The Curious Case of #BernieOrBust: Election Rigging, Trumpland, & the fate of the Political Revolution

“The lesser of two evils. Use your conscious to pick the lesser of two evils.” That’s what my friends in the Democratic Party have been preaching to me since Hillary Clinton won their party’s nomination for President. What those same friends don’t realize is that I have a longer memory than most. 

I campaigned since the very early days of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. I remember watching him stand at that little podium outside the Capitol to announce. I remember immediately getting some local infrastructure up in the coming days. I remember knocking on doors months before any sort of organized effort had come to Philly. I remember planning and attending very productive and encouraging meetings with those who would become organizers coming together to strategize and plan. Unfortunately, I also remember being undermined at every turn.

Part 1: Collusion & Election-Rigging

The Democratic Party, which touts itself as populace, shut Bernie organizers out at every turn. Instead of providing us with logistical support, materials, or walksheets to make the primary more competitive and the party more robust they chose to ignore us at best and work against us at worst. For months I campaigned with nothing more than some little 3X5 flyers I made, a conference call line, a sign up sheet, and my shoes. No one from the Democratic Party ever reached out to help.

Furthermore, in all my time knocking on doors I never saw one Hillary canvasser. I never saw one Hillary yard sign. I saw no support for her whatsoever. Yet, on election day somehow Hillary managed enough votes to win my city. Curiously, I noticed that on election day a lot of Bernie posters around my neighborhood had coincidentally been replaced with Hillary stickers. Hmm… that’s convenient… Now, in case you are reading this and not familiar with Philadelphia politics, this city is a very insiders’ Democratic Party. They run the city and even Republicans have to have seats guaranteed on City Council for them to pick up any wins. So, when the Democratic party supports someone in our city believe me you will hear about it and if they don’t support them you won’t hear about it. That’s what happened here: the party waited until the day before the primary and started taking signs down to put hers up, creating the illusion that the neighborhood leaned Hillary. I even had my sign, which had stood for six months on my porch, taken down the day before the primary.

If at this point you are saying to yourself, “Well, voters still have to decide for themselves for whom they will vote” you would be correct on the surface but that sentiment would take for granted the level of involvement possible from what organizers like to condescendingly call “the community.” 

Part 2: The Rank-And-File

Philadelphia is one of the poorest big cities in the country. We have pockets (as in multiple) of residents where the poverty rate is well over 50% and the childhood poverty rate is even higher. Furthermore, these are communities that have been devastated by the drug war, over policing, and racist stop & frisk policies that keep young men in jail instead of working in their communities and raising their families. As a result of poverty and displacement, a lot of these marginalized communities are working mothers and fathers that have to keep 2-3 jobs at a little over $7 an hour just to keep their kids nourished, healthy, and in (crumbling) schools. These are not the kind of people who can spare several hours at night to attend meetings of folks listening to themselves talk or trying to coerce them into advocating for someone else’s agenda. These are the kind of folks who don’t have time to spend hours researching candidates, watching debates, or be sucked into cable news. Most of this (very large) voting bloc I’m talking about do not have time to politic because they are too busy running the very time consuming rat race that is being poor in America. 

Those folks depend on their representatives from the block captain level all the way up to City Hall to be trustworthy and present them with their options. That is supposed to be the whole point of door knocking: organizations and candidates synthesize their ideas into a digestible format and then provide a visual representation of that platform that is delivered to citizens’ doors for ease of access. In a truly democratic society that would mean that in contested primaries the party should provide their members with information on all the candidates and let them choose. However, that is not how the Democratic party treated Bernie Sanders. Instead of providing information to their members about their choices the Democratic party colluded and only gave information out endorsing Hillary. The now infamous Wikileaks DNC email hacks now prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the DNC purposefully shut Sanders out. Instead of providing info about all the candidates the DNC tore down the signs (that we as individuals designed and paid for) and put up Hillary signs to give the working poor the impression that their communities wholesale supported Hillary. In other words, the DNC shepherded low engagement voters to the polls and swindled them to vote for Hillary.

While it is a pervasion of process to thumb the scales for one Presidential candidate this undermining has even larger implications for the down ticket. 

Part 3: The Down Ticket

While the idea of a Trump presidency frightens me, the prospect of a Trump presidency with a GOP supermajority scares the shit out of me. If you have ever gone canvassing in the poorer areas I described above you know how little those folks pay attention to the down ticket. The run for President gets a lot of attention because it is a sort of an America’s Got Talent popularity contest. The more local the race the less sexy and if folks don’t have time to research Presidents then they definitely don’t have time to research Congressmen, Senators, state representatives, and ward leaders. However, the big money machine has an answer for that problem: just pull the party ticket lever. Anytime I have gone out to get out the vote in poorer areas my team leaders, normally funded by unions, always told us to tell the resident that if they are voting for the Democratic nominee for President then just vote for all the Democrats running. That is how party endorsements wins seats, on the coattails of the Presidential nominee. 

