Portsmouth, NH (TFC) – On 12 July, Senator Bernie Sanders officially endorsed Hillary Clinton for President of the United States. While many of his supporters were disappointed, to those who have payed close attention to the modern history of American “democracy,” this was the most likely outcome. The other much touted possibility was for Sanders to abandon the Democratic Party and run as an independent candidate or join the Green Party ticket with Dr. Jill Stein. The question for the vast majority of Americans, who are faced with the spectre of voting for the two most disliked Presidential candidates in years, is this: where do we go from here?
One the one hand, I was certainly at least hoping that Sanders would take his decision to the convention in Philadelphia. Imagining Sanders announce a third party or independent run either on the Convention floor or standing outside in the crowds is the stuff movies are made of – a spectacle of political theater that would have shaken the two-party establishment to its very foundations. But I had no illusions; that was never a probable outcome. Sanders was going to endorse Clinton at some point if she wasn’t indicted; and despite overwhelming evidence and the fact that the majority of Americans believe she should have faced trial, the establishment justice system of the US ensured that she will not.
Bernie Sander’s goals going into his run were almost certainly fairly humble ones. A long-time Independent, he chose to run in the Democratic primaries for two reasons: to spread his message and platform to a wider audience, and to force the Democratic Party back towards the Left. On the first point, he succeeded more wildly than anyone in the mainstream press, the DNC, or even he himself could have imagined. On the second, he has sadly done a far less dynamic a job.
Sanders won a great deal of political capital in this election season, and to his credit, he did indeed try and spend a good bit of it towards that second goal. He pushed Clinton in the debates, forcing her to pay lip service to causes she clearly had no intention of ever bringing up. His nominees to the Democratic Platform Committee were solid examples of the Progressive Left and turned what is usually a dry, overlooked rubber stamping of donor-approved issues into something that people actually paid attention to. The new Clinton student debt relief plan, which he helped to draft, is reasonably progressive and was almost certainly demanded by the Sanders campaign as a condition of the endorsement. Sadly, Clinton consistently acts in bad faith and has no intention of keeping most of those promises, the Platform Committee rejected almost all of the truly progressive policy positions (leading to Dr. Cornel West to abstain) and the debt relief program is a poor substitute for having a powerful third party ticket like Sanders/Stein.
Sanders, in the end, fought well,and I take him at his word that he fears a Trump candidacy more then a Clinton one. But that isn’t a reason for the rest of the American Left – those who choose to vote, anyway – to line up behind a right-wing candidate. Rather, the endorsement shows Sanders to be a team player on a team that consistently belittled him, his supporters, and the democratic process in favor of a continued corporate-owned state. So I return to the question: where do we go from here?
American politics is a farce and a sham, a carefully orchestrated play in which all the players are pre-selected by big campaign donors and lobbyists. This election is one where the stars are aligning, however. In a time with vast populist distrust in the system itself, where the two parties have nominated the most hated and unappealing candidates in modern history, and with a rising force of anti-establishment, anti-big money fervor, this could well be the time for third parties to do incredibly well in the Electoral College. The purpose of this strategy would be to break open the two party monopoly on American politics and start a conversation.
For many former Sanders supporters, the answer is Jill Stein. Stein’s platform is like Sander’s on steroids, and anger with Clinton will lead many into her camp; she even has the added benefit of also being a woman, so Clinton will be unable to use that as a point of contention. For the more conservative wing of Sander’s supporters, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party offers not only a “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” option, but also one of the most well built third party machines in the country. Republicans, many of whom have deep misgivings about voting for Donald Trump, may also find a home with the Libertarians without voting for Clinton, who is about as an appealing Republican as you can find within the Democratic Party but has a great deal of baggage with longtime GOP voters.
Voting for a third party candidate won’t necessarily free us from the daunting and unsavory possibility of a Trump or Clinton Presidency, but doing so in droves sends a clear message: we are tired of business as usual. Building strong grassroots networks in our communities is a must, as well – I say to Sander’s supporters, if you do not continue the “political revolution” in your communities, from the bottom up, all of this will have been for nothing. It is doubtful that anyone can force the Democratic Party further to the Left, but we can indeed wipe it clean from the slate of American politics and replace it.
In the end, to change anything, we must also fight outside the rigged system of American politics. Popular anger can be a good thing, and many activists (including myself) are happy to see it – we need your voices. Radical change is possible. So go vote for third parties if you wish to vote, and fight in your communities for the causes that you believe in. The Sander’s endorsement may be the end of the Bernie Movement, but it isn’t the End of the World – and if you want that World to change, come out into the streets and change it. Bernie may have gotten you turned on for change –
But he isn’t going to change it for you.