Larry Cohen and Carol Gay on Where the Sanders Movement Should Go From Here: Two Different Views


Below please read two different views on where the Sanders movement should go from here. The authors are Larry Cohen and Carol Gay. Readers are urged to submit their own ideas, which will be posted here.

Larry Cohen is Past President of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and Senior Adviser of Labor For Bernie; Carol Gay is president of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council and Retired CWA International Representative.

Three Next Steps in the Political Revolution
Bernie Sanders Can’t Do It Alone

By Larry Cohen

Bernie Sanders will campaign all the way up to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia to seek the nomination — and to continue building the “political revolution.”

What is that political revolution, beyond his call to get the billionaires and corporations out and the people in?

Electing candidates to public office like Sanders — both this year and in years to come — is one leg.

The second leg is democratic, structural political reform. This means changes to our electoral system, such as instituting automatic voter registration and matching small donations with public funds.

It also means transforming the Democratic Party to a populist-based party by reforming its inner workings. Sanders’ campaign offers the most comprehensive challenge to the wealthy Democratic establishment since Jesse Jackson’s historic 1988 campaign. Sanders stumped that year for Jackson, helping him win in Vermont. At the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta, the Jackson campaign negotiated party reforms that included ending winner-take-all primaries and halving the number of super delegates.

Partly as a result of the end of winner-take-all, Bernie is on track to win at least 500 more delegates than Jackson did in 1988. But the reforms to the super delegate system were never enacted, and the Sanders campaign (to which I am an adviser) plans to bring some version of that demand back this year. The delegate selection process will also be back on the table, based on a growing list of serious flaws beginning with the Iowa Caucus, where the Democrats refused to release or review the caucus precinct results.

Twenty-three years before Occupy Wall Street, Jackson also pressured the Democrats to include a call for higher taxes on the 1% in the party’s platform. This and other platform demands pushed Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis in a more progressive direction. Today, as in 1988, issues are the third leg of the political revolution—and the most apparent. Clinton and Sanders hold clearly different positions on trade, foreign policy, financial reform (including breaking up the big banks), the role of money and super PACs in politics, and critical economic reforms such as free higher education, Medicare-for-all and Social Security expansion. These issues will not only be raised from now through July, but for years to come in mobilizations of the emerging progressive base.

Those of us who are working day and night to elect Bernie Sanders president are determined to sustain this movement beyond the moment. The congressional and other electoral campaigns this year, combined with the emerging focus on democracy itself and the issues that mobilize our supporters, will carry that movement forward.

Another Point of View

By Carol Gay

I agree with almost all the points raised by Brother Cohen in this important and necessary discussion, but what I do not understand is why we are talking about reforming a morally bankrupt party, the Democratic Party.

Why are we not at the very least leaving open the possibility of a discussion about a new party, a party of our own that embraces all progressive forces — Labor, Environmentalists and Greens, Black Lives Matter, $15 NOW, Money Out of Politics, etc.?

The Bernie Sanders campaign has unleashed so much new energy that is adding to the already growing movements for progressive change, and I don’t think we want to discourage participation by any of these groups by supporting the party of the establishment, even if it is couched in “reform” terminology.

The Democratic Party is almost unrecognizable to most of us who have worked for progressive change our entire lives. I am speaking as a life-long Democrat and active member of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), but I cannot find it within me to support the status quo any longer.

I think this is an historic moment in time that will probably not come again in my life.


About elnwebmaster

This is the discussion blog of the Labor Fightback Network, an auxiliary to the website. It is designed to facilitate discussion among labor activists concerning the critical issues facing working people in the current economic crisis. Readers’ comments are welcome, but flaming is not. Any comments which are racist, sexist/homophobic, or disrespectful on a personal level will not get past moderation.
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7 Responses to Larry Cohen and Carol Gay on Where the Sanders Movement Should Go From Here: Two Different Views

  1. elnwebmaster says:

    Cohen’s comments are an indication of Sanders’ ‘Plan B’, once he is prevented from getting the nomination—which will happen one way or another. Sanders will say “Let’s continue the revolution, let’s go and reform the democratic party and win next time, in 2020.” Cohen’s comments reflect that’s where Sanders is going. It’s a ‘McGovern Redux’ strategy and we know how that turned out. The Democratic Party will never allow another Sanders to even contest for nomination ever again. And Sanders will not ‘build a third party’ challenge, and risk being ostracized in the Senate and by DP friends for the next four years. I totally agree with Carol, and that’s why I have withheld my support for Sanders (but not his program and proposals which I heartily endorse). If and when Sanders runs independently, I would support him 110%. But I believe that will never happen.

