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How Not to “Bern Out”: Ten Steps Toward a Future We Can Believe In

Political revolution is a long haul, so here’s a 10-point program to sustain a growing progressive movement.

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In the last six months, a relatively low-profile senator from a low-profile state has become a national and even global political phenomenon. At a recent speech in the South Bronx, over 18,000 people rallied with thunderous applause when Bernie Sanders said, “We need millions of people to stand up and create a political revolution.” And there’s no question that millions are “feeling the Bern.”

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, “Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016.”

With World War III on the doorstep, the doomsday clock at three minutes to midnight, straddling tipping points toward catastrophic climate change, and in the middle of a mass extinction, revolution has never been more urgent and necessary. And at the risk of sounding ridiculous, there are real possibilities for an ongoing revolutionary movement to emerge from the matrix of the 2016 election. But an election is not a revolution: A revolution is a long haul, a life’s work of sacrifice and struggle. This is a 10-point program for the movement: how not to Bern out.

1. Don’t Trust the Mainstream Media

They don’t know how to report on these elections. But that’s not all — they don’t know how to report on anything! Their job is not to inform or educate us, but to sell our brains, manufacture consent and censor the most important stories. It’s black and white: They are red all over from the blood of the war on Iraq, among other ongoing acts of destruction. And even the polls that usually get it right are getting it all wrong. Let’s turn off the TV and turn to each other.

2. Don’t Trust the Democratic Party

There’s a reason that the Democratic Party is known as the graveyard of social movements. From the Rainbow Coalition to President Obama, this is hardly the first time that aspirations for democracy and justice have been channeled into the Democratic Party. These guys invented the machine: know your history. In short, don’t be a tool — it never works. And even if you think you might succeed where so many failed, it’s probably too late now: The Democratic Party is splitting. The leadership is getting desperate. (So much so that Hillary Clinton is accusing Bernie Sanders of taking too many donations!) Meanwhile, money talks louder than votes, and superdelegates are on sale: It’s a rigged game. The Sanders campaign is breaking all the unwritten Democratic Party rules, and that’s exactly why it’s winning.

3. Know Which Numbers Count

There are so many big numbers in this election that it’s easy to get dazed and confused. But some numbers matter more than others: Clinton and Ted Cruz are multi-millionaires, and Donald Trump claims billions. Only one candidate stands out on the wealth scale: Sanders’ net worth is $330,000 — a little more than some of the other candidates get for a single speech. And if the media don’t get it, the people do: The Sanders campaign has already broken a record, having received more donations than any other candidate in US history — over 2.5 million, with an average donation size of $27. The most important numbers aren’t denominated in dollars. Remember, the super-rich are only 1%. “Ye are many, they are few.”

4. “It’s the Empire, Stupid!”

It seems appropriate to paraphrase Bill Clinton to make this point. It’s common knowledge to the rest of the world, yet slips the mind of many US voters with uncanny regularity. The president is not just the president, but also the commander in chief of the largest and most powerful empire in the history of the planet, with nearly a thousand military bases in close to 200 countries all over the world. “Know the enemy, know yourself, that’s the politics,” as Dead Prez still reminds us. It’s not about pessimism; it’s about imperialism. This isn’t just about 50 states.

“Foreign policy” is code for world domination, to the tune of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, NATO, the World Trade Organization, GMOs, AIPAC, and GOD itself (gold, oil and drugs). But don’t despair! Recognizing the empire for what it is can be empowering and liberating, because it connects us to the rest of the world who are struggling against it. People are feeling the Bern from Sri Lanka to Ecuador to Pakistan to Australia to Greece and it’s not because they like Vermont maple syrup. It’s because the vast majority of the world’s population is at the mercy of US corporations and politicians, and they don’t get a vote. But now, there’s a mass movement behind a candidate who has a long record of taking on monopoly corporations and voting against war. It’s not the end of empire, but it could be the beginning of that end.

5. Don’t Let Anyone Steal Our Hope

Remember Obamamania? “Yes We Can” and “Vote for Change”? Fast-forward to the deporter in chief, who turned Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” into “I have a drone.” Let’s not make that mistake again! Don’t let anyone steal our hope. Let’s put our hope in ourselves, our communities, our cultures and our higher callings. Because there is no hope that Sanders or any candidate can fix all our problems. Sanders himself is very clear on this point: “No president, not Bernie Sanders, can do it all … We need a political revolution in this country.” The political system is so screwed that Obama can’t even do his basic job — what hope is there that this system will let Sanders do any better? The only hope is in massive, sustained collective action on every front. That’s the only hope: You’re the only hope. Never let it go.

