In a livestream on Wednesday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) issued a wake up call to progressives, saying that despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges that the far right and the ruling class are posing to the country and the planet, it is not time to shrink away from action and become dejected.
“Look. These are very tough times,” Sanders told viewers during the livestream, which was about the future of the progressive movement. “But these are not the only tough times that the country has experienced.” He then pointed out that the world was able to climb out of the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s and, in a broad sense, defeat the all-encompassing threats of Nazism and Japanese imperialism during World War II.
Those were also seemingly insurmountable threats at the time, he said, and the threats that the country faces now are real — threats of the climate crisis, extreme income inequality, corrupt elections, abortion rights, far right authoritarianism, and more. The actions of the ruling class are demoralizing, Sanders admitted, adding that this includes not only Republicans but also Democrats in lockstep with corporations and the wealthy. He pointed to conservative Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-West Virginia) moves to obstruct the Democratic agenda as an example.
But there is too much at stake right now for progressives to give up on building upon the progress that previous generations of activists have afforded to the public, Sanders said.
“It is not appropriate for us to live in despair because what all of this is about is not just us,” he emphasized. “We are fighting for not just ourselves but for the future, the future generations. So it seems to me that despair is not an option.”
Sanders continued by saying that he has hope that progressives will be able to enact change for the better as long as they keep up the fight. “We have a moral obligation to continue to stand up and fight — to recognize that, yes, these are tough times, but as human beings, we cannot turn our backs on future generations, we cannot turn our backs on the most vulnerable people in this country who are really hurting right now,” he said.
Sanders pointed out many areas in which progressives can fight for change. The burgeoning labor movement is a “bright spot” amidst the current moment, he said.
Another area in which progressives can work for change, he said, is campaign finance. Due to government rulings like Citizens United, elections can essentially be sold to the highest bidder. Further, the Democratic Party is often complicit in this practice because they don’t want people who have the “courage to stand up to the ruling class of this country,” he said.
Progressive candidates like Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Andy Levin (D-Michigan) are contending with moneyed interests, often affiliated with Democrats, that are trying to unseat them despite the fact that they’re incumbents. Indeed, in races all over the country where progressive candidates are running against Democrats, the Democratic Party pours money into defeating the progressive — even if the progressive is slated to lose, Sanders observed.
He said that this tactic is to tell progressives thinking of running that the party establishment disapproves of their candidacy. “By the time we’re through with you we’re going to have ugly, dishonest 30 second ads on TV and on the radio and all this stuff. We’re going to make your life miserable,” he said. “Because we are the ruling class of this country, and we don’t want you messing with us.’”
Instead, the Democratic Party needs to be run from the bottom up, he said — and progressives can’t achieve that goal by being complacent.
“We cannot simply, in my view, remain on the defensive,” Sanders said. “We as progressives cannot let other people define who we are…. We don’t have to accept that. We have to define who we are. And we must not be shy about demanding the bold and systemic changes this country desperately needs.”