016, 94 percent of Black women voters chose Hillary Clinton. That is higher than any other demographic, and it isn’t very close. The Democratic base is people of color. Those are the demographics most likely to vote for Democrats, as time and elections have shown us over the past several decades.
So why isn’t the far left trying to remove the barriers that the right has placed on these voters? Why isn’t the far left focused on repealing voter ID laws, fighting gerrymandering, and giving voting rights back to felons?
After all, fighting voter suppression would make the electorate browner, and those voters are significantly more likely to vote for Democrats. Why chase white working class voters who have been increasingly voting for Republicans since the mid-1960s?
If the Sanders-left is willing to endorse social conservatives, then it is not a friend of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party functions as the firewall between minorities and a Republican Party that wants to erode Civil Rights and Voting Rights. Maybe the Democratic Party doesn’t meet the far left’s purity tests on every issue, but there is no denying that the party fights to keep the Republican goal of a 1950s style America from becoming a reality.
You can’t simultaneously endorse Republicans and claim to be fighting for people of color’s best interests.
Not when the Republican Party is behind Trump’s voter suppression panel, when they are trying to shutter abortion clinics nationwide, and when they are trying to ban Muslims from entering the country. Politically, supporting these demographics means supporting the Democratic Party.
If The Sanders Left Doesn’t Want To Be Part Of The Party, Stop Asking For Its Resources
Our Revolution is an extension of Bernie Sanders. And they are willing to endorse Republicans, Libertarians, and Green Party candidates. You have probably heard (from every single one of those groups) that the Democratic Party is corrupt and against workers.
Nina Turner has even gone on record saying there isn’t much difference between Democrats and Republicans.
The Sanders left will call Democrats neoliberal shills for corporate interests in one breath, then ask Democrats for money for candidates Our Revolution endorses in the next. It is hypocritical and quite frankly, childish, to want to run a party that you refuse to join and continually call corrupt. If Sanders and his movement want Democratic Party resources, then they should abandon the call to endorse Republicans and candidates of other parties who oppose Democrats. They should abandon the constant trashing of the party brand in the media, and they should actually start talking about the good things that Democrats do if they actually want to influence more people to join the party.
The far left has a decision to make: are they going to continue to work outside of the Democratic party to try and tear it down, putting marginalized groups at risk? Or are they going to join the party in good faith and work with existing Democrats to make things better for everyone? The choice they make will determine whether the future of the “Sanders left” looks like a successful political movement or a failed third party.