By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Back in September, at least, Bernie Sanders was the most popular politician in America:
Recent polling, in fact, shows Sanders might actually be the most popular national politician in the United States right now.
While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump register as the most unpopular presidential nominees ever, there remains a real fondness for the guy Clinton beat in the primary. A Fox News poll last month showed Sanders’s 60 percent favorable rating was nearly twice as high as his 34 percent unfavorable rating. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll around the same time showed 51 percent liked Sanders and just 29 percent disliked him. CNN a few weeks prior pegged the split at 59/35..
Those numbers make Sanders not only more popular than Trump and Clinton but also more popular than a resurgent President Obama. A new Internet-based YouGov poll has Sanders more popular than the president’s very popular wife, Michelle Obama. Vice President Biden and other national figures such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) also come up short. So does former president Bill Clinton, who has seen his own numbers dip alongside his wife’s.
This is made even more remarkable by the fact that Sanders has for years openly called himself and his ideas socialist — a brand of politics that many Americans are either unfamiliar with or strongly dislike.
And it’s hard to believe that Sanders’ popularity will have waned, given the post-election shenanigans by Trump and Clinton. (Imperial purple? Really?)
So what’s up with Sanders these days? And what’s up with the organizations that spun off from his campaign? Oddly, or not, there’s very little coverage of those topics. (Politico, for example, covers the stop in Boston, but not the tour as such.) So in this post, I’m going to lay out what I was able to find in a few hours of online research; I’m not making any claim that this material will be exhaustive, because that doesn’t seem to be possible right now. I’m going to start out by aggregating reports on the Sanders book tour, supplemented with a little material on other Sanders events. Then I’ll look at the one of the two spin-offs from the Sanders campaign: Our Revolution; unsurprisingly, it gets virtually no coverage either. Yes, this is a little sketchy, but sketchy is what’s out there right now, at least as far as what makes it into our famously free press. Readers are, of course, invited to chime in, especially about local organizing in their area, but also if you went to one of the events!
The “Our Revolution” Book Tour
Here’s some basic background:
[Sanders’] 464-page hardcover book jumped to No. 3 on Amazon’s 100 best-sellers list the day before it was released and graced the No. 1 spot on the official day of its publication.
If you are interested in getting involved and seeing Bernie Sanders talk about his new book, there are 17 stops in all that will be included on his tour. Some will include meet-and-greets and some will feature discussions. On November 29 in Los Angeles, for instance, Bernie will be in conversation with Sarah Silverman…
It would have been nice to have had an online map of all the tour stops, but I couldn’t find one. The publisher’s listing is miserably inadeqate. This list is not complete. So I’m going to summarize reports from the tweive (of seventeen) cities I was able to find coverage for. (Sadly, most of the stories were announcements of the upcoming event, not reports on the event). I’m not going to worry about what Sanders said; after all, he always says the same thing! Rather, I’ll look at “advance”-type information, especially crowd size. My goal is to find out whether Sanders can still draw an enthusiastic crowd. Many of the events were organized in conjunction bookstores. Many were on college campuses. Tickets were sold, though prices varied. Sometimes the price included a copy of Our Revolution. The events were not signings; Sanders came to speak on the book, or discuss it. Here are the reports I could find, in alphabetical order by city:
Baltimore, MD: “Several hundred people have reserved seats for a free Johns Hopkins University symposium… The symposium and overflow rooms have reached capacity and organizers are no longer accepting reservations” [Baltimore Sun]. “The size of the line to get into Shriver Hall on the Johns Hopkins University campus looked a lot like the days when Sanders held presidential campaign rallies [WBAL TV].
Berkeley, CA: The event was held at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, where more than 2,000 people showed up” [East Bay Times]. “The event was at capacity. There were a lot of people outside of the hall listening to Sanders via intercoms, and there were people of all ages. It wasn’t just young people” [KRON].
Boston, MA: “At a Boston book tour stop in late November, Sanders stressed similar goals in his talk to an estimated 1,000 people” [In These Times]. The audience was “mostly young,” but Boston is a college town.
Burlington, VT: “Sanders addressed more than 500 people at the sold-out speaking event” [NBC5]. “Hundreds of devoted followers of Sen. Bernie Sanders huddled together in near-freezing temperatures Tuesday night in Burlington” [Burlington Free Press].
Concord, NH: “A sold out crowd at the Capitol Center for the Arts” [WMUR].
Philadelphia, PA: “The gloom lifted when Sanders appeared on the tiny stage to a standing ovation” [Tablet]. Sold out.
Naperville, IL: “The event was held by Anderson’s Bookshops…. [Sanders] encouraged more than 3,000 of them in Naperville to stay hopeful and move forward” [Daily Herald]. (Naperville is a Chicago suburb, and the venue was North Central College.)
New York, NY:: “600 of his fans… waited in line for 12 hours” [Independent]. “Hundreds of Sanders’ supporters – some of whom had spent the night out on the streets – had lined up along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan” [Guardian].
