With Bernie Sanders Out of the Race, What’s Next for L.A. Progressives?

”Bernie’s campaign was never about electing a single candidate”

Bernie Sanders announced the suspension of his presidential campaign on Wednesday, effectively ceding the Democratic nomination to former Vice President Joe Biden. For some, that outcome may seem surprising, given Sanders’s strong performance early in the primary season. In Los Angeles, Sanders had developed a strong base of support; he won the county handily as well as taking the top spot statewide.

So what does his departure from this year’s race signal for the progressive movement he championed, both nationally and here in L.A.? We spoke with a representative of the Steering Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America–Los Angeles, who requested not to be referred to by personal name in this article, for their take.

What was your response to the announcement that Bernie Sanders left the presidential race?

Bernie Sanders represents a movement for politics that directly speaks to the needs of everyday working Americans, and we’re obviously disappointed that his candidacy has ended. However, Bernie’s campaign was still a huge victory for the left in this country. “Socialism” is polling favorably by double digits among Democratic voters in Texas and California, and is even polling favorably in “conservative” states like Tennessee and North Carolina; thousands of young people have learned to run effective leftist campaigns; and millions more were inspired and inaugurated into a democratic socialist politics that will last for decades to come. Bernie’s 2016 campaign inspired the rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and based on Bernie’s overwhelming support among voters under the age of 45 and among Latinx voters, the next few years will bring us more new insurgent socialist candidates.

What are your hopes for the progressive agenda going forward?

Bernie’s campaign was never about electing a single candidate. The prospects of a progressive or socialist agenda being enacted at the federal level has always depended on the strength and organization of institutions that represent the interests of working class people–like labor unions, progressive, and working-class grassroots organizations who are able to turn out their members to demand a better world. Even with the power of organized labor at an all-time low, Sanders’s campaign built a multiracial leftist coalition unlike any since Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. We have made massive progress in the past five years, with labor militancy rising, and a majority of the Democratic primary candidates being forced to at least pay lip service to transformative policies like Medicare for All. That said, we have little faith that these policies will be enacted by a Biden administration until we’ve built up stronger unions and stronger organizations that are ready to demand them. The current catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored how necessary worker protections and a functioning public healthcare system are, and the oncoming climate catastrophe will accelerate the needs.

Are there any local races that you will be putting additional focus on this election season? 

In a city that voted overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders, it’s outrageous how consistently our elected officials fail to represent the interests of their constituents, as evidenced most starkly by their one-vote failure to pass an eviction moratorium in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For that reason, we’ll be putting a significant focus on the campaign to elect Nithya Raman in Los Angeles City Council District 4. Nithya is a member of DSA Los Angeles who along with neighbors started the SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition in 2017, which has organized regular outreach programs; they have brought regular hot meals and showers to our unhoused neighbors. She’s running on a platform centering the failure of the City Council to address the homelessness crisis in our city or to proactively respond to the upcoming climate crisis. She proposes massively expanding public housing and a Green New Deal that, as she puts it, “emphasizes the ‘New Deal.’” In doing so, Nithya’s campaign speaks to the needs of working Angelenos—tenants, workers, and the unhoused – the same way that Bernie’s campaign did nationally.

More broadly speaking, what do you think is the landscape of the progressive movement now? 

This election cycle has proven what socialists and working-class people have long known: there is a massive, widespread appeal to transformative social democratic policies like Medicare for All, and the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the failure of American society to protect its most vulnerable. That energy will not automatically be channeled anywhere, but we hope that Bernie’s supporters will join us as members of DSA in order to build the labor, tenants, and ecosocialist movements, and to win down-ballot campaigns across the country. 

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