Sanders’s ‘Our Revolution’: Promise and Gaps

The New York Times greeted Bernie Sanders’s launch of Our Revolution with a report on staffing problems while other outlets ignored it, but a real problem was the senator’s silence on perpetual war, says Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

While Bernie Sanders was doing a brilliant job of ripping into the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the livestreamed launch of the Our Revolution organization on Wednesday night, CNN was airing a phone interview with Hillary Clinton and MSNBC was interviewing Donald Trump’s campaign manager.

That sums up the contrast between the enduring value of the Bernie campaign and the corporate media’s fixation on the political establishment. Fortunately, Our Revolution won’t depend on mainline media. That said, the group’s debut foreshadowed not only great potential but also real pitfalls.

A sign at a Bernie Sanders rally in Washington D.C. on June 9, 2016. (Photo credit: Chelsea Gilmour)

A sign at a Bernie Sanders rally in Washington D.C. on June 9, 2016. (Photo credit: Chelsea Gilmour)

Even the best election campaigns aren’t really “movements.” Ideally, campaigns strengthen movements and vice versa. As Bernie has often pointed out, essential changes don’t come from Congress simply because of who has been elected; those changes depend on strong grassroots pressure for the long haul.

It’s all to the good that Our Revolution is encouraging progressives around the country to plan far ahead for effective electoral races, whether for school board, city council, state legislature or Congress. Too many progressives have treated election campaigns as impulse items, like candy bars in a checkout line.

Opportunities await for campaigns that might be well-funded much as Bernie’s presidential race was funded, from many small online donations. But except for presidential races, the politics of elections are overwhelmingly local — and therein lies a hazard for Our Revolution.

A unified set of positions nationwide can be helpful; likewise publicity and fundraising for candidates across state borders. But sometimes hidden in plain sight is a basic fact: National support does not win local elections. Local grassroots support does.

 Backing from Our Revolution will be close to worthless unless people are deeply engaged with long-term activism in local communities — building relationships, actively supporting a wide range of sustained progressive efforts, developing the basis for an election campaign that (win or lose on Election Day) will strengthen movements.

Sooner or later, some kind of culture clash is likely to emerge when social-change activists get involved in a serious election campaign. Running for office involves priorities that diverge from some tendencies of movement activism (as I learned when running for Congress four years ago). The urgencies and practicalities of election campaigns aren’t always compatible with how grassroots progressive groups tend to function.

As a 501c4 organization, Our Revolution won’t be running campaigns. Instead, it’ll raise funds and provide support for campaigns while being legally prohibited from “coordinating” with them. And — most imminently with the urgent need to stop the TPP in Congress during the lame-duck session — Our Revolution could make a big difference in pressuring lawmakers on key issues.

Overall, the livestreaming debut of Our Revolution continued a terrific legacy from the Bernie campaign of educating and agitating with vital progressive positions on such crucial matters as economic justice, institutional racism, climate change, Wall Street, corporate trade deals and health care.

Silence on War

But throughout Our Revolution’s livestream, war went unmentioned. So did Pentagon spending. So did corporate profiteering from the massive U.S. military budget.

U.S. Marines leaving a compound at night in Afghanistan's Helmand province. (Defense Department photo)

U.S. Marines leaving a compound at night in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. (Defense Department photo)

In that sense, the evening was a step backward for Bernie. After virtually ignoring foreign policy and military-related issues during his campaign’s early months last summer, he gradually criticized Hillary Clinton’s record of supporting “regime change.”

In early spring, during the New York primary campaign, he laudably called for evenhanded policies toward Israel and Palestinians. Although he never delivered more than occasional and brief glancing blows at the military-industrial complex during the campaign, Bernie did offer some valuable critiques of foreign policy.

But from the debut of Our Revolution, including Bernie’s 49-minute speech, you wouldn’t have a clue that the United States is completing its fifteenth year of continuous warfare, with no end in sight.

