The presidential race built a great deal of momentum in July as the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention summoned in Cleveland and Philadelphia, respectively. It’s hard to deny that we are living a unique time in American history during this presidential election. For the first time, a female candidate has won the presidential nomination to a major political party in the U.S., with Hillary Clinton as the official runner for the Democratic Party. There is also the fact that this is the first time in years the two candidates in each major party—Clinton in the Democratic Party and Donald Trump in the Republican Party—have unusually high unfavorability ratings among voters. And, more importantly, there’s Bernie Sanders’ record-breaking campaign for the Democratic primary election, which not only set fundraising records with a grassroots network of 2.5 million of small individual donations but also began a political revolution that’s now almost beyond Sanders’ control.
When Bernie Sanders announced he was joining the presidential race last year, not even progressives expected his movement to go the distance that it went. A self-declared democratic socialist, the Vermont senator proved the political establishment, the media and much of the American people wrong when they thought of him as unrealistic. During his campaign, Sen. Sanders earned more than 12 million votes and won 45 percent of pledged delegates, arguably doing better than any such liberal candidate—although running in the Democratic Party rather than as an independent—in our country’s history.
As Sanders has expressed many times now, this movement goes further than one candidate, one election cycle or even one political moment. The new political revolution is about millions of people coming together to demand progressive change in our society, economy and government with the purpose of a better future. It is precisely this ideal that brought together a large following of long-ignored progressive voters in support of a liberal agenda that includes free higher education, healthcare for all, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the separation of corporate money from politics, reforming Wall Street and combating climate change, among other issues. Work to advance these reforms has been happening for years, mostly through independent parties, yet it has gained momentum and power in the middle of this presidential race.
Now that the primaries are over and Hillary Clinton is the official democratic candidate, one of Sanders’ new long-term strategies is to move forward progressive goals by continuing to push for a stronger platform and commitment to that platform in the Democratic agenda. This was made clear in his speech endorsing Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. “Together, we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution continues,” he addressed a cheering crowd. “It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues… But I am happy to tell you that at the Democratic Platform Committee which ended Sunday night in Orlando, there was a significant coming together between the two campaigns and we produced, by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.”
During a breakfast meeting of the Texas Democratic delegation at the DNC, Sanders spoke about his plan to continue to fight for his progressive ideals. “The political revolution was not just about winning a campaign,” he said. “It was about transforming this country. That struggle continues, and I look forward to working with you in the future.” In the same event, former Texas State director for Sanders’ presidential campaign Jacob Limon announced Revolution Texas, a political action committee seeking to influence politics statewide through the promotion of Sanders’ agenda. In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Limon stated that Revolution Texas is “going to be our effort to keep the revolution going” in the state. “We’re going to start by filling all the precinct chair vacancies and go from there,” he said.
Sen. Sanders’ loud and clear post-convention message to elect Hillary Clinton and stop Donald Trump has created much discontent and frustration among passionate members of the political revolution. One of the products of such dissatisfaction is the “Bernie or Burst” movement that was vocal during the convention—mostly stirred by the leaking of convention staff emails reinforcing Sanders supporters’ claims that the party favored Clinton all along on the eve of the convention. Quite a few Bernie Sanders supporters haven’t come to terms with his defeat in the primaries, let alone his endorsement of Clinton for president. John Sanbonmatsu, a political philosophy and ethics professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, states his discontent with the election turnout. “The same Democratic elites who worked tirelessly for months to destroy Bernie Sanders and his campaign are now fondly patting him on his head… hoping to return him as soon as possible to the relative slumber of the US Senate,” he wrote for The Huffington Post. “Before Sanders goes off into that good night, though, they’d first like him to sign his millions of passionate supporters over to Hillary Clinton, like a blank check made out to ‘CASH’.” Sanbonmatsu went on to express that he and other Bernie supporters in the Boston area are long-separated from the Democratic fold. “The Party has already lost its progressive base. It just doesn’t know it yet.”
Some locals are more optimistic than Mr. Sanbonmatsu and “Bernie or Burst” devotees. San Antonio native and now-Austin-resident Allegra Jade Fox believes that those who truly support Sanders should run for office, as Sanders encouraged his supporters to do in a live television broadcast during his campaign earlier in June. “Be part of the solution and not the problem,” Fox conveys. “Change starts from the smaller offices and it continues to grow. Sitting around and pouting will do nothing but running for office and spreading these ideas is how we truly change the future of this country.” Retired social services planner Austinite Larry Amaro touches on a similar point.
“Bernie Sanders is telling his followers to keep working at all levels—local, state, and national—to help elect candidates that will change the political and social landscape of the country,” he comments. “His followers will be wise to do this. The first step is to vote and get others to vote at this November’s national election for Hillary and Democratic candidates. The president can lead, but the laws are voted upon by Congress. If there is a Democratic Congress, we could see universal healthcare, living wages, immigration reform, etc. A Republican Congress will just continue to block progressive proposals.”
It’s important to note that Bernie Sanders’ agenda resonated and was strongly supported by young voters nationally. If the two major party candidates continue failing to engage and attract a substantial millennial following, we could be closer than one would think to a turning point in government. The future of this country, especially after the next four to eight years, will strongly depend on these young voters and the course that they choose for American politics.