Over the past four years, I’ve had the privilege to work for two of the national organizations that took advantage of the political energy unleashed by Bernie Sanders’s 2016 run for president. I first served as deputy director of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and then as political director of Our Revolution. The two groups take quite different approaches to the critical question of how, or whether, to work inside the Democratic Party to turn it into a principled, social democratic force.
Our Revolution, which was created by the energy and core staff of the Sanders campaign, is dedicated to transforming the party. DSA, on the other hand, avoids engaging with internal party processes in any organized way. Our Revolution is following a more long-term and more promising approach: if you want to elect leftists to office across the nation, you have to take part in the internal workings of the mass organization that can make that possible. Strategically and realistically, if you do not engage in the Democratic Party, its apparatus will easily and continually be turned on you. To paraphrase Leon Trotsky: you may not be interested in the Democratic leadership, but they’re interested in you.
Bernie Sanders launched Our Revolution via a livestream from Burlington, Vermont, a month after the end of the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The nonprofit eventually grew to a handful of state committees, several hundred local affiliates, and over a quarter-million members. It focused on three arenas of struggle: passing transformative legislation such as Medicare for All, supporting progressive candidates up and down the ballot, and gaining a measure of power in the Democratic Party at all levels.
After the contentious and sometimes nasty contest for the 2016 nomination had ended, convention delegates established a Unity Reform Commission (URC) to bring more transparency to party affairs and open the primaries to more voters. The URC was born out of a resolution that addressed the concerns of many Sanders delegates that closed primaries, superdelegates, and party financing, among other issues, had unfairly slanted the primary in favor of Hillary Clinton. One of my first duties at Our Revolution, under the leadership of our chair, Larry Cohen, was to facilitate grasstops support—often but not solely consisting of pro-Sanders organizations—for the reform effort to codify the URC recommendations into party rules. After a ...
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