Now, sadly, there may be a need to reactivate the petition headlined “Bernie Sanders, Speak Up: Militarism and Corporate Power Are Fueling Each Other,” which 25,000 people signed on a RootsAction webpage 12 months ago:

“Senator Sanders, we are enthusiastic about your presidential campaign’s strong challenge to corporate power and oligarchy. We urge you to speak out about how they are intertwined with militarism and ongoing war. Martin Luther King Jr. denounced what he called ‘the madness of militarism,’ and you should do the same. As you said in your speech to the SCLC, ‘Now is not the time for thinking small.’ Unwillingness to challenge the madness of militarism is thinking small.”

As the petition page noted, Dr. King “explicitly and emphatically linked the issues of economic injustice at home with war abroad.” In a society desperately needing “adequate funds for programs of economic equity and social justice,” the challenge remains clear: “Overcoming militarism is just as vital as overcoming oligarchy. We won’t be able to do one without the other.”

If Bernie and Our Revolution continue to evade the present-day realities of “the madness of militarism,” their political agenda will be significantly more limited than what our revolution requires for a truly progressive future.

Norman Solomon, national coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network, is co-founder of the online activist group His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.


20 comments for “Sanders’s ‘Our Revolution’: Promise and Gaps

  1. lee stanfield
    August 28, 2016 at 17:13

    I was concerned from the beginning about a couple of things about Bernie, but was just so thrilled that at last there was an extremely popular Senator who was waking up the public to the serious corporate takeover we have been experiencing. So I put aside my concerns and became a strong Bernie advocate.

    My major concerns initially were 1) his being somewhat hawkish on war, 2) his unwillingness to help the residents of Burlington, VT. resist the Air Force’s rape of their air space with the risky, extremely loud F-35, and 3) his unwillingness to speak in person with the leaders of Move To Amend (MTA) about amending the constitution to get Big Money out of our politics.

    The MTA proposed amendment is better than his own (or any of the other numerous proposed amendments) because it is the only one that clearly and unequivocally abolishes “corporate personhood” and money being defined as speech. Both of these concepts must be eliminated entirely in order to prevent corporate attorneys from finding loopholes in the wording, which they can stretch big enough to fly their corporate jets through.

    Then I had serious concerns when he did not even respond to the invitation of Jill Stein for him to become the presidential candidate with her as the VP running mate for the Green Party. If he had done that, he would have been certain to win the general election in a landslide. So when he did not even respond, it renewed my doubts.

    Anyway, I am grateful that he did open Pandora’s box for the public to see the atrocities going on behind the fake front of the Democratic Party. Now everyone can see that the Republican and Democratic Parties are both just the right and left hands of the mega-corporations who call all the shots in our politics through their ownership of our major media, schools, military, and the legislative, judiciary, penal and executive branches of government.

    So what to do now?…….. I plan to vote for and support in every way possible…. Jill Stein for president, and EVERY TRUE PROGRESSIVE RUNNING FOR ANY OFFICE AT EVERY LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT (including governors, school boards, sheriffs, city councils, county boards, etc.).

    Jill has never waffled on anything and is firmly supportive of everything I believe we need to do to take charge of our government so that we become what we have claimed (but failed) to be since our nation’s inception…. a government truly of, by, and for “we, the people”.

    I know that we are not likely to win this time around. Even if we manage to reconstitute our movement’s momentum, the general election will certainly be as rigged (regarding suppression and theft of votes via numerous tactics) as was the Democratic primary. But until we stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated by the corporate strategy of making sure there is a “Trump” (or someone equally scary) to force us to vote for the corporate candidate, we will not have the revolution we want.

    And Hillary Clinton is firmly in the pocket of the corporate interests. Any Supreme Court Justice she appoints will NOT be progressive. She may talk the talk, but she will not walk the walk and the same will almost certainly be true of any justice she appoints.

  2. F. G. Sanford
    August 26, 2016 at 01:04

    Our Revolution = Occupy 2.0 = null set.

  3. wobblie
    August 25, 2016 at 21:20

    Bernie proved what he was when endorsed Clinton more than a week before the convention.

    He should just quietly go away. The Empire has no more use for him, though he did the service of exposing the Democratic party for what it is. Thanks Bernie.

