You Say You Want Our 413 Revolution, Well You Know…
NORTHAMPTON—More than thirteen months after Bernie Sanders effectively battled Hillary Clinton to a draw in Massachusetts, his efforts continue. His supporters hope to transform Sanders’s campaign’s legacy, now called Our Revolution, into something concrete. Indeed, Donald Trump’s election has presented both opportunity and new imperatives to the group and Sanders supporters nationwide.
But defining its space in the activist realm is a major objective in these early months. In the Pioneer Valley, there is no shortage of activist groups. Our Revolution (OR) and its local and statewide counterparts are looking to establish influence within the Democratic party, too. The national and local OR groups seek to connect with progressive candidates up and down the ballot.
On April 23, activists gathered at the World War II club for the first organizing meeting of Our 413 Revolution, namely its Hampshire County subgroup. About 50 people turned out—despite amazing weather—to discuss the chapter and to watch a livestream from OR’s national about the organization’s next steps.
The Sanders campaign morphed into Our Revolution shortly after the 2016 primary concluded last June. However, outside the immediate service of its standard-bearer, the organization is still figuring out its role in the political ecosystem. Like Sanders, it is not a part of the Democratic party, but the movement has deep connections to it too. Contributing to—and reshaping—the party remains a top OR goal.
Nancy Stenberg, a Democratic State Committee member and Sanders delegate, said in an interview OR Massachusetts had a goal of recruiting 300 delegates for the state convention. At least 700 were elected delegates “that we know of.” She said this recruitment was aimed at grassroots organizing, which could only help the party.
“Gus is delighted with what we have done,” she said referencing Gus Bickford, the state party chair. OR’s recruitment means more Democratic delegates and in turn more Democratic voters, Stenberg said.
Delegates to the State Convention in Worcester will vote on the party’s platform. Anti-Trump backlash has fueled interest anyway, but OR’s impact remains significant. Platform conventions usually draw smaller crowds than nominating conventions, but OR is looking to bolster the progressive direction of the state party via the platform.
OR has also encouraged members to testify at the party’s roving platform committee meetings in addition to run for delegate.
WMassP&I Editor-in-chief Mass Szafranski, as a chair of a Democratic ward committee, is a delegate to the state convention.
While a strong show of force to the platform could be a prelude to next year’s gubernatorial primary, such action has its limits. Moreover, OR must navigate a thicket of activist groups in places like Hampshire County. Progressive Massachusetts, a liberal umbrella issues group, set up shop in the 413 this February. Its organizational turnout smashed expectations. In addition, there are longstanding local chapters of Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, MoveOn.org and beyond.
An attendee observed one could go to a lefty meeting every night in Northampton if one wanted to.
As they munched on veggie platters and pizza, attendees mingled and discussed what to expect from the meeting. One dimension is the direction of OR’s 413 chapter.
Niko Guardia, an organizer from Northampton for OR, emphasized grassroots outreach encouraging individuals to “take ownership of their own activism.”
That entails meeting new people now participating and learn what issues matter most to them. “We don’t want to tell anybody what we want them to work on,” he told WMassP&I.
There is also a conscious effort not to provide a space another organization already occupies.
“We don’t want to replicate another activist group,” Guardia later said.
As OR feels out its place in the world, it has one massive tool at its disposal.
“Our Revolution is the gift Senator Sanders gave to the progressive movement,” Karen Lee, a lead OR Massachusetts organizer and former Sanders 413 staffer said in an email. Sanders authorized OR to use the database and tools he developed last year to organize and to assist endorsed candidates.
The importance of mailing lists and other tools cannot be understated. While some dispute how much, Sanders’s network played a role in launching James Thompson, a political unknown, into contention during a special election for a blood-red Kansas congressional district.
This aspect could particularly powerful, especially for progressive candidates seeking lower-profile races like primaries in Massachusetts.
Organizers at the meeting said the database could be turned over to endorsed candidates to build their own progressive network. That could mean money and volunteers on the doors, especially during lower-turnout primaries. To maintaining the grassroots spirit, organizers said OR national would consult local members on endorsements. National would abide grassroots calls to stay out of a race, too.
The OR network will also include public resources such as event calendars. Candidates not yet endorsed or groups promoting non-electoral events could use the interface to broaden their reach via the OR network.
“This powerful combination of organizing tools is now available to activists and others to enhance their efforts and building of events,” Lee wrote.
No major general elections—whether partisan or not—have happened since the year began so the full measure of OR’s impact remains unknown. But it does appear to be making a dent in the Democratic party.
Via livestream officials from national OR touted their role in reorganizing 17 state party committees. Meanwhile 12,000 people have run for local party office since OR’s founding.
None of this papers over tensions that remain between the Sanders and establishment wings of the Democratic party. Though at least part of that is a function of media emphasis on division and a few strident voices on both sides.
In Massachusetts, the party already reorganized—right after last year’s primary—and the federal delegation is already all-Democratic. However, OR’s impact could prove ultimately prove helpful. If OR can use its resources to turn out voters who otherwise skip gubernatorial elections, Charlie Baker’s sterling approval rating may prove fragile.