    Jack Rasmus

  2. While there are many good people in Democratic Party, especially at the local level, trying to reform the party is a fool’s errand.

    If the Democratic Party ever was a party representing worker interests, it’s long ceased being that. The Democratic Party has given us NAFTA and other trade agreements destructive to workers and communities here and in other countries; decimation of the social safety net; criminalization of youth of color; neoliberal economic policies and harsh austerity programs; excuses for why meaningful labor law reform is beyond reach; and so on. These policy outcomes – diametrically opposed to the interests of workers – are neither accidental nor mistakes that can be corrected with internal reform efforts. They are precisely the policy outcomes sought by those who control the Democratic Party leadership.

    In our workplaces we don’t form unions that include the CEO and his henchmen. That would be absurd! We form unions of workers, and we embrace all allies, because we understand that together we have interests that are quite distinct from the bosses. And, we understand, by standing together we have power. So, too, in politics: We must unite workers around our common interests, to articulate and fight for our needs in the political arena. That means forming political parties that are unapologetically of, by and for workers.

    The Sanders campaign illustrates the great possibilities we have as a movement when visionary leaders challenge us to expect and demand better in our lives. And, it also has shown us the distinct and immutable limitations of trying to carry out that movement within the Democratic Party. The next step is to take the tremendous energy and creativity that the Sanders campaign has generated, and direct it toward a new workers political movement that is independent of the two major parties: A union in the political arena.

  3. elnwebmaster says:

    Why are these two ideas mutually exclusive? The parties will become the parties of the office holders who get elected. Just look at the Republican Party or what’s remaining of it.
    The first challenge is to elect progressives into office. Whether that is as a third party candidates or as an insurgent democrats will be determined locally. But if we can’t beat the Democrats in a primary, why should we expect to win in a general.

    My CD just nominated a PDA endorsed candidate. I doubt he could have won in a three way race in the Fall.

    At some point we will have a critical mass of progressives who will either redefine the existing party or create new.

    This is indeed an historic moment. Or did we miss the moment? How many progressive candidates will be on the ballot this fall for local congressional and state house elections? How many will be running in 2017 or 2018?

    Jim McGee

  4. elnwebmaster says:

    I agree with Carol G.—I have been trying to organize a Big Tent coalition here in NJ (some call it a united front) of socialists, progressives, environmentalists, pacifists, Berniacs, Greens, etc.

    The one unity goal would be the abolition of capitalism, and MAAC—(Mercer Activists Against Capitalism)—would not endorse candidates from any pro-capitalism parties. That.obviously includes the Dems.

    As Carol says this is a historical moment where a stagnant and moribund economy has intersected with a dysfunctional political system. As the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense always proclaimed let’s “Seize the Time.”

    At the end of this primary cycle it is estimated that over 60 million votes (if you count pro-Sanders independents who were prohibited from voting by closed primaries) will have been cast for democratic socialism i.e. against capitalism. That’s our mass movement—let’s go organize it into an
    independent political force.

    Joe Melillo

  5. elnwebmaster says:

    I agree with Carol Gay on where the Sanders movement should go from here. Liberals and progressives have been attempting to “reform” the Democratic Party for decades (think, “Americans for Democratic Action”), and yet the party has only become more conservative and, as Gay notes, is now completely “morally bankrupt.”

    But even more to the point, it is a capitalist party and, therefore, a party that would never, by design and no matter how “reformed,” meet the needs of all the people or save the planet from the consequences of climate change.

