Editor’s Note: Jeff Weaver, a long-time aide to Senator Bernie Sanders and campaign manager for Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, is a leader of “Future to Believe In (FTBI) PAC,” a new political group to support Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and push for more progressive policies. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own. Read more opinion articles at CNN.
As progressives debate their role in the upcoming general election, they must consider what our movement has accomplished in a very short time and why, at this moment, we must press our advantage and not abandon the people we represent – working people, middle-income people, the poor and marginalized communities.
Bernie Sanders’ millions of volunteers, supporters, donors and voters demonstrated the breadth of our movement that is widening the boundaries of acceptable political debate in this country. As Bernie himself has pointed out, ideas like Medicare for All and jobs for all, that only a few years ago would have been radical, are now supported by the American people. Our work has been so successful that policies such as a $15 minimum hourly wage and free public college tuition have been adopted by the Democratic Party and even by Bernie’s primary opponents.
We made that happen. We made policies that benefit everyday people important again. We effectively delivered, and will continue to deliver, a new hopeful vision for our country. My good friend Senator Nina Turner uses a quote from the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan that sums up the vision that we offer – “an America as good as its promise.”
The Sanders’ candidacy was always about accelerating our path toward that “America as good as its promise” by institutionalizing as much progressive change into law as could be accomplished had he become president. Just as Republicans have spent decades unsuccessfully trying to gut Social Security and Medicare, so they would spend decades trying to undo a President Sanders’ plans for college for all, Medicare for All, and the rest.
Now we have come to the place where Bernie is not going to be the president. I wish I could convey how deeply that hurts me to write it. But that’s where we are. We can spend a lot of time fixated on the unfairness of the process over the last two primary cycles, the role of big money, the advantages of the establishment and the fecklessness of much of the media. All that is true. But, so what? Who in our movement ever thought that the ruling class was just going to roll over? Progressive politics is not for the faint of heart.
Nor is it a debating society. It’s not the “holier than thou” Olympics. It is organizing to achieve real and positive change in the lives of the people we represent. It’s not about being right. It’s about achieving what’s right for the right people. The people who are, in Sanders’ words, too often “put down and pushed around.” That is why so many people worked for, donated to and voted for Bernie’s campaign – to make life better for ordinary people.
As our movement moves the Democratic Party and much of the nation in our direction through our blood, our sweat, and, too often in recent days, our tears, we must be good stewards of the hard-won political influence we earned to benefit the people we care about.
I don’t know anyone who thinks Joe Biden will be as far to the left as president as Sanders would have been. But after all the work we progressives have done together, having knocked on all those doors, made all those calls, made all the small donations, the rank and file supporters of our movement deserve to enjoy the success of their efforts so far. Will the changes we see in the short run be incremental? Of course, they will (although it is our mutual responsibility to make them as expansive as possible). But that increment will be an improvement in the lives of real people that springs directly from the organizing we have done.
Does this mean we should support an incremental approach to change? Absolutely not. We will all continue to push forward an agenda of transformative change and we will fight for candidates who will deliver it. I know this position will be controversial to some, as will the decision to use a SuperPAC as the vehicle for this effort. Senator Sanders himself doesn’t approve of this vehicle. But a real improvement in people’s lives at this moment is possible. So we must all deliver it in the most effective way we are comfortable with.
Otherwise, how can we look in the face the single mother that Bernie and I met in Iowa, who was making $8.00 an hour, if we sit home because we don’t want to pull the lever for Joe Biden – who supports a $15 minimum wage? Why should our ideological sensitivities mean anything to her and her kids if they can’t afford housing, or medicine, or food? Where is our moral standing to ask her or anyone like her to stand with us in the next campaign?
How do we explain to the 60-year-old service worker who has no health insurance that we could have gotten her access to Medicare (not a buy-in, but access like 65-year-olds get now)? Should she care that we were so committed to Medicare for All that we wouldn’t support a candidate who would make Medicare available only to some 40 million additional people over the course of a single term in office? Why should people trust progressives to protect their interests in the future if we fail to deliver when we have the opportunity now?
In this moment, we must work as hard as we can to secure as much as we can for the people whose interests our movement champions: the poor and marginalized, working families and the middle class. That’s not to say any of these changes go far enough or that our work is finished. Far from it. We will keep pushing. We will keep organizing. We will keep building. This isn’t about Joe, or Bernie, or any one of us. It’s about all of us. It’s about meeting the needs of people so that together we can create that America as good as its promise. That won’t happen by sitting on the sidelines with our arms folded.