Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to many, this writer included, and is being lauded by people not just on the Left—which is who Mandela was, a man of the Left—but by centrists and even some right-wingers. This is testimony to Mandela’s winning personality, willingness to forgive and, above everything else, his suffering for decades in prison on behalf of the cause of human freedom and justice. These character traits taken as a whole, unfortunately, are relatively rare.
But another central aspect of the man was his commitment to staying actively involved in and giving leadership to the struggle against apartheid until victory was won. He dared to win, and he dared to govern after the ANC won political power. Without a willingness to govern, that victory over apartheid might not have been consolidated and made irreversible.
In the United States, where our conditions are much different than apartheid South Africa, the political Left, broadly defined, hasn’t had a national political leader and movement with anything near Mandela and the African National Congress’ breadth of support for a long time, since Jesse Jackson and the National Rainbow Coalition in the 1980’s. And it’s not that there haven’t been many people and organizations trying; there have been. The major ones have been the Greens, Labor and New/Working Families Party adherents ever since the 80’s, independent political efforts within the African American community (before Obama sucked up so much of that energy) or the non-electoral United States Social Forum efforts.
But ever since the demise of the National Rainbow as an independent, movement-building political force, the Left has been weak, barely visible on the national political scene. Despite hundreds of thousands of activists and organizers on a wide cross-section of issues, and the support of tens of millions for a broad Left political approach, conditions have not yet ripened to the point where a genuinely independent and progressive, multi-issue, visible and effective national movement could come into being.
Some on the Left thought that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 would advance that process, but that one hasn’t worked out very well. And a Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2016 wouldn’t be any different.
Because of the very real possibility of a Bernie Sanders Presidential campaign, however, I think that we could well be on the verge of such a movement coming forward. There is no question in my mind that a decision by Sanders to undertake such a campaign and the organizing that would flow from that decision would unleash tremendous energies. It has great potential to bring together a powerful, multi-issue, multi-constituency national coalition.
For years Sanders has been a leading, outspoken opponent of economic inequality, a defender of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid against attacks from Republicans and Democrats, as well as a leader in the Senate on the climate crisis. These are at the very top of the issues progressives are in motion around, and majorities of the U.S. American people are clearly concerned about them.
Sanders scores high in the rankings of his Senate votes on just about all the issues: pro-choice and women, farmers, environment and climate, wildlife, labor, peace, seniors, consumers, lgbt, civil liberties and civil rights, education, health care and immigrant rights.
He is a proven vote-getter and a capable legislator. He is a great speaker and an effective and experienced organizer.
Very significantly, it is reported that he has a list of 700,000 donors around the country who have contributed to one or more of his US Senate campaigns. From an organizational standpoint, this is a very big deal since, if he runs, Bernie is not exactly going to be a favorite of the big money crowd. From a resources standpoint, his campaign, by necessity and consistent with his principles, will be a people-powered one.
A Sanders campaign would help to build the campaigns of many different issue-based movements. He would be a natural fit as a supporting spokesperson for the movements developing among low-wage workers at Walmart, fast food stores and elsewhere. He has been calling for a much higher minimum wage for years.
And almost as icing on the cake, Sanders’ strong positions on economic justice, climate, poverty and other issues are the issues that Pope Francis is highlighting and bringing forward. How awesome would it be to have a serious U.S. Presidential candidate whose positions on major issues are also being addressed from a similar standpoint as the Pope?!
Would a Sanders candidacy be a serious candidacy?
Two key issues for any candidate for President are money and name recognition. It seems to me that Sanders is in decent shape in both categories, given his big national donor list and the visibility he has gained from 25 or so years in the House and Senate and his vocal advocacy on major issues over that time.
It is a good thing that the word about Sanders being a possible candidate is out there three years before the Presidential election. It seems to me that Bernie should plan to come to a decision fairly soon. The more time he and his campaign have to raise money, get organized, connect with popular movements and be nationally visible as a candidate, the better. An insurgent, non-power structure, grassroots-based campaign needs time to build, and Bernie has it if he decides within the next several months.
A Sanders candidacy for 2016 would be right on time. Bernie himself has said the reason he is seriously considering a run is because of our deeply-rooted crises, particularly the economic inequality and climate crises. There is an urgent need for a national movement that links these and other issues into an overall, consistently progressive critique and set of solutions. We are not going to get this from Clinton, Cuomo, O’Malley or Biden.
The Left just can’t keep supporting establishment Democrats who we know, if elected, cannot be counted on to do the right thing on issue after issue. Particularly with the climate crisis, the Obama incrementalist approach put forward this past June, while better than the little that he did for his first four years, isn’t even close to what is needed.
Finally, a key question as far as seriousness has to do with how Bernie would run. In Vermont he has always run as an independent, “third party” candidate. It may be that, if a broad, multi-constituency coalition was willing to support him, an independent Presidential candidacy could be, indeed, a serious route to take, though the conventional political wisdom would argue for him running within the Democratic primaries, while being very open about his third party connections and independence from both parties. This is a tactical question, not a question of principle, given Bernie’s very strong independent progressive credentials. It is a decision that can be made further along.
As I said in my Future Hope column two weeks ago, run, Bernie, run!
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.