6. Study the Shadow State

“People are starting to wake up to what our election process looks like. We are not a democracy, even though we keep trying to push that colonially all around the world.” If you don’t believe Rosario Dawson, a recent Princeton University study came to the same conclusion — and even The New Yorker couldn’t spin it. This is an oligarchy, and the 1% have names and addresses. But the Koch brothers and their “dark money” are the provincial tip of a global iceberg. Groups like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group have a much bigger footprint. If we want to beat them, we better know how they operate. The good news is that good people are shining spotlights into the shadows, and we can see which candidates are lurking, getting their strings pulled: When the Council on Foreign Relations opened a new headquarters in Washington, DC, in 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the opening address: “It’s good to have an outpost of the Council right here down the street from the State Department. We get a lot of advice from the Council, so this will mean I won’t have as far to go to be told what we should be doing and how we should think about the future.”

7. Study Socialism

Capitalism is the ideology of the 1%. What’s ours? To defeat the 1%, we need an alternative vision. For generations we have been taught that “there is no alternative.” Luckily, there’s a long and fertile tradition of anti-capitalist political revolutions. For the first time in US history, the word “socialism” is on the lips of millions, and we aren’t afraid. Anti-communism is no longer hegemonic. In fact, the majority of young people say they prefer socialism to capitalism. What does that mean? Let’s find out!

Let’s read Emma Goldman and Claudia Jones, Marx and Lenin and Trotsky and Mao, Alexandra Kollontai and Rosa Luxemburg, Eugene Debs and Elizabeth Flynn, Albert and Lucy Parsons, John Reed and Mother Jones, C.L.R. James and Grace Lee Boggs, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and Patrice Lumumba, Che Guevara and Hugo Chávez, Ho Chi Minh and Jawaharlal Nehru. As Bertolt Brecht said, “It’s a good thing for you, find out more about it.”

8. Don’t Concentrate on What You Can’t Control

Regardless of how many votes he gets, Sanders’ big decisions are out of our hands: If Clinton wins the Democratic primary, then Sanders might capitulate and tell us to vote for her, or he might run as an independent. If Sanders wins the primary, but loses the general election, then he might go back to Vermont, or take Vermont on the road, building grassroots democracy from town to town and state to state. If Sanders is elected president he might be a dud, and fail to take to heart the calls of a movement more radical than him. Or he might be everything we hope he is — all our frenzied projections of political revolution. We can speculate endlessly about all of these possibilities, and more, but they all have one thing in common: They are more or less completely out of our control. Let’s not waste time speculating. Getting out the vote in our state is important, but it won’t decide the revolution. Something else will:

9. Concentrate on What We Can Control

Our lives, our homes, our workplaces, our communities; our block, our town, our city and our state. Our land, our watershed, our soil and our sky. Our food, water, shelter and energy. These are the things we can change within our lifetimes. Connect the dots, put the pieces of the puzzle together — that’s how revolutions get started. And they are getting started: from local initiatives like the Black Youth Project in Chicago, to the movements on the Gulf Coast, which just occupied the Superdome, to the ongoing farmworker boycott of Driscoll’s in California, and the First Nations on the front lines of pipeline resistance in North Dakota, to national initiatives like Black Lives Matter, No Separate Justice, Rising Tide, #Not1More, and many more. Join them!

“What we’re saying is, enough is enough!” Sanders said in the South Bronx. This sounded a lot like “Ya Basta,” and it brought to mind a model from which I think we can learn. Launched in 2006 in Mexico by the Zapatistas, it was called “the other campaign.” Leaders of the Zapatista movement toured the country during a presidential election, and instead of asking for votes or money or making promises, they listened to the people. It empowered communities to organize themselves to solve their own problems. Imagine this (whether he wins or loses the primary or the presidency): What if Sanders said, “Only the common people of this country know how to fix its problems. I’m not going to stay in the White House or Vermont. I’m going on the road to nurture our political revolution, to bring together the people and the communities who are going to lead it. I’m going to listen to them, and do what they tell me.”?

In fact, this is probably the only way not to Bern out over the long haul. Remember, the movement has gotten this far only by breaking the rules. If it slips into business and politics as usual, it will lose momentum. Let’s not wait on Sanders, or Lefty, or anyone. Let’s prefigure a new society.

10. Make Sure Your Vote Counts

In 2004, Bernie Sanders came to speak in my high school. The main message of his talk was to encourage us to educate ourselves about the political process, and to vote when we came of age. At the time, I was reading The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, by Greg Palast, about how the 2000 election was stolen, and how the Democrats capitulated. I happened to have the book with me, so when the question-and-answer period came, I stood up and asked him, does our vote really count if the last election was stolen? To his great credit, he answered first by acknowledging Palast’s work, saying that it was a good book. Then, unfortunately, he gave the typical politician’s answer: that he was part of a committee that was investigating this.

Well, I sure hope that committee is kicking into high gear. Voters are still being purged and voting machines are still being hacked — it’s called the “strip and flip.” This isn’t just about the Republicans: A volunteer from the Sanders campaign has even made an (as of yet uncorroborated) allegation that the campaign is being sabotaged from within by moles from the Clinton campaign, and when grassroots organizers try to mobilize around voter purging, they get no response from the campaign leadership. The silence is deafening. So let’s make sure our vote counts — we may have been purged already, and it seems no one is going to fix it for us. Let’s take responsibility for our destiny. Let’s believe in a revolutionary future.

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