Lately many “progressives” or former Bernie 2016 supporters are jumping onto the “we can fix this totally corrupt-by-design private club from the inside” bandwagon, as if it’s some new idea, and has any chance of working.
I’m sorry to burst your bubble: it’s not a new idea. It’s a very, very old idea which has never, ever worked. Why? Money. Democrats love money. They are a centrist, corrupt organization which exists to serve corporate millionaires and billionaires, because that is what brings in the most money.
They are a money-making pyramid scheme of corporate lobbyists and wannabe king-makers. They’re a group of grifters, like a crime family, who work in four-year plans, pushing a boss candidate who polls the best against the boss candidate from the rival crime family. They distract voters and fleece taxpayers with pageantry of democracy and call it a primary, when really they’ve had it all scripted and pre-planned for 3–4 years.
On a more behind-the-scenes level, the DNC chair is nothing but a vehicle for the most powerful clique to push their candidate. Taking a look at the past few decades only proves this, particularly with Tim Kaine and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who were only put into place to coronate Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee.
“It’s an inner circle within an inner circle within an inner circle who chooses who is going to run the party, and thusly entrench their own power base.”
— Sam Ronan
If you deviate from this money-making pyramid scheme plan, they will throw you under the bus and eat you for dinner. They will label you “fringe” and run stories about how you have no chance of winning. As long as it means the person with the most money and connections gets into office, they will ruin you. Heck, they’ll even support a Trump campaign chair over the progressive write-in candidate. It’s nothing personal, they just like money more than they like helping people or doing the right thing. As long as politics is nothing but a way for grifters to trick people into electing them so corporate interests can pay them to lie, this isn’t ever going to change.
Often, idealistic people seem to think that the winning plan is to join a “new, progressive group” formed by losing candidates or campaign staffers, which will “infiltrate the party” and rebuild it “from the inside!” Let’s review how that has worked over the past 40 years.
Jesse Jackson and his “Rainbow Coalition”
Civil rights icon, minister, and politician. Jackson was one of the last people to see MLK alive. He can be a divisive figure, but few people haven’t heard of him. In 1984, Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination for US President, but was defeated in the Democratic primaries by Jimmy Carter’s extremely unexciting but well-funded-by-the-party vice president, Walter Mondale. Mondale then went on to lose in a ridiculously embarrassing landslide to incumbent corporate spokesman and record-holder for most presidential scandals, Ronald Reagan.
Jesse Jackson then founded (some argue “co-opted”) The Rainbow Coalition. Although the speech he had delivered at the ’84 Democratic convention had used this name to refer to a call for Arab Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, youth, disabled veterans, small farmers, lesbians and gays to join with African Americans and Jewish Americans to fight for economic justice and educational opportunities, Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition mostly worked towards empowering Democratic party candidates and pushing for progressive issues within the party.
The Rainbow Coalition’s goals included Universal Health Care, Free (or near-free) College Education, Election Law Reform, and Environmental Justice.
They eventually merged with PUSH in the early 90s, when their political work was absorbed by the Democratic party, which killed the hope to move the party left. Rainbow/PUSH now focuses solely on racial justice issues.
Jerry Brown and We The People (WTP)
I’m not sure if one person has run for and lost more high-profile campaigns than current-governor of California, Jerry Brown. After serving as California’s Secretary of State and then as Governor, Brown attempted to run for President on a platform of addressing income inequality and moving the Democratic party to the left. He came in 3rd place, losing to Jimmy Carter and some guy named Mo.
He ran for President again in 1980 and was made into a punchline by the media, often being portrayed as “fringe” and a kook, being a supporter of non-traditional medicine. Sound familiar? Brown ended up dropping out early because Carter and the other candidate, Ted Kennedy, were out-fundraising Jerry by significant margins.
In 1982, he ran for Senate. The Democratic party turned their backs on him again, and he lost to Republican Pete Wilson. Brown took a trip to Japan to study Buddhism (I’m not joking) and returned to run for Chair of the California Democratic Party. Surprisingly, he was able to defeat an investment banker! How that happened, I’m not sure. Brown reinvigorated the state party by appealing to grassroots volunteers, bringing in new energy and record-breaking donations. Although he was overall a very successful party chair, he was criticized for “not spending enough money on TV ads,” and blamed for losses of some high-profile candidates in the state.
In 1992, Brown stepped down as Chair of the California Democratic Party, ran for US Senate, then changed his mind and ran for President for a 3rd time. He was again a target of the Democratic party and media, where they portrayed him as having zero chance and being “a fringe candidate.” He lost to big-money lawyer and Democratic Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton.
Brown went on to found “We The People,” which was supposed to be an educational outreach organization to help progressives run for office. It turned into a short-lived radio program and a website which hasn’t been updated in over ten years.
Dennis Kucinich and Progressive Democrats of America (PDA)
Dennis is a model progressive. He’s a winner, often getting 65%+ of the vote. He introduced 2003’s hit HR-676, which included a national single-payer health care plan with coverage for non-traditional medicine, a ban on pre-existing conditions, etc. He introduced articles of impeachment against George W. Bush (and pushed for an earlier investigation to impeach Bill Clinton). He voted against the PATRIOT Act. He was against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (but kind of sort of supported them, a little). He carries a pocket constitution.
But for the Democratic party, none of this is important. They need that money! And they need someone who will sign the check. In his 2004 bid for the Democratic nomination, the DNC swift-boated Dennis in exchange for the thrilling John Forbes Kerry. You all know how that worked out (Kerry lost against a guy who had the Secret Service codename “tumbler”).
