In 1988 Rev. Jesse L. Jackson galvanized the progressive movement and much of the Democratic Party as he campaigned for President on the slogan: “Bold Leadership and a New Direction.” The 1988 campaign was the sequel to the electrifying campaign of 1984 in which he popularized the notion of a Rainbow Coalition as a multiracial, multi-constituency force to advance a progressive agenda. Rev. Jackson challenged the Democratic Party to hold true to and fight for its principles by unapologetically articulating a vision to improve the quality of life for the majority of Blacks, people of color, the poor, working people and the struggling middle class. His slogan and platform was proclaiming that vision matters! As a result, millions of people flocked to the Jackson campaign, large numbers of whom were young people who had never voted or participated in electoral politics before.
I believe it is “the vision thing” that is producing stunning results as surprising numbers of people, particularly young people, are enthusiastically joining a movement fueled by their feel of and affection for the “Bern.” Let me be clear, Hillary Clinton is a far better choice for President than any of the extremist candidates from a Republican Party whose views on some issues border on atavistic. Bernie Sanders made it clear in his victory speech in New Hampshire that it is absolutely imperative that these rightwing, retrograde forces be stopped. However, having said that, for decades there has been a pent-up yearning for a truly progressive candidate like Bernie Sanders who could stretch the imagination to envision and articulate what should be rather than what’s “practical.”
Under fierce assault from reactionary forces on the right, for decades the Democratic Party has retreated from the hard fought gains secured over generations of struggle, a culture of rights for poor and working people, much of which is reflected in Roosevelt’s New Deal. At the heart of this culture of rights is the notion that the “public space,” public education, housing, health care, transportation, jobs and other government provided services and opportunities function as an “equalizer” to ameliorate the harsh edges, the negative outcomes for ordinary people in a Capitalist political-economy. For decades the “public space” has been withering away as Democrats have largely capitulated to the conservative onslaught, demanding smaller government, privatization of public services, elimination or drastic reductions in social programs, tax cuts for the wealthy and reduced regulations to ensure unfettered, free markets -- free rein for corporations and financial interests, “freedom” for Wall Street!
A good case can be made that this capitulation was aided and abetted by the Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC), an organization within the Democratic Party led by former President William Jefferson Clinton. The DLC never claimed to be “progressive.” It was a self-avowed moderate/centrist organization whose claim to fame was its opposition to the liberal-progressive wing of the Party. The DLC’s formula for success was to achieve electoral victories, including winning the White House, by minimizing discussion of the traditional values and policies of the Democratic Party. The DLC advocated coopting aspects of the Republic Party’s platform and message on policies like defense, the size of government, welfare, social programs and trade. They essentially favored an incremental, pro-business, “Republican light,” pragmatic agenda!
The consequences of the DLC led capitulation has been disastrous, particularly in terms of dramatically increased inequality, the downward spiral or stagnation of wages/incomes for working people and marginalization of the poor. Indeed, the working class and the poor became virtually invisible in the public discourse on public policy as Democrats, no doubt influenced by the “consultant class,” increasingly focused on the “middle class.”
There is also a State of Emergency in America’s “dark ghettos,” Black communities/neighborhoods in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore which is the product of decades of disinvestment, deindustrialization and blatant neglect. Clinton abandoned urban policy and responded to the crises in Black communities by proposing the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994 which opened the flood gates to staggering levels of incarceration of Black people. The Clintons are not progressives; they consciously/deliberately, calculatingly chose to be moderate/centrists.
The Sanders’ Campaign matters because he is audaciously declaring that workers, the poor and people on the margins and the struggling middle class, the vast majority of people in this nation, matter. His relentless popular education of the electorate about the utter unfairness and injustice of the insatiable greed and obscene accumulation of wealth on Wall Street, as brilliantly exposed by the Occupy Wall Street Movement, is resoundingly resonating on Main Street. Sanders is not only excoriating the greed of the 1%, he is exposing and condemning the corrosive effect of the death grip of “billionaire classes’” on the electoral political process through lobbyists and super pacs.
One year before his death Dr. Martin Luther King mounted the Podium at Riverside Church and proclaimed: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that the edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.” Dr. King also called for a “radical revolution of values,” stating that “when machines, computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” In that spirit Bernie Sanders, in a manner reminiscent of Dr. King’s call for an Economic Bill of Rights, is calling for a “revolution” to loosen the grip of Wall Street, the billionaire class, on the political system in this country by articulating a vision of what should be rather than drowning hope, dwelling on what is and what’s practical/realistic. As Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa, once said, “we are realistic but as for reality we have come to change it!”