San Rafael, CA: “A crowd of more than 850 people” [Marin Independent Journal]. Tickets “sold out in six hours. Karen West, Book Passage’s events director, said and the store stopped adding names to the waiting list when it reached 700.” The venue was Dominican University’s Angelico Hall.
Bernie Sanders speaking at Amazon Headquarters in Seattle! pic.twitter.com/JLK0Tc9M6b
— Justin Lambchop (@JustinLambchop) December 1, 2016
South Portland, ME: “Hundreds gathered Monday at the Books-A-Million store in South Portland” [WSCH]. “Six hundred people pre-bought the book and waited in line to meet Sanders and get a photo with the man.” That’s an enormous number for Maine.
Washington, DC: “When Sen. Sanders took the stage the packed crowd gave him a long standing ovation” [GW Today]. “[A]t George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium in partnership with Washington, D.C., bookstore and coffeehouse Politics & Prose.”
So Sanders can still pack them in; the numbers are impressive for a ticketed event. I also like the bookstore connection very much, even if it is a book tour! Local bookstores should be supported, but (for anybody who remembers the Dean campaign in 2004) they would also be great places for meet-ups. Also impressive is the advance work (if done by MacMillan, it was better than their webpage). There were no little snarky asides in the stories about screw-ups like failing mikes, or bad lighting at all. I do wish — though perhaps here the commercial purpose of the tour contradicted the political purpose — that there had been many more stops in “the heartland.” How about St Louis, Columbus, or even Des Moines? Or Atlanta and Miami? The cities chosen are just a wee bit too coastal for me, and too focused on Sanders’ home base in and around Vermont.
Interestingly, Sanders seems to be, basically, on the road, and not just on the book tour:
Sanders joined striking federal contract workers in DC this week, applauding their efforts to win a $15 minimum wage. Last week Sanders declared two victories — on the Dakota Access Pipeline and TPP. Next week he’ll speak at Kenosha, Wisconsin — Sanders won the Wisconsin primary — and appear at the United Auto Workers headquarters there. As Donald Trump travels the country on his “Thank You” tour, appearing at large rallies, Sanders is on what seems like a shadow tour. It’s interesting to consider that Sanders, proven a big draw like Trump, could occupy a sort of “Shadow President” role after a divided election that saw the Democratic candidate win the popular vote over the President-elect. If Sanders supporters have their way, the Vermont senator’s ideals and ideas will lurk behind each of Trump’s initiatives — whispering what could have been and what still might be.
I find all this very encouraging; it’s like the touring Sanders did in 2015, under the radar, before he announced.
With that, let’s turn to the organizations that spun off from the Sanders campaign. While both are alive and functioning, I think it’s fair to say that neither can be said to be thriving, at least so far.
In Richmond [CA], four candidates he backed two years ago won their elections, as did two more members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance this fall. This time, they were endorsed by Our Revolution, the post-campaign organization created by former campaign staff and Sanders volunteers. Richmond’s top vote getter was 26-year-old Melvin Willis, an African-American Bernie fan, rent control advocate and local organizer for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. Elsewhere in Northern California, Our Revolution-assisted candidates won mayoral races in Berkeley and Stockton.
Nationwide, Our Revolution endorsed 106 local, state, and federal candidates and 34 ballot initiatives. Fifty-eight of those candidates were successful; twenty-three of the ballot measures succeeded, including several dealing with campaign finance reform. Among those backed by Our Revolution was Mike Connolly, a lawyer and community activist in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Like Zuckerman in Vermont, Connolly competed in the Democratic primary to clear the field. He narrowly defeated a 12-term Democratic incumbent backed by most Bay State unions and nearly all his Beacon Hill colleagues. On November 8, Connolly won the seat, running unopposed in the general election. Three other Our Revolution-backed legislative candidates in Massachusetts, all incumbents, also won their primary battles and/or general election campaigns as well. They were state Sens. Pat Jehlen and Jamie Eldridge and state Rep. Mary Keefe.
Connolly is now working with Our Revolution supporters to build a new state structure that better links issue-oriented campaigns with electoral politics.
Those results are not so bad, especially given the givens:
In the run-up to the November election, Our Revolution raised more than $1.3 million — about 11% of that went to California races.”
“We were a newborn national organization fighting in 106 candidate races and 35 ballot initiatives,” said Shannon Jackson, executive director of Our Revolution, which launched Aug. 24. “We started out hitting the ground running and we had only 76 days until the general election.”
While Jackson says the group is “completely separate” from Sanders, its stated mission echoes many of the priorities Sanders highlighted in his presidential campaign. While Sanders handed over the reins of the organization to former campaign manager Jeff Weaver after launching it, the group draws on Sanders’ popularity and his vast digital network of supporters to fuel much of its efforts.
All for one, one for all! Attacks on the rights of immigrants, people of color, indigenous nations, LGBTQ communities, working class or religious minorities will be met by resistance and solidarity by our movement.
