Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.
April 21, 2016
On Native Ground

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DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The chorus of voices that want Bernie Sanders to drop out of the Democratic presidential race and go away keeps growing louder, especially after Hillary Clinton's big win in the New York primary on April 19.

Thankfully, the independent senator from Vermont is not listening.

He's not listening because he and many of his supporters have their eyes on a much bigger prize: reating a progressive third political party that is independent of the Democratic/Republican duopoly.

The Democratic Party in its present form - deeply beholden to corporate money and enslaved by the conventional wisdom - is where political movements go to die.

And there is absolutely no hope that the Republican Party in its present form will ever create positive social change.

But Sanders is craftily using the Democratic Party and the primary process to do something that has eluded third parties for years, and that is get name recognition, news coverage, and campaign contributions.

Having spent his formative political years in Vermont as a member of the left-of-center Liberty Union Party, Sanders knows first-hand the uphill battle that a new political party has outside the two-party duopoly.

Even though both the Liberty Union and another left-of-center party, the Progressive Party, never have had a candidate elected to statewide office, both parties have major party status in Vermont snd are guaranteed ballot access. This status is achieved if a party's candidate for statewide office gets at least 5 percent of the vote, and has a party committee in at least 15 towns.

However, the Progressive Party - which Sanders has been allied with, but has never been a member of - have gotten candidates elected to both chambers of the Vermont Legislature and have dominated politics in Vermont's largest city, Burlington, since the 1980s. It remains the only successful left-wing third party in the United States.

How did the Progressives succeed? Years of community organizing, lots of one-on-one campaigning, vigorous voter-registration efforts, building and maintaining connections with grassroots organizations, and focusing on multi-issue, class-based politics that transcend the usual liberal vs. conservative paradigm.

They also succeeded by ignoring the siren song of allying with the Democrats.

Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition often gets cited as an example of missed opportunity of creating a political movement in favor of trying to work with the Democratic establishment.

But the opportunity to create a movement wasn't missed in Vermont.

The Progressive Coalition - what the party was known as in Vermont during the 1980s - worked with Jackson's Democratic presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988. Jackson won the Vermont Democratic Primary in 1988 thanks to the Progressives, which led to the Rainbow Coalition breaking away from the Democrats and merging with the Progressive Coalition to form the Vermont Progressive Party in 1990.

Meanwhile, on the national level, the Rainbow Coalition foundered because the Democrats had no interest in Jackson and his politics at a time when the party made the decision to move to the right and go after the same corporate donors that bankrolled the Republicans.

The current leaders of the Democratic National Committee feel the same way about Sanders. But Sanders has maintained his independent status while using the Democratic Party primary process to build the kind of electoral legitimacy that he would never have as a third-party candidate.

At the same time, Sanders has built up a formidable base of support despite diminishing coverage in the corporate news media and little assistance from the Democratic Party.

In fact, without any help from the DNC, the Sanders campaign raised about $140 million from more than 6 million contributors and has deftly used social media and independent media to broadcast his message.

Like the last Vermonter to run for president, Howard Dean, Sanders knows that the only way you win elections is to run candidates everywhere and to have a presence in every state. As chair of the Democratic National Committee, Dean's 50-state strategy gave the Democrats control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008.

Of course, Dean was kicked to the curb by a Democratic establishment that failed to learn the lessons of how effective an inclusive grassroots party can be. That is how we ended up with huge Republican victories in the 2010 and 2014 Congressional elections and the worst Congress in our nation's history.

Sanders is riding a wave of discontent with the status quo, but he is also making it clear to his supporters that one person alone cannot change the political direction of the nation. It will take millions of people willing to put in the time and the effort to be active and engaged in politics to create change.

This is the long game as played by Nernie Sanders. If he can keep the people who have supported his presidential campaign active beyond November, we may see the beginnings of a real alternative to the Democratic Party.

AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 35 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.

Copyright 2016 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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