There is a battle waging for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party between corporate foot soldiers that keep the party funded and the progressive idealists who provide policy ideas based on the needs of the average American citizen. Kindled by the rise of Elizabeth Warren, then turned wildfire by Bernie Sanders and his call for revolution, the DNC may never look the same again after the 2016 primary contest’s flames fade.
The only similarity to the Tea Party revolution that the Republicans experienced years ago is that both the media and political parties are ignoring the Progressive movement from taking foothold. Whereas the Tea Party was a grass roots movement funded by private interests, the Progressive cause is born solely of the people and puts campaign finance reform at the top of its agenda. The rest of the agenda is also at odds with the Tea Party: demanding Wall Street reform, infrastructure rebuilding through a jobs program, strengthening the social safety net and a strong social justice platform.
I turned 18 in time to join the Democratic Party as Bill Clinton and Terry McAuliffe moved the party just right of center. As Republicans were moving even further to the right, abandoning our once shared values of strong labor, strong middle-class and strong infrastructure, it seemed acceptable. Democrats would still fight for reproductive rights, but they would allow the new influx of revenue McAuliffe arranged from Wall Street, arms manufacturers, and big media dictate support of deregulation, military amplification, prisons for profits and monopoly building. Protecting the social safety net, an issue Democrats and Republicans agreed on prior to Reagan, was now an area to be negotiated by both parties. We had just wrapped up the 1980s; we were all a little high on commercialism. There is a reason many progressives call Bill Clinton “the best Republican President we’ve ever had.” Clinton pushed through the very agenda Republicans had looked for just a decade prior. He did away with Glass-Steagall. He gave them the crime bill. He opened the doors for domestic spying and monopoly building. He gave in on welfare reform. And the money poured in. Long story short, quite a few establishment Democrats have become quite fond of that cash flow. They don’t want it to change. In fact, there’s a subset of Democrats called Third Wave who want the party to move even further to the right on these issues. As I type this, establishment Democrats in Congress are trying to gut campaign contribution laws even further as more Wall Street funds come their way.
Meanwhile, a great deal of rank-and-file Democrats have grown weary of watching their party shirk on issues like the social safety net and privacy rights. Waking up to the realities of the Clinton administration, disenfranchised by how many Democrats rolled over for George W. Bush on the Patriot Act and his wars in the Middle East, heartbroken about how Obamacare is really Dole/Romney Care instead of single-payer, and genuinely pissed off by the economic meltdown made possible by a Clinton pro-Wall Street decision, many Progressives are not happy with their party. The wonkiest of policy Progressives were recently energized by seeing grassroots movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter take place. The people hadn’t truly given up yet. There’s still a chance to fix the power structure. Polling data on the issues favors a populist push for Warren and Sanders backed policies. The American people favor the Progressive agenda. This is their chance.
The Democratic National Committee has responded poorly to this call for revolution. At the head of the mess, former Hillary Clinton campaign co-chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is now the DNC Chairwoman. Millions of phone calls have poured into the DNC, demanding her removal and demanding more primary debates. The demands have gone ignored, without comment to their base. Even Republicans scratched their heads as the DNC limited the number of debates and scheduled them off prime time. It’s no wonder that there are circulating conspiracy theories that the DNC is rigging the election as best they can for Hillary Clinton. The DNC has done nothing but fan those flames and buckled down further in support of just one of their candidates. When the DNC boxed Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig out of the discussion, essentially pushing him out of the race, it became clear that campaign finance reform was a policy embraced by the Democratic base, but not at all by the Democratic Party itself.
As Bernie Sanders called for a political revolution, one was formed for him. Former Occupy members were staging a support system for either a Warren or Sanders run. Though his campaign only has a few offices throughout the US, in early primary states, regular people started building a nationwide infrastructure for Bernie Sanders 2016. I’ve been involved in party politics and covering politics my entire adult life. I’ve never seen anything like this. Everything an official campaign staff usually delegates to volunteers, like canvasing and phone banks, has been organized solely by regular people. They teach each other how to campaign, how to primary or caucus, and how to lobby their neighbors. There are groups that identify other corporate Democrats with seats coming up in other offices, such as House and Senate races, as well as identify the Progressives who will run against them. This could be a complete overhaul of the party if Progressives get their way.
