“Not Me. Us!”

Sen. Bernie Sanders claims victory at a primary night election rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
Sen. Bernie Sanders claims victory at a primary night election rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

by Jackie Dee King, Cole Harrison, and Brian Garvey

That stirring slogan of the Bernie Sanders movement has never been more important, now that he has suspended his campaign for president. While we—his millions of supporters—are still grieving, we also have much to be proud of, much to give us hope and direction in the tough fight ahead.

Bernie Sanders and the movement he inspired have dramatically shifted the political discourse in the United States to the left. Bold ideas and big solutions that were considered marginal just several years ago are now part of mainstream thinking, ideas that all other Democratic candidates were forced to address and that some embraced: ending the endless wars, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free public college, and many more. These have now become part of our political vocabulary. For the first time in generations, democratic socialism has become a popular, real-world concept for millions of Americans, especially young people.

We in the peace movement were encouraged and inspired by Sanders’s insistence that we withdraw from military interventions overseas and his willingness to call out the military industrial complex as the major engine driving our bloated military budget and aggressive foreign policy. His focus on these issues had clearly evolved since 2016; this time around, he put forward his vision of a more just and peaceful foreign policy as a central component of his campaign.

We can also thank Bernie for showing us another way to build and run a campaign. He made it about “us” rather than himself, refused donations from billionaires and Super PACs and closed-door fundraisers, and instead raised millions in small donations, mostly on-line. He filled his policy and organizing posts not with Washington insiders, but with principled progressives, young people, union organizers, people of color, working class leaders. He refused to back down or disavow positions he has held all his life, even when it might have seemed politically expedient to do so.

Mass. Peace Action was proud to endorse Sanders last fall, and to work hard for his campaign up to and beyond our state’s primary March 3. We phone-banked from our office, went door-to-door in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, bird-dogged candidates to raise Bernie’s (our) issues, organized debate-watching parties and fundraising events, participated in mass rallies, sent donations, and publicized the Sanders platform through press releases, e-alerts, newsletters, social media, and speeches. We will forever Feel the Bern. But our organizing has just begun.

The Age of Pandemic

Ironically, as many have noted, even as Sanders was losing in the primaries on Super Tuesday and beyond, the ideas he espouses are still hugely popular and are now more relevant than ever, in the age of pandemic. The coronavirus has changed our world, more so even than 9/11. The kinds of solutions that are so often put forward by establishment politicians—solutions that tinker at the edges of problems with incremental reforms, that say to billionaires, “Don’t worry, nothing will fundamentally change”—just won’t work in this new world. The next decade will be a crucial one for the planet and the human species. Climate science tells us we only have a few short years to transform our energy and environmental policies if we want to avoid climate catastrophe. A history of nuclear accidents, threats, and a new arms race makes clear we only have a short time to transform our foreign policy to avoid a possible nuclear war.

Donald Trump is threatening democracy every day. Major media outlets are still carrying Trump’s absurdly long press briefings. After years of efforts to suppress the vote of Blacks and young people, we now face the threat that capitalizing on the chaos of the current pandemic may make it easier than ever before for our elections to be subverted. The disaster in Wisconsin last week can be the fate of the November election if we are not careful. Mass. Peace Action supports the call of Common Cause among other organizations to set up a robust vote by mail system.

Joe Biden was the Democratic candidate many in progressive circles were the most opposed to supporting. Now, barring some cataclysmic event, he will be the Democratic nominee. Biden has an “enthusiasm gap”: a recent Washington Post poll found that Republicans are more excited to vote for Trump than Democrats are for Biden, and that only 24% said they were “very enthusiastic”—the lowest level for a major presidential candidate in 20 years. This is a far worse result than a similar poll for Hillary Clinton at this point in the race in 2016.

Substance, Not Just Smiles

Why is this so? Could it have anything to do with his positions? As just one example: 76% of Democrats support Medicare for All, up 9% since the coronavirus hit, and millions are losing their health care. Yet Biden has said of the pandemic, “Single payer will not solve that at all.”

A coalition of organizations composed primarily of young people—including Sunrise Movement, Justice Democrats, March for Our Lives Action Fund, United We Dream Action, If Not Now, and others—has published an open letter entitled “Dear Joe Biden, here is how you can earn our support.” While Biden has been praised in the mainstream media simply for saying “I hear you” and “You are welcome in our campaign” to Sanders supporters, these young people showed that they expect Biden to take real steps on concrete issues before they will support him: adopt the framework of the Green New Deal, commit to serious gun control, expand DACA and close detention camps, champion comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system, cut drug prices and support Medicare for All, pass a serious wealth tax, support free undergraduate tuition for public colleges, and support a more democratic voting system. 

In short, we need to keep pushing. Biden needs to listen to Bernie Sanders, to the young people who supported him, to the progressive movement – not only because it’s the right, the moral, thing to do – but because he will not be able to defeat Trump unless he does.

Down ballot races are of crucial importance. Massachusetts Peace Action supports Ed Markey for Senate and Alex Morse, Ayanna Pressley, and Jim McGovern for Congress, and expects to announce more endorsements in the coming weeks. Please donate to Alex Morse and volunteer on his campaign, and don’t forget to also donate to Ed Markey, Ayanna Pressley and Jim McGovern! National Peace Action is working for Congressional challengers Eva Putzova (AZ), Anita Malik (AZ), Joyce Elliott (AR), Nabilah Islam (GA), Marie Newman (IL), Kara Eastman (NE), Mike Siegel (TX), Colin Allred (TX), and for several dozen incumbents. Go to Peace Action’s 2020 Endorsements Page to learn more about all these pro-peace candidates and to support their campaigns.

Calls have begun for Sanders to keep together the campaign organization that he – and we all – built. It is a robust structure. As a Rhode Island campaigner for Bernie wrote in Jacobin magazine, a few hundred staff remain on payroll; although most will probably be laid off soon, some should remain. This has been an unconventional campaign, and there is no reason it should not continue that way instead of dissolving, the way most presidential campaigns do if the candidate is no longer running. It could be a major locus for the movement, a place from which to fight for a just response to the coronavirus crisis.

Sanders has now formally endorsed Biden. But he has also made clear that he does not intend to stop fighting for the issues that fired his campaign: “I ran for the presidency because I believed that as a president, I could accelerate and institutionalize the progressive changes that we are all building together. And if we keep organizing and fighting, I have no doubt but that that is exactly what will happen. While the path may be slower now, we will change this nation and—with like-minded friends around the globe—change the entire world.”

—Jackie Dee King is the newsletter editor, Cole Harrison is the executive director, and Brian Garvey is the full-time organizer of Massachusetts Peace Action.

Please share your thoughts about the Sanders campaign, the presidential race, and MAPA’s tasks in the electoral arena over the next eight months. Send comments to info@masspeaceaction.org and we will share excerpts with our readers in upcoming posts.