A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!

As a Bernie Sanders’ campaigner from August 2015-16—canvassing and fliering to major rallies and state delegate convention—I, too, was saddened, but not surprised nor brokenhearted that Bernie surmounted every rock and pothole in the road—all engineered by the Democratic party and opponent Hillary Clinton—to the presidential nomination. But not the last “boulder” at Philadelphia where the vote was 2,842 (including 604 superdelegates) for Clinton to his 1,865 (47 superdelegates).

Then, good sport and statesman that he is, he asked the convention to give her the nod by acclamation before departing. To us 13,000,000 voters, he was the real winner with 22 primaries/caucuses and a historic $228,912,795 in mostly small ($27.50) donations.

Most of all, Bernie forced her to at least give lip-service to many of his dozen progressive platform planks.

His legacy to the 99% are those dozen progressive planks. They can materialize if pushed by the Sandernista “army” using our campaign experience, strength, talents, time, and energy. He just urged us the day after the November election to “mobilize millions of people around the progressive agenda which was passed in the Democratic platform.”

Those planks are well-known by those at his rallies, one reason they probably were “yuuge”:

* Rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure with public labor

* Address climate change

* Raise long-overdue taxes on the 1% and corporations

* Protect all races/genders from injustice

* Enact Single-payer (Medicare) medical insurance for everyone

* Regulate Wall Street

* Provide tuition-free public universities/colleges

* Oppose trade policies such as the TPP that would harm American workers

* Obtain equal pay for women

* Attain $15 per hour minimum wage—now, not 2020+

* Protect/expand Social Security/Medicare

* Create worker cooperatives


Planks Were Sandernistas’ Responsibility

Bernie constantly reminded supporters that getting these planks on the law books were largely our responsibility. He couldn’t do it alone. It was like Napoleon telling his troops each had a general’s baton in his knapsack. Why else that refrain except he would be returning to the Senate as an Independent. Sandernistas needed to get off the pity-pot, each group picking one of those planks, raising our collective batons, and putting as much passion in pushing them as was done for his year-long nomination campaign.

Long-time activists know such a route is far, far more energizing and satisfying than campaigning for progressive candidates and, if elected, hope they push the planks for us. But if candidates lose, all those weeks of campaigning have been for naught. Worse, if they win, they usually have a multitude of other priorities than pushing even one plank. It hurts supporters more than candidates when some Sarah Palin jeers “How’s that hopey-changy workin’ fer ya now?”

So it’s gratifying that Bernie’s new “Our Revolution” team has begun to push the planks, starting with national online pleas to the millions on his contact lists (“50,000 calls … on Wednesday”) to lobby U.S. House members to vote against the Trans-Pacific Trade treaty (TPP).

Long-Term, Keystone-like Actions Needed

Pushing planks require long-term, Keystone-like actions to win public support—and Sandernistas have done one or more: staging rallies, testifying at hearings, demonstrations, phone-banking, fliering, picketing, petitioning, lobbying, designing and printing literature, launching direct initiatives, as well as the fun of street theater and other creative, memorable deeds.

History is full of successes. Action usually begins when someone is disturbed by an unmet, serious need who gathers the like-minded to goad or embarrass officials into “doing something.” For instance, the Child Labor Law started locally in Massachusetts in 1836 from people in social and religious groups—and adult job seekers—in urban areas. They were appalled that nearly 2,000,000 children, 5-15, were working 10-hour days often in dangerous conditions like mines and factories. Agitation by agitation, they finally convinced state leaders to pass laws at least regulating work conditions. By 1899, child labor laws were on the books in 28 states.

Now, most landmark laws for the 99%—Social Security and Medicare to Civil Rights, public education and women voters to union protections—never started in city/county councils, legislatures, Congress or presidents. It’s always been the grassroots. As black abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass noted: “Power concedes nothing without a demand [from the affected and allies].”

Ordinary, often desperate, people picketed, lobbied, demonstrated, petitioned, fired off letters to Congress, governors, and presidents. Stepping up and out takes monumental courage. Thousands paid dearly from police brutality, jailings, demonizations, beatings, firings, fire-bombings, and shunnings by mortified families and friends, losing jobs—or worse for causes they were willing to give their lives. Ultimately, they scared enough lawmakers and presidents to push turn those causes into laws and ordinances despite the overwhelming power and money expended against them by special interests and weak judicial systems.