    • GeorgyOrwell
      August 26, 2016 at 12:10

      Assange exposed the Democratic Party for what it is

  4. Daniel Platt
    August 25, 2016 at 21:13

    Norman, you and I had our differences when I knew you at KBOO, but I very much agree on this issue.

  5. Brad Benson
    August 25, 2016 at 20:56

    Who is Senator Sanders?

  6. D5-5
    August 25, 2016 at 14:11

    I apologize for several times slamming Counterpunch as critical of Sanders in this forum. It’s somehow very sad, as well as annoying, to see him still trying to put himself into the spotlight with what is now tired old two-faced boilerplate. When the cred is gone it’s gone.

  7. Marius Jacob
    August 25, 2016 at 13:45

    “But from the debut of Our Revolution, including Bernie’s 49-minute speech, you wouldn’t have a clue that the United States is completing its fifteenth year of continuous warfare, with no end in sight.”

    A vast understatement. ‘mericer has been @ war since its embryonic stages inflicting horror and savagery on any and all who stand in the way of its rapacious appetite for corporate and financial control of the globe.

  8. Jean Ranc
    August 25, 2016 at 13:27

    As a resident of Burlington, VT for the past 2 years, I saw and heard the evidence of Bernie’s & the other 2 members of the VT Congressional delegation: Senator Leahy’s & Cong. Welch’s support for the Military-Industrial-Complex in the militarized skies of the Lake Champlain Valley in the form of F-16 fighter training exercises (as often as 2-3 times a day by the VT Air National Guard (based at the Burlington Airport): a frightening sight and deafening roar over our homes in the most densely populated area of the state, which, together with commercial over-flights (“purring pussycats by comparison) which proved to be so detrimental to the hearing, health & quality of life of people in the direct flight path that 150 of their homes had to be demolished. And, if that wasn’t evidence enough of the malevolence wreaked on Burlington citizens, Sanders-Leahy-Welch lobbied to bring the F-16 successor, the F-35, to Burlington. This MIC boondoggle & political capitulation was exposed in The Atlantic cover story (Jan. 2014) by James Fallows, who informed us that each F-35 costs $102 million and $32,000/hr. to fly…but despite the public protest organizations’ continuing outcries and the plane’s test failures but because their 2 lawsuits were squashed.these monsters are scheduled to arrive over Burlington in 2019 to further militarize the skies and harass the people beneath. So after making every effort to stop this assault and failing, last month I sold my Burlington home and moved to New Hampshire. I did not support Bernie because I concluded that it would be impossible for him to fulfill any of his promises from health care to college tuition if he didn’t have the guts to stand up to the MIC and their perpetual wars squandering blood and treasure. I won’t vote for Trump/the demagogue but consider Hillary “the Hawk” to be nearly as dangerous what with her dedication to “regime change” & military (“humanitarian”) intervention, which are but a cover for economic exploitation by the banksters & the rest of oligarchy which picked and pay for her. as the one who will best protect & promote their interests. Do Gary Johnson-William Weld (both 2-time governors of NM & MA) stand a chance? Stranger things have happened in this 18-month mad power-transition marathon of which we still have 2+ months to go “¿Quién sabe?

    • Alice Daly
      August 25, 2016 at 14:31

      Let Johnson/Weld and Jill Stein at least be heard in the debates.

      • b.grand
        August 25, 2016 at 15:29

        Absolutely — GET THEM IN THE DEBATES !!!

        (What is your strategy to demand that, since it’s supposedly based on polls?)

    • b.grand
      August 25, 2016 at 15:36

      You like Johnson-Weld? I prefer Stein. Let’s make a VOTE PACT !!

      Can we trust each other to not vote for Clinton or Trump? I think so, plus we have our shared disgust and disappointment with Bernie to build on. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship….
      How principled progressives work with conscientious conservatives.

    • paul g.
      August 26, 2016 at 16:13

      Outstanding analysis, I suspect Bernie has little interest in foreign policy,and thus is very unknowledgeable. His saying Saudi Arabia could be enlisted to fight Daech shows breath taking ignorance of the source of Wabbanism.

