BY TIM MURPHY – MOTHER JONES
When supporters of Bernie Sanders convened the first People’s Summit last year in Chicago, an air of anxious optimism suffused the event. The gathering came days before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, and the attendees, drawn from the ranks of the candidate’s most passionate supporters, held onto hopes that the independent senator from Vermont might still be on the path to the White House.
He wasn’t, but 12 months later, some 4,000 lefty organizers, activists, campaign vets, candidates, and Sanders himself returned to Chicago for what amounted to a three-day celebration of the movement’s political ascendancy. In speeches, breakout sessions, and interviews, attendees offered a similar refrain: The political revolution is already happening, and it is already remaking the Democratic Party.
... “Bernie would have won” may have been the mantra of some of the attendees, but many of the organizers took seriously the fact that he ultimately didn’t win, and they wrestled with the mechanics and messaging of a campaign that could.
At a breakout panel on Saturday, Becky Bond, a former senior Sanders aide who helped assemble the campaign’s national field operation, was challenged by an African American attendee about the whiteness of the campaign’s leadership. Bond acknowledged that the homogeneity of the campaign’s top guns had hurt them. She pointed to the recent district attorney’s race in Philadelphia, where Larry Krasner — a defense attorney supported by groups including Our Revolution, the DSA, and Bond’s Big Organizing Project — had won an insurgent victory in the Democratic primary by campaigning on his record opposing police brutality and cash bail.
“Had we done years of that work,” she said of the issues animating the DA’s race, “I think we would have won” the presidential primary.
As it happens, Krasner was holding court about his win a few floors down, at a training session for would-be candidates and campaign workers. Krasner had been opposed by almost every Democratic ward boss in the city, but he ended up winning 44 of 66 wards. He accomplished that by boosting turnout almost by 50 percent over previous municipal races. He even found some voters who hadn’t turned out last fall when Donald Trump won the state. Most of those new Krasner voters were African American.
“The reality that I represented activists and organizers for 25-plus years unquestionably meant that the campaign activated people who are incredibly good at politics but don’t normally do it,” he said, giving a description that also applied to a lot of the people who showed up in Chicago. “That might be the big lesson: All over the country there are networks of activists and organizers who might just be better at politics than the people in politics.”
In Krasner’s view, his race offered a template for similar candidates to succeed. “Candidates of color and white candidates who are able to form that coalition will be unbeatable with their own party,” he said. “And they’ll be unbeatable by any other party.”