As this movement builds around a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, a man with a tried-and-true Progressive record that stands the test of time, unlike the establishment-proven Hillary Clinton. A true socialist revolution has taken one of America’s cities, Seattle, by storm, led by the very impressive Kshama Sawant. A worker’s movement to raise the minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour has made the great state of New York take notice as well. States like Colorado have not only legalized recreational marijuana but are putting single-payer health-care on the ballot. These Progressive values are being pushed by a new generation becoming active in politics for the first time.
The media and the DNC both do their best to ignore this uprising, but it cannot be denied. Be it the Sanders campaigns that have sprouted up separate from his actual campaign or issue-based activism, young people are leading a charge for real change. Ignoring it won’t erase it. Revolution is afoot.
Since the Paris attacks, Hillary Clinton has been pluming her war hawk feathers, lying about progressive core-causes like single-payer health-care and alienating herself further from the Progressive wing. Atlanta rapper Killer Mike essentially called Secretary Clinton another Margaret Thatcher in the making. The Secretary was the only Democratic candidate not to attend the BET Social Justice Forum. Secretary Clinton and her team are playing a risky hand that shows they think she has this primary election in the bag, including the black vote and the super delegates. Just like she did in 2008, she’s ignoring the most powerful factor still left in party politics: the will of the people for change.
The Democratic Party is at a crossroads. If the progressive base wins, a new party will be born from the ashes of the old, with renewed focus on social justice policy and advocating for getting big money out of politics. If the establishment base wins, the Democratic Party will officially only be different from the Republican Party on the issue of reproductive rights. Every other policy they offer will be the light-beer version of the GOP plan. And many Progressives will jump ship. A much heard mantra around the web during these discussions is, “I will no longer be a lesser-of-two-evils voter.” Enough Democrats believe Hillary Clinton is not worthy of their vote and that Debbie Wasserman Schultz has eroded what was left of their party loyalty.
Of all the issues in which Progressives and Establishment Democrats disagree on, I believe it is the issue of campaign finance reform that is fueling the Progressive revolution. That’s why the media and the political parties themselves are ignoring the very existence of this revolt. Most Americans, be they Republican, Democrat or Independent, believe we needed campaign finance reform yesterday.
My prediction? If Progressives jump ship, it will certainly help the Republicans take the White House as well as keep control of the House, Senate, and many Governor’s mansions. If Progressives win, Progressives will take the White House, the Senate and gain seats in the House and in Governor’s mansions. Quite simply because, if Progressives win, they will dominate with voter turnout.
If Clinton lands the nomination without the resignation of Wasserman Schultz, the party will be splintered. I’ve been told that Kshama Sawant’s Socialist Alternative Party is seeking to branch into different states. I believe a great deal of Progressives could find a home there. The Green Party will likely pick some stragglers up as well. Some will migrate to issues or movements but away from the party. My fear is that many will give up on policy politics altogether.
Not all Progressives will burn bridges with the DNC, but enough will that the party will continue to move further to the right. Voter turnout will continue to slump. And all hope for real campaign finance reform, which would allow the people’s voices to be heard once again, will be gone forever.
Clinton loyalists will argue that the most divisive figure in modern American politics will somehow push a Progressive agenda she’s never really pushed for before better than any liberal can. She won’t. They buy fully into the branding wars of Coke versus Pepsi or Democrats versus Republicans. They justify themselves falsely as Progressives themselves, because they buy so heartily into the mantra that Republicans are evil, and that Hillary Clinton is the greatest enemy Republicans have ever known. Even though the Clinton and Bush families are close friends now. As close as their policies.
Still, unlike the opposite scenario, when polled, a great deal of Hillary supporters say they would support Bernie Sanders if he wins the nomination. Progressive values do beat out branding on some level. With Bernie doing better in polls, fundraising, and crowd turnout than Obama did at this stage against Hillary, the progressive revolution has a real chance.
That system of oligarchy that Jimmy Carter and Bernie Sanders have been warning us about? It’s a done deal unless this revolution succeeds. A major study recently identified the United States as an oligarchy. But it can still be stopped. If you’re a moderate or conservative Democrat, hell, even if you’re a hardcore Republican, we should all be supporting the Progressive revolution in hopes of getting the money out of politics and giving control back to the people instead of big money donors. Maybe it’s too late already, but at the very least, it’s the last good shot we’ve got. As in any game, when the clock is ticking, you’ve got to take the shot.
Originally published for TheElizabethian.