Why should the richest and most technologically endowed nation on the face of the earth accept the fact that 25 million human beings in this society suffer without health insurance while millions more are under-insured? This despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act which was/is an important incremental victory. Why is it that every western industrialized nation in the world has universal health care “except” the United States? This is not the kind of “exceptionalism” Americans should be proud of or have to endure. Bernie Sanders would have us envision a society where health care is a basic human right, not a privilege. Therefore, he advocates a Medicare-for-all, Single Payer health care system that would cover every American and drastically reduce costs; a system based on health care for people not profits for the giant insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
Why should the poor, working class and struggling middle class families and their children be burdened with enormous debt to secure an education in America? Bernie Sanders asks us to dream of a nation which provides free, “public” education for the daughters and sons of ordinary people. He also calls upon us to dream of a society which provides a decent standard of living for all its people by establishing a national living wage of at least $15.00 an hour; offering paid sick leave and pregnancy leave for mothers and fathers; fighting for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to guarantee women equal pay for equal work; ensuring that our seniors will live in dignity by expanding, not reducing, Social Security benefits; and promoting a green, sustainable, well-paying, job generating economy. And, Bernie Sanders is urging us to join the fight to end the scourge of mass incarceration brought on by an ill-conceived War on Drugs that has devastated Black and Brown communities across this nation.
Bernie Sanders is articulating a bold vision of what should and can be achieved if millions believe and join the “revolution” by educating, mobilizing and marching on ballot boxes to chasten the billionaire class, the oligarchy, to transform the face of this nation. A parasitical billionaire class, Wall Street, must be compelled to pay the price for a more just and humane America. Millions of people are “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of pedestrian politics and business as usual. Vision matters, and it is Bernie Sanders’ vision and the meaning of the message that is motivating millions to join the “revolution and march on ballot boxes to embrace a truly progressive policy agenda.
However, it is important to caution that the progressive “revolution,” which Sanders is inspiring, will fall short of its potential if it does not clearly recognize and emphatically assert that “race matters” in this country; that because of structural racism, the ravishes of inequality and the exploitation and neglect of poor and working people disproportionately afflict Blacks and people of color. In a recent appearance on the Melissa Harris Perry Show on MSNBC Dr. Khalil G. Muhammad, the brilliant Director of the Schomburg Center in New York, was correct to point out that in the past progressives have often de-emphasized or ignored racial issues while emphasizing issues of class. Put another way, White progressive reformers have too often minimized racial concerns and remedies for fear of alienating Whites.
Black lives matter. Bernie Sanders would do well to address the issue of structural racism and its effects on Blacks and people of color head-on. Indeed, it would be useful if he took time to deliver a major address on race in American society and outline a comprehensive policy agenda for addressing racial issues, particularly as they effect Black and Brown people. And, on the question of his position on Reparations for Blacks for slavery and ongoing discrimination, Sanders should at least support HR-40, Congressman John Conyers bill that would authorize a Commission to study slavery and its aftermath and determine whether reparations are warranted. These steps would be major strides towards constructively bridging the race-class divide in order to advance an inclusive, unified revolution!
Will the Sanders’ inspired “revolution” dismantle America’s Capitalist political-economy? No, it will not. But, it will be a significant interim or transitional step forward advancing a politics of social transformation in this country. The “Bern” is encouraging millions of people to envision, to dream of a nation that is more humane than the indignities and injustices they suffer with the status-quo. In that regard, the Sanders’ campaign is already victorious! Millions of people are awake, seizing the moment to take matters into their own hands to contest the oligarchs, to battle Wall Street, proclaiming we are human beings, and we deserve to live with dignity and decency in this nation!
This remarkable, improbable revolution may well propel Bernie Sanders into the White House and other progressives into elected offices across the country. But, winning an election should not be the sole objective. Win or lose the election, the movement, the revolution must continue. One of the worst things that could happen is for Sanders to win and the movement is disbanded. Or for Sanders to fall short and fail to strenuously work to make the movement, the revolution, a permanent new force in American politics broadly defined. Some years ago, Danny Glover and veteran labor and social justice activist Bill Fletcher proposed the creation of a new Rainbow Coalition (I was honored to serve as an Executive Director of the Rainbow Coalition). Perhaps, the time is ripe for Bernie Sanders to revisit that idea. What the success of his campaign suggests is that millions of people are ready to be part of a new progressive force in American politics. That’s why Bernie Sanders’ Campaign matters. Let the “revolution” continue!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com. His weekly radio show, Vantage Point, can be heard Mondays 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon on WBAI, 99.5 FM, Pacifica in New York or streaming live via WBAI.org. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org