Whose Revolution is it Anyway?

Dissolving into Reactive Factions Undermines Progressive Action

Image of Bernie Sanders rally in Denver, Colorado (from Campaign website).

Update: After this article was published, the WOKE Washington Team issued a statement. This statement has been embedded as a PDF file at the end of that section below.

From the immediate fallout of the general election, with fighting between the #BernieWouldHaveWon crowd and the #BernieOrBust-people-cost-Hillary-the-election crowd, to the battle for the DNC chair, between the progressive-backed Keith Ellison crowd (although a number of progressives didn’t think even Ellison made the cut and were more impressed with Sam Ronan) and the clearly establishment-backed Tom Perez crowd, there has been a lot of infighting within the Democratic party.

Zooming out, we can also see infighting among the greater left of the political spectrum in the United States. There is the persistent fight among the #DemExit vs. #DemEnter crowds, which continue to bicker about whether or not to work within the Democratic party to foster leftist change (there is also another subgroup that advocates for working within and without the party).

Because Bernie Sanders brought a large number of the broader left of the U.S. together under one umbrella (the liberals, democrats, leftists, progressives, socialists, democratic socialists, and so on) and was able to fundraise vast amounts of money through grassroots/small donations, it should come as no surprise that his name has become valuable.

As a result, there are the spin-off organizations that use his name with or without his blessing, such as Draft Bernie. The “Bernie brand” is used by many organizations in an attempt to gain credibility and fundraising. And so there is also a tug-of-war among those organizations using his name. Which brings us to the state-run branches of Our Revolution.

Our Revolution Washington WOKE Washington

The national Our Revolution brand (Bernie’s own organization) itself has not gone without controversy; whether it be about its organizational structure (501(c)(4)), its leadership, or its mission. As a result, there were many who regarded (and still regard) Our Revolution with skepticism and suspicion that it could become tainted by dark money.

In Washington state, as well as other states across the country, local organizations going by “Our Revolution” have popped up after the national “Our Revolution” was created/backed by Bernie Sanders and company. These state organizations are seen, in my opinion, as local chapters carrying out coalition-building/advocacy on issues pertaining to their jurisdiction.

Recently, Our Revolution Washington has been rebranded to WOKE Washington. WOKE is an acronym for workers, organizers, kids, and educators.

In an email sent out by WOKE Washington on January 19, 2017, they claim they are rebranding “to better reflect our mission,” implying subtly that the brand/umbrella of Our Revolution no longer adequately does so. The email continues, “If we stand up and say no to racism, misogyny, bigotry, partisanship, and fear—all tactics which are solely aimed at dividing us up—there’s nothing we can’t achieve by working together.”

This rebrand attempt, done in part by Andrew Saturn, an Our Revolution Washington board member, did not occur smoothly, or without incident. In a King County Superior Court Filing, obtained by the Progressive Army, two other Our Revolution Washington board members, Vivian Queija and Ryan Whitney, are suing Mr. Saturn, claiming he was voted off the board and thus has no authority to unilaterally rebrand the organization or, furthermore, to claim any connection to Our Revolution Washington.

Source: King County Superior Court

In short, the complaint filed (embedded above) states that the plaintiffs don’t care whether or not Andrew operates an organization under the name WOKE Washington, but that it being a rebranding of Our Revolution Washington is simply not true. This is because, as the plaintiffs argue, a board meeting was conducted in which Mr. Saturn was voted off of the board. The complaint filed goes on to describe events and controversy after this meeting in which the battle for the rights to the organization continued. This being a relatively new case, with this amended complaint filed on April 7, 2017, we don’t yet have a response from Mr. Saturn, the defendant, but we will continue to monitor this case.

This case highlights a specific example of infighting among those on the left which results in hampered effectiveness and the left’s ability to truly become coalition builders.

The statement from WOKE Washington is provided below:

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Our Revolution TV Our Resistance TV

On April 9, 2017, Our Revolution TV, a YouTube engagement broadcasting platform run by Dave Coennen, rebranded as Our Resistance TV. Mr. Coennen says he started out as a host of Bernie 2016 TV when John Ellis put out a call to put an end to the “Bernie blackout” and was moved shortly after to create Feel The Bern TV.

After the Democratic primary, Mr. Coennen tells us he rebranded as Our Revolution TV because: “I saw [Bernie Sanders] was going to keep the movement going, so I followed the clues and hoped it would be an organization that worked to further the political revolution.” Mr. Coennen saw the early exodus from Our Revolution in the beginning and received flak from both sides, but decided to stick it out because, as he puts it, “my picture is in his damned book cover so I’m keeping the name.”

