Are Progressives Ready for 'Political Revolution' with Bernie?

Vermont’s Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has now said he is ‘prepared to run for President of the United States’ in 2016, but that he wants to hear from progressives across the country about what such a run should look like if and when he makes it official.

In interviews with both The Nation and Time magazines published last week, Sanders spoke in the most specific terms yet about why a serious progress candidate is necessary, what the goals of such a campaign should be, and the inherent challenges involved. And even though the self-described democratic socialist admits he’s not ‘the only person out there who can fight this fight’—Sanders says the moment demands what he repeatedly calls a “political revolution.”

“Sanders is right, now is a good time for a political revolution.”
—Sonali Kolhatkar

Speaking with Time‘s Jay Newton-Small, Sanders said, “We need candidates who are prepared to represent the working families of this country, who are prepared to stand up to the big money interests, who are prepared to support an aggressive agenda to expand the middle class. And I am prepared to be that candidate.”

And on two key issues—running against the as-yet-undeclared but clear Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and the question on whether he would run as a Democrat or as an independent candidate outside the two dominant parties—Sanders was descriptive if not conclusive in his answers.

In both interviews he made it clear he “likes” Clinton, has worked with her, and considers her both intelligent and highly experienced. But as he told The Nation‘s John Nichols, Sanders thinks that “the Clinton type of politics is not the politics” he has in mind when he talks about the need for transformational solutions to the most pressing issues.

“We are living in the moment in American history where the problems facing the country, even if you do not include climate change, are more severe than at any time since the Great Depression,” he told Nichols. “And if you throw in climate change, they are more severe.”

And to Newton-Small, Sanders was perhaps more clear: “If you talk about the need for a political revolution in America, I think it’s fair to say that Secretary Clinton probably will not be one of the more active people.”

In the U.S. Senate, Sanders remains an Independent but has caucused with the Democrats since his arrival there. He currently serves as the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee by appointment of Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Asked by Nichols if he would run for president inside the Democratic Party, competing in state primaries and appearing in televised debates—or running outside as an Independent or third party candidate, Sanders responded: “I want to hear what progressives have to say about that.”

Though he acknowledged running outside would be the “more radical” approach, Sanders certainly seemed unconvinced it was the wisest one. Creating a third-party movement, he said, “has been talked about in this country for decades and decades and decades, from Eugene Debs forward—without much success. And I say that as the longest serving independent in the history of the United States Congress.”

So what are progressives around the country now saying about Sanders’ announcement?  What do they think about his possible candidacy as a challenge to Hillary Clinton and the more corporate-friendly, centrist establishment?  Should he run inside the Democratic Party or try, like Ralph Nader and others before him, as an independent or leader of a third party?

With lots of agreement, some divergence, and plenty of questions still to consider, what follows is a sampling of thoughts collected by Common Dreams by well known progressive activists, journalists, and thinkers in response to key, if preliminary, questions about a run by Sanders.

“A Sanders campaign would show how broadly popular the progressive agenda is with the U.S. public—not just among progressives or the Democratic base.”
—Jeff Cohen

According to Jeff Cohen, a progressive journalist and co-founder of RootsAction.org, a presidential campaign by Bernie Sanders could “boost the progressive agenda” nationally, especially around issues of economic justice, job production, climate change, and energy policy.

“A Sanders campaign would show how broadly popular the progressive agenda is with the U.S. public—not just among progressives or the Democratic base,” Cohen told Common Dreams, saying his views were his own and not representative of groups with which he is affiliated.

Sonali Kolhatkar, host of the progressive Uprising radio program on KPFK in Los Angeles, said she thinks it’s “about time” when asked by Common Dreams about her thoughts regarding Sanders’ declarations.

“There are very few progressives in the country who have the name recognition and integrity that Sanders has. My initial reaction was of excitement,” Kolhatkar said. “Sanders is right, now is a good time for a political revolution.”

Sarah van Gelder, founder and editor-in-chief of YES! Magazine, praised Sanders for his ability to raise the vital questions of our time in practical ways that “inspire and engage” ordinary people.

In an email to Common Dreams, van Gelder wrote, “[Sanders] manages to avoid getting swallowed up in the D.C.-insider game playing and the pro-corporate ideology of many in both parties,” she wrote. “That, and his success at winning elections, make him an extremely important figure for a really grim moment in U.S. political history.”

What’s most notable about him, explained van Gelder, is that “Sanders understands that our economy must contribute to the well being of all people, not just the 1 percent. That is among the most critical issues of our time and is the most urgent issue for many voters. He also appears to understand the climate emergency, which many politicians ignore.”

“Sanders understands that our economy must contribute to the well being of all people, not just the 1 percent.” —Sarah van Gelder

For his part, Nichols told Common Dreams that what’s exciting to him about Sanders is his potential to break open the public discourse in what is an otherwise disheartening and deteriorating political landscape in terms of both rhetoric and policy. “There are real differences between the Democratic and Republican parties,” says Nichols. “But, at the top of the parties, there are real similarities, as well—especially when it comes to critical issues such as trade policy, mass surveillance and even support for public education. The great mass of Americans want a wider debate and, to the extent that Sanders offers it, I think that would be very healthy for American politics—not to mention America’s future.”

Norman Solomon, Cohen’s colleague at RootsAction.org but also an independent journalist speaking on his own behalf, agrees with those who think Sanders could broader and deepen debate that would otherwise be constrained by the dominant powers that govern the Republican and Democratic parties.

“If Hillary Clinton is able to walk to the Democratic nomination without a major progressive challenge, that would be very bad for the politics of the country, moving the frame of discourse farther rightward,” Solomon told Common Dreams. “At this point there’s no one on the horizon to provide such a challenge—except Bernie Sanders.”

Nichols says whether Sanders should run inside or outside of the Democratic establishment is both “the most engaging” question and the most provocative for many progressives.

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