Standing Rock Sioux Furnish Prime Example

A current example of a grassroots environmental battle is unfolding in North Dakota with an oil company and its subsidiary—Energy Transfer Partners/Dakota Access Pipeline (ETP/DAPL). They were blocked by Bismarck civic leaders and residents from running their four-state, $3,900,000,000 pipeline for Bakken crude oil because a line-break risk under the Missouri river would turn that capitol city into Flint, Michigan.

With typical historical contempt for Native-Americans, federal officials from 2014 to today sided with corporate pressure and racism. They brushed off objections and evidence from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who knew they’d be targeted next. They filed injunctions to stop the risk of losing their sole source of water from the upstream Lake Oahe and desecration of burial grounds and sacred sites. The tribe pointed out it was a violation of treaty rights, they were not properly consulted by the company, and that the Corps of Engineers might have issued drilling permits, but not an environmental impact statement (EIS).

The company decided on a fait accompli tactic to run over the 8,396-member tribe and sent in three bulldozers to plow up those sacred sites so officials then could claim they never existed. When dozens of shouting protesters sought to block the digging, the company made the cardinal error of sending in rent-a-cops to pepper-spray and set K-9 guard dogs on protesters, as journalist Amy Goodman’s famous Democracy Now video shows; it drew 13,000,000 viewers.

Global reaction erupted in 100 cities/towns in 35 states and five countries (Canada, Japan, Portugal, Britain, Australia). It triggered 5,000 activists arriving from four corners of the U.S., hundreds were non-Natives, environmentalists, and student—and Green party presidential/vice presidential candidates, Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka, both veteran activists. (Stein wrote, “I approved this message” on anti-pipeline graffiti covering a bulldozer blade.)

Some 3,500 were from more than 200 tribes, many in colorful traditional dress, singing and drumming. Such scenes are always irresistible to national TV and social media, something for activists to remember.

Results and lessons for Sandernistas: the Obama administration forced three departments—Army, Interior, Justice—to order a construction “pause.” Sanders immediately hoppered an amendment (SA 5001) to a waterway development bill (S. 2848) banning action until an EIS is completed and followed it next day with a White House rally demanding Obama revoke Corps permits.

Ideal Actions are Specific, Highly Dramatic, Graphic—and Memorable

Other recent landmark examples of how to push planks are everywhere, many designed to be specific, highly dramatic, graphic, and memorable:

* Eight Greenpeacers dangling from Portland’s St. Johns bridge, supported below by a hundred kayakers and riverbank “ground troops,” succeeded in focusing world-wide viral attention on blocking a Shell icebreaker from leaving a repair yard to help crews drilling for oil in Arctic waters at great irreversible risk to the environment. Shortly after, Shell quit Arctic operations, relinquishing $2,500,000,000 in drilling rights to the U.S. So did ConocoPhillips and others.

* Black Lives Matter (BLM) began in 2013 by an Oakland woman furious about the acquittal of a white (George Zimmerman) who killed an innocent, unarmed black youth (Trayvon Martin) in a gated Florida suburb. Operating ever since as autonomous groups around the country, BLM has morphed from spotlighting police killing blacks to “launching campaigns to combat a broad sweep of perceived injustices, from gender inequality to the minimum wage to housing and education policy,” TIME magazine said about its runner-up for 2015 Person of the Year.

* The $15-per-hour movement was launched on November 29, 2012 by a handful of New York City social and church organizers outraged at the fast-food industry’s sweatshop working conditions and low hourly wages ($7.25). They created the highly visible one-day rolling strikes for $15 per hour and union rights in front of shops in New York City’s five boroughs—McDonald’s and Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC, Taco Bell and Domino’s. They spread like wildfire—including those in service/retail jobs—so that by 2016, 14 cities/counties/states approved a $15 hourly wage. Currently, “$15” is on 16 ballots and legislative bills.

