We were reminded of this collective effort to bring to life a political revolution at two separate Labor Day events in the states that helped launch Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid.
More than 700 people came out to both Labor Day Political Revolution Parties held in Warner, N.H., and Middlebury. These events not only celebrated the one-year anniversary of Rights & Democracy, but brought together activists from front-line organizations like 350.org, and politicians who Rights & Democracy helped win crucial primaries, such as Sen. David Zuckerman, who is running for lieutenant governor as a Progressive/Democrat. We expect similar progressive victories in New Hampshire’s primary next week.
There are many of us who are disappointed that Bernie’s campaign fell short of winning the nomination. But there is reason to hope that Bernie’s campaign has only strengthened the growing political movement to turn things around in this country.
One of the most important parts of Bernie’s message on the campaign trail from the very beginning was that the change our country needs goes beyond the presidential election and beyond the support of one candidate. No matter who is elected, nothing will change unless there is a mass social movement that pushes for fundamental reforms. I found one of the most poignant pieces of his message on Labor Day was the reminder that change never comes easy and always takes intense efforts over many years by many different people to come to fruition. One great rally alone will not create the change we need. One person alone is not the answer. In Warner he said, “At the end of the day it is not about me. It is about bringing millions of people together to stand up to fight for economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”
Over time, I have heard in Bernie’s words three big ideas that I completely agree with.
— As president, Donald Trump would be a disaster beyond compare and must be defeated.
— On a national level, it is important to have Democrats take back Congress, but we need to build grass-roots pressure to hold them to the progressive platform they adopted this summer.
— And ultimately, the most important work to be done is on a local level, to build support for local leaders to run for office and build a movement that pushes to enact change in our own communities. We believe the most important piece of the political revolution is bringing people together to impact our local elections and keeping them engaged beyond the ballot box to build their own power as actors in a democratic system and to hold current elected officials accountable.
Given the success of the Sanders campaign and the attention Vermont received around the world as a result, at Rights & Democracy we feel we have an enormous responsibility to turn things around here, to serve as a model for the rest of the country. We believe if Vermont and New Hampshire can move to create local economies that provide good jobs for people and invest in the infrastructure and programs our communities need to thrive, we can set a new bar for others to follow.
We know from experience that we need to do a lot more than just elect people to office if we want to do major things that take on powerful corporate interests, and what we have found is that there is enormous support to do big things in Vermont — such as enacting a statewide family and medical leave insurance program, and much more.
We can raise the minimum wage toward a livable wage by winning $15 an hour.
We can take on the pharmaceutical industry and health-care profiteers to establish a high-quality universal health care system that is paid for with equitable public financing.
We can eliminate the use of private prisons and address racial bias in the justice system.
We can invest in higher education and provide tuition-free public colleges for all residents.
We can ban new fossil-fuel infrastructure and create a “Clean and Green New Deal” which has public investment to create good jobs to build clean water and renewable-energy infrastructure with greater local democracy on decisions that affect our communities.
We can and we must build enough people power to enact the policies our communities need.
The political revolution is building a massive social movement to demand the kind of changes our communities want and deserve. It is also getting candidates like Bernie, who truly represent the interests of our communities, elected at every level, from select board to statewide office.
There were tremendous political revolution victories in the Vermont primary election in August, and there will be many more wins in the general election on Nov. 8, and in the months and years to come.
James Haslam is executive director of Rights & Democracy (www.radvt.org).