Lessons Bernie Sanders has taught us (so far)

Now, I have friends who teach in education departments. Maybe it can be said that people who work in education departments, both the students and the teachers, are the best kind of teachers, given the constraints currently placed in our culture upon who counts as a "teacher." So, for instance, you have my good friend Peter McLaren, whose excellent book Pedagogy of Insurrection offers a wonderful summary of the present-day state of affairs and a number of suggested paths forward. Peter works in an education department, that of Chapman University in Orange, California.

But really, seriously, some of our most important teachers can be found in unusual places, and in this regard we should thank Bernie Sanders for all he has taught us. Now, I was going to write a diary here summarizing Sanders's teachings -- maybe starting with the simple ones he gives in his speeches. I saw Bernie Sanders in Riverside, California, and received his simple message. Find the people who are suffering the most, and do something to help them. Do something about actual problems. Improve life through better government.

However, many of the other lessons Sanders has taught us, the dark ones about elite governance in the era of late capitalism, are already summarized in a piece now up at Counterpunch, Gary Leupp's post titled "Some Sober Lessons for Bernie Sanders Supporters". You should read this piece before going too much further in this diary.

At any rate, I didn't want to duplicate Leupp's efforts, so I wanted to offer some criticisms and emendations to Leupp's text. So:

1) I thought that the tone of this could be a bit better. Leupp says that:

serious Bernie supporters might—I humbly suggest—draw the following hard-truth conclusions.

Let me suggest that Sanders taught us these things himself, by running for office, and that many of us wouldn't have learned them had Sanders not chosen to run. We therefore owe the Sanders campaign a debt of gratitude if for that reason alone.

2) Leupp argues that:

U.S. “democracy” is in general a farce.

Yes, of course -- though such a formulation of the problem is likely to convince people to surrender the democratic farce to the elites. We can still organize politically even though US democracy is in general a farce. But it's harder than it looks, which may be a lesson Sanders himself is still digesting. Leupp could have taken this tack rather than pummeling the "farce" argument into the ground.

3) Leupp notes that:

The Democratic Party’s primary system and super-delegates are specifically designed to prevent change.

The fact that Bernie Sanders was obliged to run "as a Democrat" suggests a lesson we should all have learned a long time ago. Forcing our best candidates to run "as Democrats" and getting them to fear "being spoilers" is a sure sign that we don't recognize the party system as an impediment to democracy when, in fact, that's what it is.

4) Leupp also notes that:

There are unusual aspects to this particular farce, revealing a system in deep, deep doo-doo.

Yes, of course. One thing Leupp could also have mentioned, though, is the elaborate and crude election fraud that has accompanied this year's attempt to kill the Sanders campaign.
5) Leupp argues:

The system wants to suck you in, and make you think it’s somehow “yours.”

So far only the people who have rejected Clinton outright have recognized this lesson. But all the lessons about Clinton narcissism were there on full display during Sanders' campaign -- the foundation money, the quid pro quo arrangements, the PNAC militarism, the whispering campaign, the biased media coverage, the influence-peddling and so on. What strikes me about the people peddling this "lesser of two evils" line about Clinton is that we are supposed to turn our backs upon all of these lessons and cower in abject terror at the thought that we might possibly be responsible for electing a buffoon (as opposed to a clever evildoer) to the White House.

6) Leupp gracefully concludes that:

The successes of the Sanders campaign, such as they are, show that another world is in fact possible.

Lastly, and unfortunately, we still seem to need an actual Sanders, or someone like him, to show us that this is true. Sanders didn't just point to the fact that, as Leupp says:

The best possible result would be for friendships and networks built in this fool’s hope campaign to resist that planned co-option. We should rage against the dying of the light, wake up to the need for real revolution—real democracy, real socialism—abandoning illusions about the “process” that the wolf in Armani clothing credits Bernie for drawing you into.

But rather, Bernie Sanders pointed to the fact that a revolution actually has to have a focus, and that we can't just stand on the street making erudite Marxist arguments about the system (or sit here typing nice arguments on our keyboards) if things are to change. There's the "brand new Congress," there's the actual need to run for office, there's a path forward, illustrated by actual things which need to be done.