Progressive Democrats of America was formed out of this loss with, you guessed it, the intention of remaking the Democratic party in the image of progressive candidates like Dennis. It was formed by former staffers of the Kucinich campaign, and this time it was going to work!
The goals of PDA included ending wars, single-payer health care, economic and social justice, getting money out of politics, protecting the environment, etc. And they were going to do this via the Democratic party! And it never really happened.
So in 2008, after only receiving single-digit support in all but one state (Oregon) in the 2004 primaries, Dennis Kucinich announced he was running again. He also announced his mainstream platform, which included single-payer health care, abolishing the death penalty, creating a Department of Peace, switching to Instant Runoff Voting, protecting a woman’s right to choose, legalizing gay marriage, and legalizing marijuana.
Unlike being promoted via the remaining supporters of a losing campaign four years earlier, a current presidential campaign (after four years of George W. Bush policies) would mean these mainstream ideas could have won! And the DNC can’t have that. They had some hope and change in mind.
So the media dug up a line in a book mentioning that he had once seen a strange light in the sky, and labeled Dennis a UFO conspiracy theorist. He was also blacklisted from appearing in televised Democratic party debates.
Some skinny US Senator from Chicago ended up getting the nomination, and winning the 2008 election in a landslide. And then he carried on 8 years of Bush-era policies, including drone-bombing weddings, resupplying Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, expanding executive power, and his #1 campaign promise: he left Guantanamo open.
Howard Dean and Democracy for America (DFA)
There was also this guy. He also could have won the nomination in 2004, but pretty much the same story that played out against Dennis Kucinich played out with Howard Dean.
He was starting to scare the establishment, so they made him seem “crazy” by playing this clip non-stop for over a week. They sank his campaign. Less than two months later, Dean turned his campaign PAC, Democracy for America, into an organization “to help like-minded Democratic candidates run for office.” One week later, he endorsed John Kerry, who went on to lose to George W. Bush. It’s ok though — Dean’s consolation prize was being made the chair of the DNC one year later.
While Dean’s leadership at the DNC arguably lead to the Democrats re-taking control of government in 2006, it was short-lived, as Republicans regained control shortly after Obama’s 2008 election, thanks in-part to a grassroots-lead (but astroturf-funded) “Tea Party” movement.
In 2009, Dean was replaced with Clinton family loyalist, Tim Kaine, who swiftly ended all of the good ideas Dean had put into place (such as the “50 state strategy”) and converted the DNC into a machine to help coronate Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Dean left politics to become a sellout/lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry, but has recently popped his head back up to ask if anyone remembers that one time when he was pretty cool.
Democracy for America now functions mostly as a sort of DNC to-do list — endorsing Democratic party candidates who are mildly progressive, but not too scary. Examples include Pramila Jayapal and Jamie Raskin. They have never endorsed a non-Democratic candidate, with the exception of…
Bernie Sanders and Our Revolution
Where do I even start? Bernie is a great guy. From his days as a student activist, to Mayor of Burlington, to congress, to US Senate, to his game-changing run for President. Bernie, a Democratic Socialist, is a hero to many progressives and young people. I’ll spare you a drawn-out explanation of how the campaign went, because we all know the DNC screwed Bernie.
Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and other leaders at the DNC took a risk of elevating Donald Trump while sabotaging Bernie Sanders, in the hope that the perpetually-unfavorable Hillary Clinton would somehow benefit, and, well… let’s just say they lost that bet. Are you starting to see a pattern now?
I was one of the earliest believers in Our Revolution. In July 2016, I started the Washington state chapter, Our Revolution Washington. I traveled the state, spent hours every week, thousands of my own dollars, and risked my sanity to help promote what I thought would be totally different than all of the other times this same exact idea failed.
But not only is Our Revolution repeating some of the exact same mistakes of the past — including serving as a financial funnel and sheepdog for the DNC when they promised that wasn’t what they would do — they’re making new mistakes, such as working with David Brock and other unsavory figures.
Because of this ongoing pattern of behavior from Our Revolution’s national organizers, coupled with the fact that the national organization has shown zero interest in working with existing grassroots movements or forming coalitions outside of the Democratic party, Our Revolution Washington has since begun to operate under the new name of WOKE Washington.
If this movement is going to survive, it isn’t going to be within the Democratic party. There’s 40 years (and counting) of history to prove that Democrats not only never admit they made a mistake, they never learn from those mistakes (probably because of the former problem). Progressive activists and organizers need to have the guts to walk away from such a toxic environment and work with the organizations whose primary goals aren’t just fundraising and crushing any opposition to big-money interests. There are many other truly progressive organizations to be involved in, such as Democratic Socialists of America, Green Party, or even independent progressive groups like Represent.US. And while you’re at it, check out upcoming indie networking tools like SocialRoots.
A New Party
Starting a “new party” (like what is being pushed via movements such as Justice Dems or Draft Bernie), is simply not realistic. You’re looking at 20–30 years to achieve ballot access without taking corporate money. Unless you take corporate money, in which case what’s the point? Just join the Green Party.
However, if 40 years of history, multiple rigged elections, leaked emails proving the party is corrupt, and the most recent election of yet another corporate shill as chair isn’t enough to prove it to you… and you want to still be “involved” with the Democratic party? At least call out the party-poopers who have been converting Democracy into a ponzi scheme.
Andrew Saturn is a Progressive activist + organizer, joker, designer, and current director of WOKE Washington. Follow him on Twitter .