Is Bernie Sanders' revolution finally taking hold in America?

Progressive candidates endorsed by the Vermont senator's political group are enjoying shocking election upset victories

Chris Riotta
New York
Monday 10 June 2019 22:18
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Progressive candidates are enjoying shocking victories in 2018, in part thanks to a political group formed by Bernie Sanders.
Progressive candidates are enjoying shocking victories in 2018, in part thanks to a political group formed by Bernie Sanders.

All of these candidates are fighting tooth and nail for a seat at the table, but doing so with a slate of progressive policies. Some are long-shot races. But, the larger aim? To reshape the Democratic Party from the inside out.

“Political movements expand the range of what is possible, and in my opinion they can change public opinion,” Mr Acevero told The Independent. “Our Revolution is a political movement, and its message resonates with a broad swath of Americans … At a time when working families are seeing stagnant wages, corporate wealth and an attack on our values, progressive Americans are coming together and fighting to take back our country."

The Our Revolution organisation Mr Acevero speaks about sprang from the candidacy of Bernie Sanders in 2016. With Mr Sanders having lost to Hillary Clinton, and then seen Ms Clinton lose to Donald Trump for the presidency, several of Mr Sanders' top aides and close advisors launched Our Revolution, a political organisation dedicated to helping elect progressives nationwide. After two years of battling major hurdles within the Democratic Party and appearing to work through its own reported internal disorder, the group finally appears to be making headway.

Our Revolution provides its national endorsement and critical support for a candidate whose platform and ideologies fall in line with Mr Sanders' vision for the future of the Democratic Party.

Included in that support is something which may hold the power in swaying an entire state election: the senator's list of voters emails from his 2016 presidential campaign. With that crucial information, local and state candidates are able to conduct outreach at an unprecedented level, with the help and backing of the country’s most popular politician alive.

Mr Najjar, who is currently running for Congress in San Diego’s 50th congressional district, described the organisation’s support as fundamental to his recent primary victory.

“If Our Revolution had not endorsed us, I don’t know if we would be in the same position. We wouldn’t be talking about our victory, we’d be talking about our concession,” the Democratic candidate told The Independent.

Throughout the California primaries, there appeared to be a split among Democratic activists between supporting Mr Najjar’s campaign and that of Josh Butner, a former Navy SEAL who was trailing just behind Republican incumbent Representative Duncan Hunter in a district that has been held by the GOP for decades.

With the help of Our Revolution’s endorsement and digital outreach, Mr Najjar said his campaign was propelled to victory in the primaries, and he could soon unseat the Republican, who faces an ongoing criminal investigation into potential misuse of campaign funds. Mr Hunter has denied any wrongdoing and had paid back thousands in campaign money.

Mr Najjar feels the support of Our Revolution was cruicial: “Right after the endorsement they sent out an email that raised us money, they did some texting and phone banking independently, and they were just reaching out to people all the way until the primary”.

Mr Najjar is one of at least 112 total endorsements Our Revolution has made across the country this year, with Democrats looking for a 'blue wave' of victories that will help them regain both the Senate and the House from the Republicans in November. That figure includes candidates for governor, House delegate seats, Congressional representatives and even a local ballot measure expanding health care access in Oregon.

The organisation has decreased its nationwide endorsements each year since 2016, allowing it to focus more of its resources on fewer candidates and have a greater impact in local campaigns.

In some cases, Our Revolution provides its endorsement as a stamp of approval for a candidate rather than as a fundraising and outreach effort.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeats fellow Democrat Joe Crowley in New York primary elections

Harvey Epstein, who was elected to the New York state assembly earlier this year, received an endorsement from Our Revolution just a few weeks before his victory. “Our Revolution provided independent voter outreach for the campaign,” he said.

“It’s important to have groups like Our Revolution which unify progressive candidates and revolutionize the way campaigns run moving forward,” Mr Epstein added.

At one point, it appeared Mr Sanders’ revolution would never have a place in the Democratic Party, much less the national political conversation. The group was flailing, declining in online fundraising and full of office politics, Politico reported, with many insiders believing top-level officials were busy fighting an old battle with the Democratic National Convention (DNC) over its lack of support for Mr Sanders in 2016.

In 2017, just 40 per cent of Our Revolution endorsed candidates and ballot measures won, compared to 58 per cent the year before.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) greets students gathering outside the U.S. Capitol as part of a nationwide walk-out of classes to demand stricter gun laws in Washington.

Meanwhile, it remained unclear whether Mr Sanders was planning another presidential run in 2020, and what his role would be in the organisation that had become the epicentre of his political movement. Mr Sanders is legally separated from the political group and refraining from becoming involved in its day-to-day operations. His office, as well as Our Revolution, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

However, things are beginning to look up for the future of Sanders supporters in the Democratic Party. Of the 112 endorsements Our Revolution announced in 2018, there have been at least 50 primary and election victories.

Many of those victories have been won in locales where incumbent politicians were expected to hold onto their seats with ease.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez is a perfect example of what happens when grassroots support is mixed with a nimble and energetic candidate. The 28-year-old Democratic Socialist earned a stunning upset victory against 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s primaries, essentially guaranteeing her a Congressional seat come November. Ms Ocasio-Cortez told The Independent's Mythili Sampathkumar her campaign was reflective of a larger "movement" across the country; part of which involved unseating current officials with fresh blood within the Democratic Party.

"I think if we go in to the midterms with the same slate of incumbents as we had in 2016, we’re setting the country up for another disaster," she said.

Mr Acevero also unseated a two-term incumbent and garnered more votes than a three-term incumbent during the June primaries. Mr Acevero told The Independent that, when successful, organisations like Our Revolution have the power to change an entire party from the inside.

Our Revolution first became interested in Mr Acevero’s campaign after he was endorsed by the organisation’s Maryland chapter, which then flagged his candidacy to the national headquarters. After a series of in person and phone interviews, the group decided to throw its support behind his campaign.

“Our Revolution worked with local groups to do ‘get out the vote’ efforts, along with digital help,” Mr Acevero said.

Lucy Flores, a former Our Revolution board member who resigned after expressing her concerns over a lack of Latina and Latino representation in the group's internal operations, says she has seen an improvement in its operations and public outreach.

“The internal conflict I saw was that I didn’t see the organisation stepping up on issues the Latino community — who right now across this country are really struggling — have been facing, in terms of our strategy … I can see now that they’re moving towards a way that makes it clear all communities of colour are a priority,” she said, citing Our Revolution’s campaigning against Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies.

Under Ms Turner, the organisation has endorsed candidates that reflect a much more diverse range of Americans than either house in the US. And that's all part of the group's effort to make their movement a mainstay, according to Ms Turner, who told The Root in April: "That is the mission of Our Revolution: to stir up political discourse—to reclaim democracy for everyday people in this country."

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