“The Momentum Is With Us”

Bernie Sanders

A Jacobin conversation with Bernie Sanders on the state of left politics today.

Bernie Sanders joins with others during an event to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr's assassination on April 4, 2018 in Memphis, TN. Joe Raedle / Getty

Interview by
Daniel Denvir

Last Friday, Dan Denvir, of Jacobin Radio’s The Dig, hosted Bernie Sanders and Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s radical district attorney, in a wide-ranging discussion of criminal-justice reform. They were also joined by Jacobin contributor Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor and veteran defense laywer Premal Dharia.

Following that conversation, Dan spoke one-on-one with Sanders about left electoral politics, the importance of movement-building, and how to take on the Democratic establishment. Though he cautioned that much work is left to be done, Sanders struck an optimistic tone: “The momentum is with us.” Here’s the interview.


DD

Senator Bernie Sanders, welcome back to The Dig.

BS

Thank you.

DD

I want to ask you about the importance of left candidates winning local election. You started, obviously, as mayor of Burlington. One thing I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about is how thin the Left’s bench is in terms of elected officials with your national profile.

BS

Well, it is exactly one of the areas we are putting a lot of emphasis on. It is not just electing candidates to be a senator or to the US House of Representatives. It is electing candidates to the school board, to the city council, to state legislature. Our Revolution, which is an organization that came out of my campaign, is focusing a whole lot just on that issue. We need to get young people, working people, involved, and often the way you do that is by running for local office. So to me that is enormously important.

DD

Your campaign has changed what millions of American voters expect from any politician that claims to be a progressive, but leading Democrats seem to be of two minds — I’ll put it generously — on this question. On the one hand, there’s support for single-payer health care, which was once relegated to the left fringe; now it’s a litmus test of sorts for anyone claiming to even be a mainstream liberal. But as we saw in the fight to lead the DNC, there’s still incredible resistance to change in the party. How do you see the state of the fight?

BS

We are taking on the entire establishment. We are taking on moneyed interests, we’re taking on Wall Street. We’re taking on the Democratic establishment as well. But what I would simply say is, I think that in a couple of years we have come a very long way. For example, there are a number of progressive chairs of state Democratic parties right now. You’re right, we lost the fight for chair of the DNC; I was supporting Keith Ellison. But we came pretty close and we shocked a lot of people.

So look, you don’t change the world overnight. But I think it is very clear that ideologically and from a grassroots perspective, the momentum is with us.

DD

For me, maybe the most important thing about your candidacy was that it reminded the Left that the point is to win, govern, and transform society, not just sit on the sidelines and protest. And your candidacy reminded us that we not only should be doing that, but can.

And my question is, if you had won the 2016 primary, what sort of resistance do you think that would have prompted not only from Republicans, but, if you even won the presidency, from the business class that has so much power in this country? Obviously the big hurdle first of all is winning elections, but what about governing?

BS

Look, of course. Let’s not be naive. We live in a country that has massive levels of income and wealth inequality, where you have a handful of billionaires who have enormous power. You’re dealing with Wall Street, you’re dealing with the drug companies, you’re dealing the military-industrial complex, you’re dealing with the insurance companies. Do you think that these people are gonna give up their incredible privileges and their profiteering easily? The only way that you bring about change, and what has to be done, is you develop a strong grassroots movement. No one person can do it. The opposition or progressive agenda in Washington is enormous. The only way we bring about change is when millions of people stand up and demand it.

DD

Senator Sanders, thank you so much.

BS

Thank you very much.