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Super Tuesday: “Snatching Defeat Out of the Jaws of Victory”

I was not disappointed as elections results from Super Tuesday began to come in. In Western Massachusetts, where my wife and I had been invested in every aspect of the Sanders campaign, the votes were in Bernie Sander’s favor. In the Boston area, he lost to working class voters and people in the Black community. There are many, many theories as to why the later happened, but after weeks of a substantial campaign presence in the state, only 1% separated Sanders and his Democratic Party rival Hillary Clinton. Following the results of this past weekend’s vote in South Carolina, with an overwhelming Clinton victory, a commentator on Facebook observed that one of the reasons that Sanders failed to attract segments of the population in that state was that the candidate surrounded himself with the wrong kind of supporters in photo ops? How absolutely ridiculous!

On Wednesday, March 2, on Democracy Now, Donna Murch, professor of history at Rutgers University talked about how she has seen the makeup of the national Sanders campaign and how that demographic clearly is made up of a rainbow of leaders. Unfortunately, that rainbow does not extend to national political leaders from Washington, D.C., and across the country who are beholden to, and represent the extreme wealth that has so distorted the economic, social, and political landscape in the US for over three decades. A fellow Sanders campaign worker, a theater director, said it best while we stood with campaign signs for Sanders on a busy intersection in Pittsfield, MA on Super Tuesday. He was reacting to my observation that in early morning canvassing of nearby neighborhoods, I found very few people at home. He said, “These folks are all working three jobs to stay afloat, so it’s no wonder there’s no one at home.”

Many, on the day after Super Tuesday, are calling for Sanders to drop out of the race. But as Senator Sanders has repeatedly said, including in speeches following Tuesday’s voting, that this campaign is about a movement and not just about one election. I was heartened to hear Sanders say, in the same campaign speech, that one of the policy issues that remains in this election cycle is the question of peace. It seems that the issues of war and peace and how the political and economic system has been distorted by trillions of dollars spent on war has until now been a taboo subject in the campaign.

Can the movement that was launched by Bernie Sanders capture the imagination and energy of those who support him and especially the tremendous coalition of young voters who have been energized by his campaign? Can Sanders extend that energy to natural constituencies that need to address the problems of income inequality, the hate and discord spread by the Republican Party, a rapidly decaying environment, the criminalization of poor communities of color, and the issues of war and peace? Will an organization survive to address these issues when the final votes are cast in November?

Bernie Sanders knows that his campaign is not an end in itself, and it must remain organized and active. It must continue on through the current election cycle and the November general election and far beyond. The stakes are simply too great to allow this great harnessing of the energy of the disaffected and those who realize that a disastrous chasm awaits us if inaction and the status quo remain the order of the day. One social media comment from a person who identified himself as a socialist said, “Go to the phone banks!” The latter was a cynical response to those who were working within the Sanders campaign as one way to transform this society. So, yes, we will phone bank, walk the streets knocking on doors and talking to people about these pressing issues, vote, and form coalitions with others in and outside of the electoral process. High ideals and ideas about change are not enough. Those ideals and ideas must meet real people in the real world and seek to forge change.

In keeping with the words of the late left icon and political organizer Abbie Hoffman, “The left can snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory,” a completely bizarre email reached my inbox two days after Super Tuesday. In Massachusetts, the campaign came within 15,000 votes of beating Clinton (A David vs. Goliath scenario if there ever was one in terms of the power of wealth), but some Sanders supporters wanted to push the nonsensical idea of signing a petition to have Bill Clinton arrested for campaigning at a polling place in Boston on primary election day. At the CNBC website, the article that accompanied the email read, “More than 45K sign petition to arrest Bill Clinton.” The email also asked that campaign workers and campaign supporters attend a rally in Boston protesting Bill Clinton’s appearance at the polling place, which is technically a violation of election laws in Massachusetts. There must be better things to do with the pent up energy in the face of decades of political reaction.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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