      When he got up and said,” I am proud to stand next to Hillary Clinton..”; he destroyed any authority and integrity that was left, lending credence to the sheep dog theory.

  9. Marshall
    August 25, 2016 at 12:57

    Warmonger Bernie, protector of Bush and Cheney, a progressive pied piper who would never challenge warmonger war criminals
    Hillary Clinton and Obama.

    Encounters with rude Bernie:

    My wife and I said Hi to Bernie as he walked the streets of Burlington a few weeks after announcing his candidacy.
    We congratulated him on his running, to which he was all smiles as we shook hands.
    I then said I wanted to make a point.
    He said he was too busy.
    I then proceeded in saying that we need someone to stop Obama’s war against Syria and Russia.
    Sanders got perplexed and began to get agitated.
    We then warned him that ISIS is CIA,
    The Bernie started to freak out, totally rude and nasty.
    Telling us to get away from them, they are too busy, etc, etc….

    Years ago I witnessed rude Bernie freak out when he refused to call on a young man at
    a meeting, standing at the Q & A microphone. Bernie refused to call on the person, because
    he knew the question was about the need to impeach Bush. An elderly man who Bernie called
    on noticed something was wrong and said that Bernie should call on they man who had been waiting.
    So kid got to ask Bernie to impeach Bush, and Bernie just waffled and was rude, waving his hands
    and defending Bush.

    Bernie is basically a Neocon who still wears the “progressive mask’ of murderer Trotsky.

    • RR
      August 25, 2016 at 17:49

      Wow, great comment!!

      • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
        August 29, 2016 at 12:37

        To Marshall, he got perplexed because it sounded like you meant a LITERAL war, not merely a confrontation with Russia and Syria. And he got angry that you said “ISIS is CIA” because it sounded like you were saying it was a BRANCH OF THE CIA working in Syria, instead of an rebel organization armed by the CIA. He wasn’t being rude – YOU ANd YOUR WIFE weren’t very clear. Also, he was offended because ISIS is a serious business, and by using the wrong words you sounded like a conspiracy theorist even though that wasn’t your intention. And the other time., he defended Bush because he thinks he was incompetent instead of a war criminal – I am NOT defending that fool Bush.

  10. Exiled off mainstreet
    August 25, 2016 at 11:53

    The silence on war issues is probably related to the general sell-out of Sanders after a defeat which was documented to be the results of manipulation by the candidate he is now the grovelling supporter of. After all, the candidate he is supporting is a documented war criminal, so this would make any anti-war statements to be posturing as long as he is in the bag for the harpy.

    Meanwhile, reports on the fundraising indicate that Sanders has taken the corporate shilling (perhaps he has to to get significant resources. Unfortunately, once Sanders caved to the power structure, any possible credibility he could obtain would be limited in any event.

  11. Helen
    August 25, 2016 at 10:54

    Watching the live stream last night, I had the same thought. Why no mention of the ongoing expenditures of tax money on weapons, of corporations selling armaments to other countries and the mindset that military intervention brings peace. Disappointing.

    • RR
      August 25, 2016 at 17:47

      It’s because Sanders is a fraud.

    • Peter Loeb
      August 28, 2016 at 07:51


      Norman Solomon’s article is to the point.

      The was no revolution!

      No “revolution” took on militarism.

      No “revolution” took on assassinations and murder in
      foreign nations (drones etc.).

      No “revolution” confronted US invasions and defiance of
      international law.

      No “revolution” confronted (US) -Israel for its massacres and
      criminal oppression of Palestinians.

      No “revolution” confronted the murder of black Americans
      (with training from Israel—for a profit). N o member of the
      fabricated so-called “revolution” demonstrated TOGETHER
      with those who protested murder. Instead blacks got
      the usual liberal lecture about how to work together
      with the murderers who, after all, needed their
      “tools”. As a poet once wrote: “Don’t be
      b itter” they said.

      Some “revolution”.!!!

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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