More than 3,000 Bernie Sanders’ far-left supporters gathered in Chicago Saturday had a strong warning to the Democratic Party – our candidate may be on his way out but we’re here to stay.
They convened at a sprawling lakeside convention center here for a “People’s Summit” – part victory lap for Sanders’ achievements, part wake for his failure to win the Democratic presidential nomination, and mostly strategy session for ways to keep the movement going and hold presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s feet to the fire on their issues.
Their greatest leverage: Clinton will need them in a close race against Trump.
“The Democratic Party has to take a step toward our side, they have to include us,” said Mark Manning, 58, a summit attendee from Sarasota, Florida, who’s cold to Clinton’s campaign. “It’s not enough for them to say ‘Vote for Hillary to stop Donald Trump.’”
In a 4-way contest without Sanders, 41 percent of Sanders supporters would go to Clinton, according to a recent SurveyUSA poll. But 13 percent would not vote at all; 15 percent would vote for Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson; 11 percent for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein; and 7 percent would shift to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Sanders supporters in Chicago said establishment Democrats and anxious Clinton supporters need to get off their backs and let the political process play out through the convention.
“I get that Hillary people are frustrated, but I don’t think the Hillary people get how important to keep these people, especially the young people, who weren’t initially Democrats, involved,” said Deanie Bergbreiter, 57, a Sanders convention delegate from Sarasota who plans to vote for Clinton in November. “We are doing them a favor and they don’t realize it.”
The main message from the summit: It’s not over until we say its over.
“Bernie lit the flame, we’re stoking it. Bernie’s irrelevant – he’s always said it’s not about him,” said James Canfield, a summit attendee from Bradenton, Fla. “But the issues that he’s presented are alive and we want to keep the movement moving.”
The movement isn’t a monolith. And attendees of the summit inside Chicago’s cavernous McCormick Center had their main causes – from members of National Nurses United to Black Lives Matter supporters to Occupy Wall Street veterans.
But the disparate groups informally coalesced under the Sanders umbrella, united for the most part in agreement that the minimum wage must be increased, the nation’s health care system revamped, relations between law enforcement and minorities improved, and America’s financial system reeled-in.
“In the long struggle for justice we need victories and the achievements of the Sanders campaign have been victories of mass proportions,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, a co-sponsor of the summit and the first union to endorse Sanders’ presidential campaign. “But it’s important to remember that elections are not movements, but they can be a moment in a movement. And this is a magical moment in history.”
She laid down a marker to the Democratic Party on what Sanders and his movement supporters expect at the party’s convention and in the fall campaign.
Testifying before the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee via Skype Friday, she argued for an improved health care system through guaranteed Medicare for all.
“It’s not good enough to blame Republican governors or the Supreme Court for the 28 million people who remained uninsured,” she told the drafting committee. “Guaranteed health care for all must be a uniform, national obligation that the Democratic Party makes a priority, not a vague concept dependent on the vagaries of which states will pass Medicaid expansion.”
She also called for the party to unequivocally oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation pact sought by the Obama administration, and the imposition of a tax on the buying and selling of stocks.
Several summit attendees and speakers had their own suggestions for what’s next, from having more left-leaning people seek public office at all levels to nationalizing the nation’s banks.
“We have to make sure we run for office, similar to what our brothers and sisters on the right have done in terms of the tea party,” said former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner, a Democrat. “I don’t agree with any of the tea party’s philosophies, but what they have done is put the fear of God in Republicans. Republicans don’t fear the general election, they fear the primary. We have not done the same thing on the left.”
Sanders didn’t attend the weekend summit. In a video message Thursday, he said he looked forward to working with Clinton on key issues. But he didn’t drop out of the presidential race and said that his “political revolution” to change the Democratic Party continues.
Still, Sanders needs to exit the race in order to retain his new-found clout and his supporters need to pivot to Clinton, according to Mark Bennett, senior vice president for public affairs at Third Way, a centrist think tank.
“They don’t have to love her, just get behind her,” Bennett said. “They have to recognize that the revolution has not come – that the change that Bernie is calling for will not come under House Speaker Paul Ryan.”