“When passions drive, let reason hold the reins.”
— Ben Franklin
A number of good people who worked hard for the Bernie Sanders’s campaign are discouraged by the Senator’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton. This is neither surprising, nor usual — it was an acrimonious contest. Yet, we “officially” won 22 states in the Democratic Party’s primaries, and still more were so close as to be tied. Further, the leaking of DNC e-mails proves that there was corruption impacting the process, and that the Sanders Revolution likely won more.
Let’s contrast this with another historic example of the power of grass roots activism, which took place in 1964. A group of citizens formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, to contest the racist seating of that state’s delegates at the convention. They based their case on the law, which mandated equal representation at the convention. Yet their state sought to seat an entirely white group, and deny black citizens the representation they had clearly won in their primary.
The MFDP was supported by Minister Malcolm X. They were viewed as radical by the establishment — including the Democratic Party establishment. They were intent upon bringing about justice, by any means necessary. The Democratic Party was intent upon electing Lyndon Johnson, who was opposed by Barry Goldwater. LBJ was concerned that the MFDP would create a conflict at the convention, and damage his candidacy. The very idea of black citizens demanding their constitutional rights could frighten the public.
The MFDP would eventually reach a mutually unsatisfactory compromise with the party. Yet it created the foundation upon which they would re-structure the party’s representation in 1968, in a more just manner. Though some were disappointed, this was indeed a huge victory. They changed one state, yet they influenced many others.
The Sanders Revolution won at least 22 states. This effort, which involved millions of Americans, was led by one man ….an older US Senator, who throughout his public life had not been a registered member of the Democratic Party. And there is no evidence that he had ever wanted to register as a member. He did so, not for personal gain, but because he recognized that the times call for a movement to transform our socio-economic-political conditions.
An important goal was getting as many wins in the primaries as possible, and hopefully secure the nomination. But what is more important is to make true reforms in our system, to bring the public to higher ground. There is no question that Senator Sanders had the ability to win the general election, and serve as president. But that is not the archetype of his type of leadership.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the most influential leader of the civil rights movement. There were other leaders with more experience, and still others who followed. But King stepped up at a time when circumstances demanded the leadership that he could provide. This required that King pass upon the many other career and life options available to him. He understood that it demanded sacrifice, and he shared the definition of that personal sacrifice on the eve of his assassination:
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
That is the archetype of a specific type of leadership. In the bible, it is represented by the prophet Moses, who leads his people within view of that promised higher ground. But Moses would not arrive at that destination.
In the times of Moses and Martin, their followers were understandably upset, even confused. Many believed it was the end of the journey. They did not grasp, at that moment, that they had been brought to exactly where they needed to be, and they then possessed the exact qualities and experience needed to begin the next chapter of their movement.
When Sanders entered the Democratic Party’s primaries, he agreed that he would support Clinton if she won. If he had not done so, the opposition would have discredited him and his supporters, by claiming they were not “authentic” party members. Plus, Sanders had stated early in the primaries that if Clinton won, he would endorse her — but that this would not mean his supporters would fall in line behind Clinton. Everyone knew this when working the Sanders campaign (anyone who didn’t, wasn’t paying attention).
It is important to recognize that we won — at the very least — 22 states in the primaries. So we own territory there. More, we have other places we can occupy. This allows each and all of us numerous alternatives. Some people will vote for Clinton, while others will vote for Jill Stein. That is an individual choice, that is based upon a person’s experiences, understanding of the issues, and beliefs on what best gives voice to their conscience.
What is more important is what we do, both besides and after the presidential election. We need to harness all of the progressive power that we can. There is no single “correct” way to exercise this power. We must remain united in our efforts to bring forth progressive change in America, in a coordinated, multi-level manner.
The only “wasted” opportunity is the one that not attempted. The only “wasted” vote is the one that remain un-cast. There is an important presidential election coming in November, plus congressional, state, and local contests. And there are approximately 100 days before Election Day. As groups and individuals, we have a lot of options for how we best make the progressive voice heard.