For all this I am grateful to Bernie Sanders for the lessons he's taught me and others.

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To start with a quibble: Regarding standing on a street espousing Marxism, or sitting at a typewriter: Taken as written it would seem to denigrate the intellectual work done to analyze the situation. It's important to have the facts and have them in the proper context. After all, that's what Uncle Whiskers did.

I like the characterization of "crude election fraud" because that's exactly what it is. The neoliberals - money and power junkies - no longer feel the need to offer pretense. "We're stealing it; you can't do anything; and you're going to end up supporting Clinton."

I think a lesson Bernie has offered is not to be afraid of the Austerians, stand up for what's right, and get up after being knocked down.

CounterPunch was started by Alex Cockburn who at one time had two whole pages in The Nation. He told a couple of obvious truths that made the publisher, and the contributors, uncomfortable and he lost one page...soon he was out of the magazine altogether but CounterPunch was the result so that was to the good.

If the rank and file could stop the draft and make the military want to stop the draft, then other things are possible as well as needed. It wasn't easy for The Greatest Generation - those who unionized the major industries and pushed FDR to work towards his second Bill of Rights - but they accomplished a lot which people have come to depend upon.

(You didn't think The Greatest Generation was the marketing ploy to sell stuff to aged WW2 vets did you? It was the generation before that.)

Historically, radical change came in large part from recent immigrants not those who had been here for generations. I think that will be the case this time, with support from home grown leftists, and stopping Obama's mass deportations would be a big start.

Again, thanks for the timely and well written diary.

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"The justness of individual land right is not justifiable to those to whom the land by right of first claim collectively belonged"

Cassiodorus's picture

so much as I'm afraid of the many numerous good liberals who tell me OMIGOD YOU'VE GOT TO VOTE FOR THE AUSTERIANS BECAUSE TRUMP IS HITLER!!! including erudite academic types like Noam Chomsky. Those people really do scare me. And, yeah, since I AM one of those erudite Marxists...

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

enthusiasm with this election. The elitists have had to rely on their last containment wall (election fraud) to avoid the meltdown of the core.

In this election, Bernie has completely exposed the corruption of our rulers. But it also shows that we will never enjoy a democracy if we don't demand it. The establishment likes nothing more than to have us not show up to vote - so we can stick to our oh-so-important 70 hour a week shit jobs.

I too am worried that the "movement" or "revolution" will require Bernie to be involved. It's critical that the energy generated has a focus that includes a political outlet. IMO, Bernie is as pure as the driven snow and people like him, who have worked tirelessly all their life for justice, almost never come along as a leader. A party founded on and diligently maintaining principles is what we need to follow, not an individual.

Equally, a movement (ie, Occupy, BLM, DSA) that does not have a direct political outlet can be influential but typically does not optimize outcomes. I am very eager to hear what Bernie suggests as a next step in moving forward. I hope it includes a direct political solution for implement the ideals we all cherish and want to see realized.

Thanks for the nice Sunday morning reading cassiodorus.

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Roger Fox's picture

Maybe if Bernie started 2 months earlier he would now have a delegate lead. Perhaps.

Yes, the Sanders campaign created a prototype, and showed us it does function as advertised. Bernie created and wielded political power setting an example for all of us. Now its up to us to learn that lesson....

We need to create and wield political power, at an unprecedented level never seen in 80 years. We need to learn how to run campaigns, and need to learn how to be candidates. Regardless who is POTUS, we need a Brand New Congress. Whether its Hillary or Trump, either one will need to be kept in check. And if by some miracle its Bernie, he'll need allies in Congress.

Signup at brandnewcongress.org attend an orientation conference call and join at laest one team brandnewcongress.org/teams
Organizing Teams
Call Team

Talking one-on-one or on small group conference calls with everyone who signs up.

Help Desk Team

Answering questions and solving problems for supporters and volunteers who email us.

Texting Team

Organize from your phone!