We need an economy that works for all.We will work for economic justice and against the oligopoly that controls so much and expects even more. Big money out of politics and expanding voting rights are essential to our democracy. Additionally, we support a foreign policy that works towards peace, advocates for justice, and supports the human rights of all. We resist the Dakota Access Pipeline. DAPL crushes the lives of our Native sisters and brothers, farmers in Iowa, our water and the earth itself. Our commitment to tribal sovereignty, property rights and stopping climate change demands immediate action. We will fight for democracy and an end to corporate and big money influence in the Democratic Party. We endorse Keith Ellison for Party Chair. Our organizing work will continue to move forward at the state and local levels as well as nationally. As Tip O’Neill said, “all politics is local.” When we are strong at both the local and national levels, we push forward a progressive agenda, and fight against the forces that dismiss the concerns of the working class.
This flaccid “statement” reads like progressive bafflegab, and I don’t mean “progressive” in a good way. It reads like a combination of “progressive” Inside Baseball (the Ellison endorsement), feel-good pieties (“met by resistance and solidarity by our movement”), and issues du jour (“We resist the Dakota Access Pipeline”). Who are these people? The people who control the best list in American politics, or half-a-dozen earthy-crunchy types meeting in a church basement on alternate Tuesdays, assuming AA hasn’t reserved it? Our Revolution Board Members: If you want to get gutted by Trump, do proceed along the lines of your statement! Voters don’t know what “We will work for economic justice” means, especially since “work for” doesn’t mean achieve. Or rather, they do know: It’s bullshit. Who wrote that? A Clinton speechwriter? But people do know what Medicare for All means. Readers know my priors on this, but I’ll restate them: Make a simple list of policies that bring concrete material benefits to working people. (This platform is not simple! And TPP shouldn’t be the first item, because it’s dead. Is nobody at Our Revolution maintaining the website?!) Start with Medicare for All and a Post Office bank. Then pound on that list 24/7/365 for the next four years. Because that’s what Sanders did, and that’s what a national party would do. And nobody said that would preclude any focus on local issues; quite the contrary. I grant that simple is not always easy, but holy moley!
Fortunately for us all, more interesting things are happening at the local level. I discovered this material about “Our Revolution” in Minneapolis:
Approximately 700 activists and former Bernie Sanders for President supporters gathered at St. Peter’s AME Church in South Minneapolis on Sunday, Nov. 13. The three-hour-long meeting, starting at 1 p.m., was called “Trump, 2017 and Beyond: A Community Response.” There were long but fast-moving lines across the parking lot to enter. Although the main meeting was held in the sanctuary, which probably has a capacity of about 450, sign-in was in the basement, which was packed full with people coming to sign in, working on side projects, and snaking through the crowd after signing in to get upstairs. The basement remained full of people throughout the three hours, with people rotating from downstairs to upstairs, standing in the back of the sanctuary and popping outside to get a breath.
Our Revolution MN is an independent state-based organization loosely affiliated with the national organization Our Revolution, which Bernie Sanders and close supporters started after his bid for the Democratic nomination failed. The national organization’s mission is to transform the national Democratic Party into a progressive, grassroots-driven, labor-oriented party, without control by corporations or the extremely wealthy. Our Revolution MN was formed to address the special task of reforming the MN DFL Party and is also fueled by a belief that transformative progressive movements need to start with local issues and races.
What used to be Terps For Bernie evolved into Our Revolution after Sen. Bernie Sanders lost the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Our Revolution is also part of the Protect UMD Coalition, which met for the first time on Nov. 14 and is composed of members from various political activism groups.
Our Revolution will place an emphasis on reform in Prince George’s County, with hopes of implementing a Citizens’ Election Fund similar to those in Howard and Montgomery counties, Brennan said. The group will also focus on electoral reform in the county, such as ranked choice voting and name randomization, he added.
Looking toward the future, Our Revolution seeks to establish a bus route from the campus to either Shoppers or Megamart, and to legalize marijuana in the state of Maryland, O’Donnell said
(Also encouraging, especailly since a bus route would bring concrete material benefits to students.) And in New York:
Last Sunday, more than 20 grassroots groups inspired by his campaign gathered at the former Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan for the inaugural conference of the New York Progressive Action Network, a statewide group that will push the Sanders platform in the Empire State.
So far as I can tell, then, the bottom line is a national organization that successfully raised money and supported winning candidates, but with no policy fire, and local, grassroots organizations with clever ideas, but not connected at all to the national. Surely we can do better?
I’m running short of time, and I’m not sure I have a conclusion anyhow! I find the crowds Sanders is getting very encouraging. And I hope Our Revolution can right itself. (Readers know my priors on this: I think an inside/outside strategy — in essence, a hostile takeover of the Democrat Party — is the only way forward. For that reason, I hope that Our Revolution succeeds, rather than fails. I’ll get to Brand New Congress, the other Sanders spinoff, at a later date. And I’ll get to the Greens when Stein’s recount saga comes to an end.)