    To see the new movement that the Sanders campaign has helped to build simply dissolve into the Democratic Party would be, as Gay suggests, to lose the best chance we’ve had in a lifetime to finally achieve the sort of economic and democratic system we’ve been fighting for all of our lives.

    Jim Lafferty

  6. elnwebmaster says:

    I completely agree about the Democratic Party. It will be tragic if the Sanders campaign, after mobilizing such mass radicalism, only created a caucus in the corporate Democratic Party. The most important achievement of the Sanders campaign would be its morphing into unified, multi-issue, multi-constituency, national mass movement around his program (at least domestic).

    Sanders calls for a political revolution and says it will take millions of people, but how will they be organized? People expected the Jesse Jackson campaign to build a rainbow coalition. In my part of Brooklyn we were ready to do so, but he shut us down and nothing lasting came from the campaign. Occupy also squandered its opportunity to build that mass movement. The Sanders campaign shows the constituency is there, but how will it be organized? Is he just going to lead it into the Clinton campaign? What is being done to do more? .

    Some Sanders support groups have called for a People’s Summit in Chicago in June after the primaries and plan to go to the Convention, but to do what—follow the illusion of taking over the Democratic Party? Is that a political revolution? Portside reports that Occupy leaders of People For Bernie are organizing a People’s Convention two days before the Democratic Party to turn the Sanders campaign into an ongoing movement. They are going to advocate that strategy at the June People’s Summit being held by various groups which supported Sanders. Perhaps we should participate and try to influence what kind of movement is created. There is also talk about getting a labor contingent to go to the Convention, but it’s not known who would go with what agenda; some want to critique the Democrats and promote a labor party. With any of these groupings there will be different and maybe conflicting agendas

    We don’t know what role Sanders will play. I heard that before he decided to run, he met with progressives around the country, asking if he should run as an independent to build a movement or in the Democratic primary, so he would be heard, but when he started drawing crowds, he decided to run to win. Personally, I think it would be a disaster for him to become President; he have to do what the capitalists wanted and serve imperialism, Robert Reich said Sanders’ and his determination to go all the way to the Convention is to build a movement and sees himself as a vehicle for the movement. Will he give some grouping his huge mailing list? Will he encourage his volunteers to help build something after the Convention, or election, or are we just supposed to increase his influence in the Democratic Party and the Senate.

    Jackie DiSalvo

  7. antirepublocrat says:

    I got the Labor Fightback Network email. Here is my reply to

    Your email cites “single-payer health care, opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and opposition to fracking” and asks, “labor has been characterized as the base of the Democratic Party so why should there be any issue regarding including its priorities being capstones in the Party’s program?”

    On that basis, you advocate the formation of “independent labor-community coalitions,” definitely not “its own political party” that could challenge the corporate Democrats. Such rudderless, leaderless “coalitions” will accomplish nothing except to endorse the rhetorically pro-labor but programatically anti-labor Democrats. You don’t even consider simply throwing your influence behind the Green Party, whose platform already contains all three of the provisions you mention in addition to a whole host of other pro-worker programs. You don’t have to waste your time fighting to get your issues into the Green Party platform; they’re already there.

    The kicker is you are too ignorant even to know the correct name of the Green Party’s expected candidate, Jill Stein (not actress Jill Ireland). I suggest you educate yourselves on the Green Party platform and endorse Jill Stein for President. Unless you do that, please take me off your mailing list. I don’t want to waste my time reading drivel from foolish people who want to try to use “coalitions” one last time to change the Democratic Party.

    Good day.

    Why would you refuse to back the one significant, nationwide political party that already addresses all your issues in its platform. I can sort of understand the evidently insane logic of those who want to reform the Democratic Party, pursuing the same failed policy over and over. The other proposals I’m seeing are even worse. “Coalitions” and forming yet another 3rd party movement will accomplish nothing but to diffuse your efforts.

    Jill is now polling near 5%, over 5 times the votes she got in 2012. No other left party has anywhere near that support. If she pulls 5% of the vote in my state (MN), the Green Party will have automatic ballot status for the next 4 years, and we can start targeting some of the Blue Dogs. (I would oppose running a candidate against Betty McCollum).

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