Bernie Is Done, But Berners Are Coming for Your District
It was in many ways a typical Bernie Sanders stump speech. There was the old line about his donations averaging $27 a piece. The line about defying the media’s expectations. The line about millions of people coming together to say “enough is enough.” The line about “ending a campaign finance system which is corrupt.” The line about the 20 wealthiest people owning more wealth than the bottom 150 million. And the many, many lines about a political revolution.
But where were the Feel the Bern posters? The teary-eyed co-eds? The Bernie babies? The chorus ready to chime in every time he said “Yuge?” Where the hell was Susan Sarandon?
As the Vermont senator addressed the public Thursday night, it was the same old Sanders, but this time, it was just Sanders—no mania.
In his remarks Thursday night, livestreamed to the public on his website, far from the chaos of the campaign trail, Sanders declined to admit Clinton is the Democratic party’s presumptive nominee or to concede from the race himself. Instead, he said that while election days come and go, “political and social revolutions that attempt to transform our society never end.”
That Sanders would still refuse to admit defeat today, after all the votes have been cast and after a Democratic dream team including President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have already come out in support of Clinton, will baffle and infuriate the Democratic base. But the Democratic base is not, and never has been Sanders’ chief concern.
Instead, his goal now is to ensure that the millions of people he mobilized continue to feel the Bern by running for local government. That’s how grassroots politics is supposed to work anyway. Or, as Sanders put it tonight: “Real change never takes place from the top down, or in the livingrooms of wealthy campaign contributors. It always occurs from the bottom on up.”
In this new context, however, standing alone against a blue backdrop, Sanders’ speech sounded less like the rallying cry it’s been for the last year, and more like a port mortem on a hard-fought run.
“A lot has changed over a year,” he said.
It certainly has. Last July, when he streamed an almost identical speech to more than 100,000 people at more than 3,000 watch parties across the country, it wasn’t clear that Sanders, who was polling around 17 percent, could even win a primary. But what was clear, even at that early stage, was that his campaign was pioneering a new approach to grassroots politics.
Tonight, it was obvious that approach had succeeded—just not in the way Sanders hoped.
Though Sanders has been reluctant to admit it, Hillary Clinton handily won the party’s nomination, scoring millions more votes. At the Democratic convention in July, her status as nominee will become official.
Still, Sanders’ new approach to politics succeeded. With his record-breaking (and Clinton-surpassing) online fundraising numbers, his overflowing stadium rallies, and his rabid Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook followers, Sanders and his team proved that—thanks to technology—it is possible to circumvent all the traditional political institutions and outsource a campaign to the public. While President Barack Obama proved such a thing was possible in 2008, Sanders proved it was possible at scale.
As he often does, Sanders rattled off a litany of staggering numbers associated with his campaign. 75 million. That’s how many phone calls volunteers made during primary season. 5 million. That’s the number of doors they knocked on in states from Iowa to California. 8 million. That’s how many individual contributions rolled in to his campaign. 2.7 million. That’s how many people made them. Now, Sanders is hoping that community will use what they’ve learned during the last ten months to change government wherever they live.
Of course, if this was Sanders’ way of ceding the party’s power to Clinton, the Clinton camp may be wildly disappointed. Sanders said he is committed to working with Clinton to defeat Donald Trump, but refused to endorse her. He insisted he’s still taking his fight to the convention to pass a progressive platform, though he knows as well as anyone that the nominee can abide by the platform—or not—once the general election is underway.
Throughout this election cycle, Sanders has rarely strayed from message, and tonight was no different, with one exception. Toward the end of a typical Sanders stump speech, Sanders usually rallies the crowd to go out and vote. Tonight, he made a different request: Go out and run for office.
“Hundreds of thousands of volunteers helped us make political history during the last year,” Sanders said. “Now we need many of them to start running for school boards, city councils, county commissions, state legislatures and governorships.”
Already, many of Sanders’ volunteers and former staffers are working on new projects like Brand New Congress that aim to elect new progressive leaders to office in the coming years. And so, while we probably haven’t heard the last of Sanders this year, tonight was a fitting capstone for a candidate whose message in cities and states across this country has always been, “Not me. Us.”