Talent Scout Team

Spot future talent by listening in on volunteer orientation calls and other means.

Events Team

Work with volunteer leaders around the country to plan events, starting with our 100-city tour.

Operations Teams
Office Team

Help BNC volunteers open and run their offices.

Legal Team

Are you a lawyer who wants to learn some election law for the revolution?

Money Team

Bookkeeping, compliance and reporting. Make sure we're doing everything exactly right.

Travel Team

Book travel for BNC volunteer organizers and support them when they're out on the road.

Conference Call Team

Moderate conference calls for other teams -- including big all-volunteer calls.

Data Entry Team

Make BNC organizers 10X more powerful by doing their data entry.

Tech Teams
Enable all our other teams to be more effective with new and existing tools.

Dev Team

Enable all our other teams to be more effective with new tools.

CRM Team

Manage our member database. Keep our data organized and help us get the most out of our tools for organizing.

Analytics Team

Track our progress on a set of metrics using analytics tools and plain old human reporting processes.

Wiki Team

Keep our wiki organized and looking nice!

Web Team

Maintain BrandNewCongress.org

"Issues" Teams
Platform Team

Begin the work of translating Bernie's platform into concrete legislation that the BNC will pass when elected. This team will grow and split into many separate issue teams.

The Research Team

The research team gathers and processes all types of information from ballot access details to policy intel. It will split into different specialized teams over time.

Communications Teams
Creative Team

Spreading the word through graphics and video.

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Spreading the word across social media about Brand New Congress.

Email Team

Write, prepare, A/B test, send and monitor emails to our full email list.

Press Team

Conduct media trainings with BNC spokespeople, maintain relationships with journalists, distribute media requests to other team leaders.

A/B Testing Team

Grow the movement using the magic of A/B testing!

Online Advertising Team

Reach more new supporters using online organizing.

We are the leaders we have been waiting for

Tom Wyka 2006

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FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

featheredsprite's picture

I may look into one of those teams.

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Life is strong. I'm weak, but Life is strong.

I'll have to revisit the site -- looks like lots has been added since my first visit.

I keep menaing to go back and capture the page that goes into detail about the contents of the pldege that BNC candidates will be required to take. The page I want (in tables format, I think) gave several platform points. for each point, it gave the goal of the point, how it would be funded (including links to authoritative reviews of the funding), and links to the Bill(s) already in process and waiting to be voted on. For example, the 'Robin Hood tax' -- tiny % tax on Wall Street transactions -- would produce $xxBILLION in revenue, would be used to fund these platform pieces (ie, College funding, National Healthcare).

I was *thrilled* to find these complex issues compiled in such a clear way! I think those pledge components need to be produced as a printable tables doc (with live links in online format, written-out links for paper version). In fact, I think that every one of Bernie's issues could be compiled into this format -- at one point I went to the Bernie site's Issues page to try to answer a question about how something was too be funded, but was sent to a LOOOOONG page when what I needed was concise-but-complete info.

Roger, since you appear very familiar with the BNC site, would you be willing to find the link for the 'concise issues table' related to the pledge and link it here? I'd really appreciate it, and I think others here would also.

Thanks again!

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poligirl's picture

and we're up and running... all the teams need people too, so if you are interested, please sign up... you can vol as much or as little as you have time for... Biggrin

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Cassiodorus's picture


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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

poligirl's picture

after that they should send an email with a link to sign up for teams...

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The complicity of corporate media in perpetuating the "democracy" scam is key since so many people don't take/have the time to look beyond them for info. The press and the parties are all owned by the same people, and they all work in concert to protect the scam. Bernie's candidacy really did pull back the curtain. The desperation of the effort to shut him down is an indication of how vulnerable the scam really is. Simple sunlight threatens to crash the whole deal. A lot of us understood this; Bernie helped many more see the light. As more people see the actual extent, more people know it all has to change somehow, and more people will be willing to consider alternatives when they're available. They've long since closed off standard media as a means for offering alternatives, so, as people tend to do, we're finding a way around them. As each challenge to the system emerges, the overall number of converts increases, I think, exponentially. OWS got some traction; Bernie got more. It will be interesting to see what's next.

