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The Bernie Sanders Campaign Should Have Gone Further

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The Bernie Sanders Campaign Should Have Gone Further

After the end of the Bernie Sanders campaign, we have no shortage of takes on why Bernie lost. Pointing fingers in directions that confirm their preexisting political convictions, analysts claim the working class rejected socialism, or nonvoters will never vote, or that Bernie should have pivoted from insurgency to a party unity message to win over Democrats, or that the campaign should have pushed harder against Biden. Many of these arguments are worth engaging with. But as explanations of why the campaign didn’t come out on top, those takeaways don’t fit with what I observed in my ten months of on-the-ground organizing for the Sanders campaign in Iowa and Illinois.

The Bernie campaign was about organizing. We aimed to organize a multiracial, working-class coalition of people behind a presidential campaign that represented their values, not the interests of the rich. Over and over again in Iowa, I saw people transformed by conversations about Sanders and his platform, communities rally around the possibility of change, and new supporters take their first steps into political organizing.

We preached that our campaign would build a new working-class movement in this country, a tall order even for a country with a more established and functional Left than the United States. Our problem was not that we set this as a goal for ourselves — it was that our applied strategy stopped short of even attempting to reach this goal.

If the campaign leadership had been uniformly committed to the goal of building a working-class left movement through a presidential campaign, then our campaign would have looked very different. For instance, we would have invested in physical field staff in every state far earlier. We also would have treated our “distributed organizing” program, a virtual program coordinating volunteers across the country to run their own canvassing and phone-banking operations, as supplemental to paid staff rather than as a cheaper replacement.

Our campaign leadership made several major gambles that were not in sync with the values or espoused strategy of our campaign. But rather than ignore our flaws or write off our campaign for its failures, we owe it to ourselves to identify what we did that worked, and why and how we should have gone further to build a unified, grassroots left movement that could win the policies in Bernie’s platform and much more.

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Bernie lost in all the debates, and that is why he is out now. He had no solutions, only complaints against the system and the rich. Meanwhile he was getting rich himself over the years, and people understand he was a fringe candidate.

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