As Sen. Bernie Sanders’ hopes of winning the Democratic presidential nomination narrow, some of his most fervent supporters are beginning to contemplate their next steps.
For some, that means remaining part of a loyal, if limited, opposition to the Democratic establishment. To others, now is the time to move beyond Sanders in order to bring his political revolution to fruition.
Sanders himself has been sending mixed signals to the faithful.
Over the weekend, just before a tight race in Indiana, he gave a forceful speech urging some superdelegates who have supported Hillary Clinton to switch sides.
But since New York’s primary when Sanders suffered a double-digit loss, the candidate has laid off staff, suffered a bad month of fundraising, and began making conciliatory statements about affecting the Democrats’ party platform.
These tensions were on display at a post-primary meeting of Sanders supporters at the Cherry Tree Bar on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn on Sunday night.
Some believed that Sanders' loss in New York was maliciously engineered. Nabin Mandal, for example, said he volunteered as a witness to the￼ counting of mailed-in ballots after the primary. But at the Board of Elections office in Queens, there was an unseen "middle room" where the ballots had disappeared beyond his view.
Questioning the process, Mandal, 41, said “We need to speak out on this and we need to speak up.”
Others were focused on the future. Facilitator Tascha Van Auken, who ran the meeting and whose agenda simply asked “What’s next” for this grassroots progressive movement that coalesced around Bernie in NYC.
Approximately 100 supporters, most of whom had operated under the “Team Bernie NY” umbrella before the primary, packed into the back room of the Cherry Tree. Without clear signals from Sanders or his campaign, they were all searching for the chapter to come.
For some, that consisted of using the experience and data collected by the grassroots groups to further progressive causes — the 5,000 subscribers to Team Bernie NY’s weekly newsletter, the cache of volunteers eager to be put to work.
To that end, Van Auken proposed continuing the group’s bi-weekly meetings in Brooklyn and beyond to present and choose projects to work on, particularly those with a “voter contact role.” This could include support for candidates, or legislation, or a bike lane. “Really small or really big,” Van Auken said.
This proposal was well-received, but when the floor opened to questions, a vocal core of supporters was focused on the recent past. Particularly, the slip-ups of New York City’s Board of Elections on primary day. Some attendees believed that voter suppression on a wide and malicious scale had taken place in New York, and that Sanders was being defrauded.
Mandal, the observer at the Queens BOE, became popular after he finished his impassioned and reasoned speech about the secret "middle room," one gentleman reaching over chairs to hand him a business card; another, wearing a fedora and a serious expression, came over to shake his hand while the facilitator moved on to other speakers.
Different directions, same revolution
The aftermath of meetings like this one will help determine what comes of Sanders’ movement at the end of his campaign.
Van Auken told the story of working on the Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, at the end of which “everyone waited for orders, and nothing came.” She hopes that won't be necessary in a grassroots movement like theirs, which has many leaders. The pitfall now would be that those leaders pull in too many directions — which could either mimic the old feuds and squabbles of the left, or coalesce into something new.
There is the possibility that the many leaders can work together in many directions, or even focus on a few, as they are all protesting the same underlying issues: Whether there are secret “middle rooms,” closed primaries and strict voter registration laws keep control in the hands of party leaders who don’t necessarily want to deal with the issues Team Bernie supporters cares about.
The many prongs of the Cherry Tree group are essentially saying the system is broken and has abandoned them.
Because it has, the revolution may continue.
This is amExpress, the conversation starter for New Yorkers. Subscribe at amny.com/amexpress.