* People’s direct initiatives on ballots—24 states have them—offer yet another opportunity for Sandernista action. In Oregon, some are canvassing for state Measure 97 raising taxes on businesses with annual incomes exceeding $25,000,000. In the state’s Multnomah county, others are canvassing to place 1,500 yard signs—and passing out literature—for Measure 26-184 limiting donations to $500 for county candidates—plus donor identification.

Direct Initiatives Have a 48% Success Rate

Overall, success for direct initiatives has been 48%, well worth gathering all those petition signatures. If issues are hot, direct initiatives guarantee a major turnout, especially in mid-term elections.

Most direct initiatives don’t have to be started from scratch and it’s too late anyway for November, but not to join state or national organizations who’ve succeeded in getting some of Bernie’s planks on the ballots: “$15”, single-payer insurance, and raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. They probably would be overjoyed at an influx of Bernie’s experienced army.

Many grassroots-pushed planks making it to Congress or county/city councils, have died in committees. If Bernie’s planks are among them, new pressures can be applied to resurrect them once their time has finally come.

Like single-payer, the federally paid health insurance (Medicare for those under 65).

This insurance-for-everyone program has been pushed for decades, but bitterly fought by health-care insurance companies, insureds opposed to using tax dollars for millions of uninsured, and the American Medical Association/American Hospital Association insisting federal coverage of all was Socialism and would make doctors “slaves” (and increase their numbers, cutting incomes).

Yet after Medicare became law in 1965, those under 65—especially with high deductibles or no insurance at all—yearned for similar coverage. A GBA Strategies poll of 2016 voters revealed 71% supported a public option for the poor and those ineligible for Medicaid; of respondents, 62% Republicans favored it though their party had stripped public option out of the Obamacare law. And, then, Bernie made it a major plank.

The public option suddenly has roared into life with Aetna’s recent announcement they were going to dump 167,000 next year from their Obama exchanges because their heavy and expensive needs were draining profits. Too, more than 40 other carriers are already doing the same. But the millions who now have had a taste of Obamacare are unlikely to go away quietly in being forced to join the 29,000,000 uninsureds.

That’s where Sandernistas come in. Aetna’s shattering announcement, polls, town hall shoutings about health care—and the overwhelming response to Bernie’s single-pay plank has awakened and galvanized at least 22 progressive Democratic Senators to draft a resolution resurrecting the public option for everyone when the next session opens in January. Premiums will be lower and deductibles are not set, but if it passes, the next step is single-payer.

A massive grassroot coalition of eight national groups is forming to help push it next year, among them MoveOn.org, Working Families Party, and Democracy for America. Sandernistas could provide invaluable help to them.

Pushing the Free-Tuition Plank’s Financing

Bernie’s free-tuition plank was to be financed by a minuscule Financial Transaction tax (FFT)—a.k.a., the “Robin Hood tax”—on each stock-market “buy and sell” whether a stock, bond, derivative, partnership interest, commercial paper, commodity, or currencies). Britain’s has had some form of this tax since 1694. Today, it’s 29 countries in Europe and Asia.

So in July, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) once again introduced a FFT bill (H.R. 5745) to the House with a 0.03% flat rate—3¢ per $100—which would fetch an annual yield of an eye-popping $41,700,000,000. Sandernistas in those public colleges/universities could be of immense help to DeFazio in getting that bill passed with the lion’s share underpinning free tuition.

Another critical plank is expanding Social Security. Bernie hoppered such a bill (S. 731) in March 2015, quickly followed by a House companion House bill (H.R. 1391) with 54% of House Democrats (104 of 192) co-sponsoring it. Both bills died in committees this session, but a Sanders’ spokesman just told this author his bill will be reintroduced next session. That’s enough time for creatives to kick-start a grassroot movement to follow that extraordinary co-sponsor count.

In short, Sandernistas pushing Bernie’s progressive planks not only will help passage at all governmental levels, but represents a far greater contribution for solving this country’s crucial domestic needs than campaigning and/or financing candidates unlikely to push those planks as priorities. Few other organizations exist to achieve so many causes at one time than Bernie’s high-powered and motivated Sandernista army.

It’s time for its troops to regroup, raise their collective batons and quickstep march forward on Bernie’s planks.