Everything changed for Mr. Coennen before the end of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. What Mr. Coennen witnessed in Trump’s foreign policy and Bernie’s backing of U.S. intelligence had made him realize that Our Revolution did not come close to matching his own values:

Then Dumber than Dubya lined up with the Deep State, and in just under 70 days, bombing another sovereign nation in an illegal and overt act of war, the MSM has their beautiful pictures and Bernie Sanders doesn’t even question the “intelligence” as he did in 2003 and plans a national tour with Tom Perez. Basta. I’ve been a Democrat twice for primary purposes. Once for Bernie and once for Kucinich. I did vote for Obama in 2008, but Dennis won the primary on Maui where we were living. I’ve voted for Nader and Stein twice. Green party values are my values, and that is no more apparent than right now as we are having a WMD/Regime Change Redux and both war parties are lining up with Orange Crush, saving Gabbard & Barbara Lee, who are paying the price once again.

Thus, just last week, Mr. Coennen has rebranded in an attempt to have a platform that better fits his personal political values.

Our Revolution has lost its original shine very quickly and doesn’t seem to be making a recovery any time soon. I feel the two specific instances outlined above illustrate the fact that the coalition that Bernie built between independents and democrats is waning as independents increasingly feel more alienated from Our Revolution.

Anoa’s Skyview Perspective

Approximately two years ago, Senator Bernie Sanders announced he would run for President as a Democrat. Over the next several weeks and months, many, from existing movement spaces and organizations to new voices in progressivism, came together to form a formidable grassroots machine. With two goals in mind, winning the Democratic Primary and ushering a political revolution, a loose national coalition formed.

Bernie supporters found each other and organized meet ups and informational sessions. People canvassed and phone banked, helped run large rallies, and fortified a commitment to access for all. However, once the primaries ended and Senator Sanders suspended his campaign, there was little direction on what the grassroots should do next to continue fighting for political revolution.

Even before the travesty that was the Democratic National Convention, there were factions within the Bernie movement. To go third party or to stick it out and make lemonade, we saw friends and colleagues drawing sharp lines. As the general election approached, these lines became more and more pronounced.

Reflecting on the evolution of this newest wave of progressive organizing, it is clear that there are varying ideas and perceptions of how the “Bernie Sanders” movement should move forward. While there is the larger division between the political revolution left and resistance liberals, there is an internal battle for power exacerbated by the leadership vacuum left by Senator Sanders’s further immersion within the Democratic party.

Whether intentional or accidental, Sanders’s lack of a clear game plan for the current movement wave that surged around his campaign is problematic. Wandering the desert, progressives have looked for leaders and organizations to rally around without clearly evaluating the current state of things.

The frenzied pace at which organizations are being formed and money raised will lead to the burnout of a movement still in its infancy. The infighting between DemExit, DemEnter, and GoGreen factions has led to pleas for unity within the Bernie movement, in addition to a call for unity across liberals, Democrats, and the left against 45. But what does unity really mean and is it even necessary?

Ultimately we continue to see many of the same mistakes decried by progressives being made in new organizing initiatives. Centralizing decision-making and ownership in the leadership structures of insider cliques and putting personality and charisma over people and issues. Ego has to be set aside to “do the work.”

So long as any one person, or small groups of people, think they have the sole answer and the only moral authority on resolving issues, there will continue to be infighting and discord. In order to create the groundswell necessary to move the needle on the issues that matter we must 1) be engaging in real time with real people in our communities and 2) be able to explain important issues in a way that is easy to understand and relates to daily life. We also need to encourage people to work from a position of verified information and not simply repeating old theories or conspiracies. Regardless of whether you are organizing in rural or urban communities, you will do better talking to people in a way that relates to their lives and struggles than repeating rhetoric.

Grassroots organizing and collective community driven action are essential to supporting progressive candidates and policies. If this movement is to help usher in a new way of engaging and supporting good people doing good work, those who position themselves as leaders must lead by example and not ego-driven dogma.

Written by Andre Roberge

Father, Husband. Went to school for philosophy (university of WA) and now I work for a train company -- Interests include Labor Law, TILA, Unions, Paid Family Leave, Healthcare, Philosophy of Science, Fantasy Football and Open Government-- Fanboy of The Take Down with Nick Nowlin and The Way with Anoa. Follow Andre on Twitter @SubvertingPower.

Andre Roberge is a Researcher and Writer for Progressive Army.

Written by Raven Payne

Recently awakened progressive in pursuit of truth in all things.

Raven Payne is an Editor and Writer for Progressive Army, and a member of its Editorial Board.

Written by Anoa Changa

Mom 1st, Lawyer 2nd. Anoa Changa is Director of Political Advocacy and a Managing Editor of Progressive Army, as well as a member of its Editorial Board. She hosts The Way with Anoa, Wednesdays at 9pm ET on YouTube . Follow her on Twitter @TheWayWithAnoa. "Never tell me the odds." - Han Solo


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      • The language implies that the former board members seeking damages from the founder of the org have any merit at all. This is a biased article written by biased individuals. Wish I could get the time I spent reading it back.

  1. What if it’s exactly how it’s supposed to be? I think many people are hoping for something that looks and works like The Democrats, but is that really what we want? IDK if you noticed, but Democrats and Republicans are kind of horrible, and part of what feeds into that is organizational structure. IDK, I’m a horrible organizer so don’t take it too seriously, just throwing my 2 cents in.

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Whose Revolution is it Anyway?