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A More Relevant and Radical Democratic Platform? Bernie Sanders Brings Long-Time Activists to the Table

Sanders picks some heavy-hitting social movement leaders for the Democratic National Committee.

Bernie Sanders may not become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, but his political voice will continue to shape the party for years to come. That’s mostly due to his extraordinary campaign, of course, but the grassroots movement leaders he placed on this year’s Democratic National Committee platform drafting committee will help too.

Sanders was asked to select five of the 15 members of the committee responsible for producing the Democratic Party’s national platform. With Sanders’ selections, the platform drafting committee will include determined advocates for economic equality, campaign finance reform, and an aggressive response to climate change.

It won’t be the first time that people affiliated with social movements have served in this role. The 2008 committee included US Representative Rosa DeLauro, who once led campaigns to stop US military aid to Nicaraguan contras. But the 2016 committee will have members who are directly involved in grassroots movements today, from climate justice to Black Lives Matter. Of the five people Sanders chose, three have recently been arrested while engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience.

Usually the chair of the Democratic National Committee appoints the group after consulting with the party’s presidential nominee, and Barack Obama had sweeping say in 2008. However, this year, the party allowed candidates to make appointments in proportion to their share of the popular vote in the primaries. Hillary Clinton made six picks, and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz selected the remaining four. The Washington Post interpreted the change in the selection process as an attempt to unite an increasingly divided party.

The significance of the party platform has declined over the years, said Marc J. Hetherington, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University.

“What’s more important is that Sanders has spent six, seven months articulating a specific vision for this country,” Hetherington said. “And that’s the kind of thing people will remember.”

But the platform still serves as a symbol of what the party stands for, and Sanders’ committee selections will have an influence on the final draft.

Here are Sanders’ picks for the 2016 platform drafting committee:

Keith Ellison

A US Representative from Minnesota, Ellison is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and is credited with expanding it to include two in five House Democrats. Ellison was the first Muslim elected to Congress and has spoken out against Islamophobia in the wake of terrorist attacks. He was arrested in 2013 at a rally in an effort to urge Congress to pass legislation supporting undocumented immigrants. He has helped create legislation to support a $15 national minimum wage and supports lowering the costs of public higher education to reduce student debt.

Cornel West

A professor and Black academic, West has authored several books on race, civil rights, and democracy. He is known for his criticism of Obama, calling out the president for not standing up to white supremacy. He was arrested in 2014 during protests in Ferguson, Mo., after the police shooting of Michael Brown. He has written and spoken about the failings of a capitalist system to address income inequality.

Bill McKibben

McKibben is an environmental activist, author, and co-founder of, a global grassroots organization fighting climate change. He has been arrested several times, most recently this March while protesting a proposed pipeline in New York. He argues that Obama hasn’t done enough to fight climate change because his administration is too closely tied to fossil fuel industries. The Boston Globe referred to McKibben as “probably America’s most important environmentalist.”

James Zogby

Zogby is the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, which works to include the voices of Arab Americans in US politics. He has supported the rights of Palestinians and criticized violence from the Israeli side. He co-chairs the Democratic National Committee’s resolutions committee and has also advised the campaigns of Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, and Barack Obama. He has voiced his support for Sanders’ positions on income inequality, corporate power, and universal health care.

Deborah Parker

Parker is a Native American activist who worked for the Office of Governmental Affairs for the Tulalip Tribes. During her time there, she analyzed tribal sovereignty on issues such as education, health care, and finance. She served as a domestic violence counselor for the Tulalip Tribes and later advocated for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

The other selected members of the platform drafting committee:

Hillary Clinton’s picks: Ambassador Wendy Sherman; Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden; US Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez; former White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy director Carol Browner; State Representative Alicia Reece; and Paul Booth, executive assistant to the president at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s picks: US Representative Elijah Cummings; US Representative Barbara Lee; former Claire’s Stores CEO Bonnie Schaefer; former US Representative Howard Berman.

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