Bernie would have been great for the Democratic ticket because the party would have had the energy of the younger generations to get out the vote. The more energy you have on the doors the more turnout you will have at the polls. Unfortunately, Hillary will not generate that same sort of enthusiasm which means that turnout will be much lower. Why is that scary? Because the conservative party is a very well-oiled machine. They know how to get people to the polls and also know about the Select All lever. A huge voter turnout on the right and a low turnout on the left could mean supermajorities for the right because of the Select All lever. A GOP supermajority will not be a 2009 Obama Democratic supermajority. The GOP will use theirs unapologetically. The down ticket is what’s really at stake in this election and the prospects currently do not look good. 

Part 4: Swing States

I live in Pennsylvania which means I live in a swing state. There were ~1.6 million people who came out to vote in the Democratic primary in PA and ~1.5 for the Republicans. A little more than 700K of those Dem votes were for Bernie. If even a fraction of them stay home it is enough for Trump to take the state. However, instead of trying to court Bernie supporters into voting for Hillary, the DNC is preemptively blaming us for staying home. Why is it our fault if she can’t win our votes? Why can’t she earn them by adopting our platform? Why silence us? Why not embrace us? If they did then we would be energized to get out in the streets and make our voices heard. As long as there is tape over our mouths we’ll never feel included enough to participate. The fact remains though that I do live in a swing state and have a responsibility to my neighbors. 

Some of the the criticism that the BernieOrBust-ers have gotten is that a vote for a third party is a vote for Trump. While I disagree with that argument as a rule if you live in a swing state it very well may turn out to be true. As a middle-class white man in this country my concerns get represented pretty often (not as a progressive, mind you, but in terms of culture advantage) so I have the liberty to give my vote to whomever I wish. Not everyone is so lucky. 

Part 5: The Ally Vote

If you are one of the millions who would lose their healthcare and possibly even their life if the ACA was repealed you cannot afford a third party vote. If you are one of the beneficiaries of the student loan forgiveness plan you cannot afford to vote third party. If you are or know an immigrant or muslim family you cannot afford to vote third party. If you are a solider who does not want to be deployed on a fool’s errand in some godforsaken backwater because the rughat-wearing baby-king got pissy you cannot afford third party. 

Even if you do not fall into one of those categories if you identify as a progressive you have a responsibility. You have pledged yourself in solidarity with the downtrodden and oppressed. You have committed yourself to collective liberation. You are representing more than yourself. If you identify as a progressive and live in a swing state then you must vote for Hillary Clinton, not for yourself but on behalf of those who have so much to lose from a Trump presidency. If you consider yourself an ally you cannot afford to vote third party.

“Hillary is no worse than Trump!” someone is probably yelling into their computer screen right now.  

As much of a good soundbite as that is, it is simply not true. President Hillary Clinton will just be a third term Obama which means four more years of a neoliberal Democrat. Ideal? Not by a long shot but never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. A field ration may taste terrible but it is better than starving in the desert.

Part 6: Building A Sustainable Political Revolution

The real responsibility we have as progressives, if we truly believe we were wronged in this primary, is to organize better. Dr. King once said that if we want peace we must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war. That means we, as progressives, have got to organize as effectively as the NRA. That means infrastructure, membership, membership benefits, organized lobbying efforts, a concrete and clear vision, and a strategy to get there. Continuously marching and yelling in the streets will be good for companies like Facebook, Twitter, and CNN to sell ads and promoted content but if we want to truly create change (in other words getting laws passed and allocating resources the way we want them) then we must create the conditions necessary to incubate it. In other words, we need to get back to the basics of organizing. We need to start with a small group, develop infrastructure, create door knocking plans, and consistently (not just during elections) engage our neighbors. We need to have block parties and panel discussions to meet and stay engaged to develop a voting bloc. Most importantly, right after infrastructure is candidates. Power is the ability to allocate resources. We need to take over at the local level and work our way up. That’s how effective organizations work. They don’t depend on the purism of the top of a hierarchy; they are dependent on how strong the roots are. 

If you are interested in learning how to organize your community get started in one hour with my Organizing 101 podcast here.

If we want a progressive future we must start to look forward and build. There are no messiahs. No one is going to usher our future in for us. We must do it ourselves. However, step one must be defeating fascism. Therefore, step number one in building our revolution is defeating Trump no matter how bitter the pill. Then we must begin to organize our takeover and stop depending on the very machines we are fighting. Together we can win but we must be committed, organized, and steadfast. We were not for the 2016 primary and we lost. We must accept it and move on. By creating our own infrastructure we can undercut the very system that has kept us in the shadows. 

So, let’s vote for Hillary in November and then do the hard work of a 365 day a year revolution in the meantime and after.