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Lookout's picture

to reveal the corruption of the party and electoral system. Let's see where he leads next. I (perhaps naively) think he has a plan.

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Alligator Ed's picture

his simple message. Find the people who are suffering the most, and do something to help them. Do something about actual problems. Improve life through better government.

Things do change--always, though not always for the better. However this time there is an uncorrupt guide, who will hopefully continue to inspire those now awakened, to relentlessly push toward that goal, so well stated.

In the words of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, said as the planes finished their mission: "We have awakened the sleeping giant". Let it be so, once again.

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riverlover's picture

Bernie vocalized it, and pointed a finger. Many of us who went through one civics class taught from a book (does anyone have one from 1960-1970?) taught the model, not the real operation. We have gone through that realization. Many others watch NBC,CBS, FOX, CNN and are still clueless about the missing or unacknowledged events that happen daily. No centering, putting anything in context, now there is no context, no information other than this is a scary world and happy videos are good.

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Hey! my dear friends or soon-to-be's, JtC could use the donations to keep this site functioning for those of us who can still see the life preserver or flotsam in the water.

Cassiodorus's picture

It shows we're paying attention.

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"The future is inside us/ It's not somewhere else." -- Radiohead

mimi's picture

through. Can't find anything I would disagree with, was just a bit sceptical about Leupp's hope and faith into the role of alternative media.

In the end of his article he says this:

The successes of the Sanders campaign, such as they are, show that another world is in fact possible. The ability of the system to fuck with the human mind has shrunk with the advent of the Internet and the availability of alternative sources of information. Social media have empowered people to more easily and effectively mobilize. For example, cell-phone cameras have generated unprecedented awareness of the routine occurrence of police murder and helped people start to push back against it, although not nearly enough.

I hope the future will prove him right, but I still can't believe it really might, as much as I wanted it to be the case. The ability of the system (which includes the alternative media online) to fuck with the human mind has not shrunk, imo, it has exponentially grown and immersed his fucking capabilities with your mind into the most intimate corners of your brain. You get fucked no matter from which side.

Thanks for posting this article and your essay about it.

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What I expected was competence, that Obama would appoint people to the running of the system who could keep the system from falling apart. W was very good at doing the opposite. So the bar was low. Really, really low.

Did Obama manage to meet my expectations? Not sufficiently. Better than Bush, of course. Although I wish Obama had pushed harder in areas Republican administrations prioritized -- retaking the courts, for instance.

Improving things? No, I didn't expect much of that. Just didn't want him to make things worse. In some ways he improved things, or at least did not stand in the way of improving things (see Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell repeal & marriage equality, neither of which Obama fought for but both of which he strategically acquiesced to in a way that really helped). Obamacare is a timid mending of the safety net with big holes remaining. Better than nothing, I guess. There were things Obama was ready to fight for -- like reducing Social Security -- that the Republicans disavowed because Obama so we were saved from that, sorta.

I'm pretty clear that the electoral system in this country is rickety at best and prone to gaming. After 2000, which was about the biggest wake-up call to fixing what was broken, nothing happened. Nothing good, anyway.

I voted for Nader in 2000 thinking Nader was the best hope for building a 3rd Party Left alternative, the Greens. He didn't seem to be interested in party building. So that was a missed opportunity. I seem to remember voting for Nader again in 2004, but mainly because I thought Kerry was going to lose and I figured, well, whatever. I voted for Obama both times, neither time with stars in my eyes. I will only vote for Hillary if I feel there is absolutely no other way to keep a worse person out of the White House. Since I live in California, if she really needs my vote, she's already crashing and burning, so I'm thinking it's Jill Stein for me. Unless it's Bernie on Dem ticket. Then it's Bernie. And contributing money to the campaign.

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riverlover's picture

that all levels of governance have been captured. That is a very deep hole to climb out of.

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Hey! my dear friends or soon-to-be's, JtC could use the donations to keep this site functioning for those of us who can still see the life preserver or flotsam in the water.