Supporting Sanders sends the wrong message

June 10, 2015

The decision of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination has led to a vibrant debate. On May 31, at the Left Forum in New York City, Gloria Mattera, co-chair of the Green Party of New York state* and a coordinating committee member of System Change Not Climate Change*, was part of a panel discussion on "Should the Left Support Bernie Sanders?" Other panelists included Ashley Smith of the International Socialist Organization, Bhaskar Sunkara of Jacobin magazine and Winnie Wong of People for Bernie. Audio of their presentations can be heard at WeAreMany.org. (*The opinions expressed in this speech do not reflect the official positions of these organizations.)

ON MAY 1 in Chicago, over 200 activists from numerous cities came together at a conference called “The Future of Left and Independent Political Action.” Our discussions and debates were lively, invigorating and inspiring.

The Bernie Sanders campaign came up often. One speaker asked the group to raise their hand if they intended to work on the Sanders campaign. A half-dozen hands went up. The enthusiasm and the focus at this conference was on strengthening the independent left electoral movement nationwide, and now there is a continuations committee working on next steps to that end.

Fast forward a few weeks--Sanders announces he plans to start “a political revolution.” Money, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and volunteer sign-ups explode almost overnight. Impressive. So what is a socialist to do?

This year at Left Forum, as in past years, there are several panels on building a mass party, an independent left party, a party of the working class.

What is the strategy for building a viable left party? Having independent candidates to articulate a left, radical platform in contrast to the two corporate parties--a candidate who is not inside the corrupt Democratic Party primary system.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders

The Sanders platform has a populist bent, but the Green Party platform is clearly to the left of that. Sanders has been silent on the increasing police violence against Black and Brown young men and women. In my opinion, no leftist who stands in solidarity with Palestine can make excuses for Sanders foreign policy positions.

Sanders, given his history, should be running as an independent. That is how he has branded himself. But do we really want to encourage him to be the independent candidate of the left and give that message to those interested or supportive of his Democratic Party campaign?

Sanders will mobilize progressive, young, socialist-leaning voters. So did Obama. And what did Obama for America end up offering those enthusiastic voters?

Mobilizing is a short-term or episodic action, a mainstay of a grassroots electoral campaign that does not automatically translate to building an organization or a movement.

Organizing is what WE do—developing the capacity of our current membership, bringing in new members on the strength of our platforms and programs, and sharply drawing a distinction between the two corporate parties and an independent left political movement.


IT IS likely that the majority of Sanders supporters will follow Sanders into his already declared support for the Democratic nominee, the warmonger and 1 Percenter Hillary Clinton.

I agree with Ashley Smith that getting involved in the Sanders campaign will be demobilizing and take energy away from the radical movements of today

To continue to build a bigger and stronger left independent political movement, we need to organize around a declared, independent left candidate now. We cannot take for granted that the candidate of our movement will be on as many state ballots as possible unless we have everyone on board from day one.

To sum up, I don't support the organized left actively participating in the Sanders campaign.

We should not be harsh towards the people or organizations that get involved in the Sanders campaign. At the same time, as socialists dedicated to building an independent left political movement, we should not elevate the Sanders campaign higher than it will realistically go.

I agree with Kshama Sawant and Howie Hawkins that it will be a sacrifice to financially support independent left candidates against the corporate party machine, but we must make that a priority. And to reach the millions instead of thousands with our message, scores more volunteers are needed.

So comrades, there is much work to be done with less resources that we would like at this time. Let's get our priorities and our focus clear.

As a socialist and a Green Party member, here is my recommended priority list:

In 2015, we need to rally around the re-election campaign of Kshama Sawant because we know she will be targeted by the 1 Percent and not just in Seattle.

We need to help the Green Party with their nationwide ballot access drive, which will continue on into 2016 so there will be an independent presidential candidate to vote for in as many states as possible.

We need to actively recruit and train activists in our movement networks--Black Lives Matter; Stop Mass Incarceration; Environmental Justice; Antiwar--to be local, state and federal candidate in 2016.

And right after Jill Stein announces her bid for president as an independent, left candidate seeking the Green Party nomination, we need to get behind her 100 percent.

In 2016, we need to make sure there is a ballot line for any independent left or socialist candidate to contest the corporate party lackeys running for office.

We need to ensure that there is a healthy, viable independent presidential campaign, like Jill Stein's, that will lift up and support our left candidates and their social movements around the country.

That, in my opinion, comrades, along with our movement and education work, will be the path to system change.

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