When Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign began to surge in popularity, the Clinton Campaign, Democratic Party establishment, and corporate media teamed up to delegitimize his progressive policy ideas. Sanders was portrayed as an idealist, touting pipe dreams and intangible policies, while Hillary Clinton was portrayed as “the most qualified” candidate to get things done. Despite the Democratic Party favoring Clinton and her brand of incrementalism, across the country Bernie Sanders’ critics are being proven wrong, even in the face of a Republican President-elect, a Republican dominated congress, and Republican held state legislatures across the country.
19 states are raising the minimum wage this year, a testament to the success of activist movements protests for the fight for a $15 federal minimum wage. Jane Sanders tweeted in response to these signs of progress, “Politicians/media said @BernieSanders 2016 platform was unrealistic: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
In a win for progressive calls to enact election reforms that expand and promote democracy, Maine has adopted ranked-choice voting, a more democratic and fairer way to hold elections without binding voters to the two-party system. Alaska, Vermont, and West Virginia joined Oregon and California in passing automatic voter registration.
Further progress was made in 2016 by the progressive grassroots movement to legalize medical and recreational marijuana; recreational marijuana was legalized in California, Maine, Nevada, and Massachusetts. Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas approved medical marijuana amendments, despite being states dominated by Republicans.
Progressive Climate Change activists managed to help push through a pro-solar amendment in Florida this past August 2016, and help deny an anti-solar amendment in November.
One of Bernie Sanders’ most popular progressive ideas is making college a right for all Americans, and eliminating the burden of student debt by providing free public college tuition. The Clinton Campaign and Democratic Party establishment denigrated the idea and its popularity as impossible. Bernie Sanders is already proving those critics wrong. On January 2, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced with Sanders a plan to provide free college tuition to New Yorkers whose families make less than $125,000 a year.
Progressives, mobilized by Bernie Sanders, one of the very few politicians to stand with Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline, managed to push the Obama Administration and Army Corps of Engineers to temporarily halt the project for an environmental impact study to be conducted.
For the most part, these grassroots and activist driven movements were ones ignored or prioritized low by the Democratic Party. But moving forward the Democratic Party needs to begin embracing the grassroots organizing that has demonstrated its effectiveness not only in progressive states, but predominantly conservative states as well.
This divide among the Democratic Party establishment and its progressive grassroots base was illuminated by the Democratic Primary race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Sanders’ surrogates and endorsements predominantly came from these grassroots based movements, while establishment voices, from pop culture celebrities to super delegates coalesced around Clinton.
Grassroots organizing has led to marriage equality, gains in legalizing recreational and medical marijuana, election reforms, and any other major signs of progress. Change doesn’t come from the political establishment. As Bernie Sanders has reiterated, “real change takes place when people stand up and say “enough is enough,” and when we create a political revolution from the ground up.”