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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

The revolution continues?

Hillary Clinton won Kentucky's primary while Bernie Sanders

Hillary Clinton won Kentucky's primary while Bernie Sanders won Oregon's contest on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Joe Raedle

Virginia Ramos Rios, a first-time delegate from Queens pledged to Sen. Bernie Sanders, says veterans affairs were important to her family because of her father’s and grandfather’s military service.

Her mother moved to Connecticut after her father died, and a few years ago began volunteering in a nearby veterans hospital. But the facility was so understaffed that administrators had her doing full-time work. Last year, when Sanders began his presidential bid, Rios’ mother told her about the senator, whom Rios hadn’t known much about. She told her that Sanders had spent years fighting for veterans, and working with Republican Sen. John McCain while chair of the veterans affairs committee to pass major veteran-focused legislation.

Rios, 44, said she began looking up Sanders’ old speeches on YouTube, reading articles about him, and she came to the conclusion that he had been on the right side of history before it was popular — on civil rights, LGBTQ issues, money in politics. She had been dealing with health problems — while unemployed and without health insurance, she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Coming from a military family and its world of essentially “socialized medicine,” she said, Sanders’ call for universal health care seemed obvious and overdue.

Rios said she’d admired Hillary Clinton leading up to the 2008 campaign but Sanders seemed to be a candidate uniquely devoted to helping everyday people.

Now, Rios and other delegates and Sanders supporters are left to search for the lessons of a primary which Sanders ended on Tuesday, when he finally — and enthusiastically — endorsed Clinton in something of a victory speech for the concessions he’d won without actually winning.

A formidable coalition

In a joint appearance in New Hampshire, Sanders said that “the revolution continues” and that Clinton was the person to continue the fight for the presidency.

He stressed the fact that Clinton had won — by earning more pledged and superdelegates – in strangely definitive detail, perhaps a nod to hard-core supporters who found that victory difficult to believe.

He acknowledged that he and Clinton had their differences, but hammered home the fact that they’d come together in recent weeks, evidenced by his platform wins — a “public option” health insurance plan, and free public higher education for those families earning under $125,000.

Ultimately, Sanders’ speech underscored that the biggest differences between the candidates were not about the issues themselves but the degree to which they would act on them. At the candidates’ best, Sanders highlighted the politics of aspiration and possibility, while Clinton was the candidate of the practical.

In her response Tuesday, Clinton said “We need to go big and we need to go bold,” doubling down on the Sanders proposal to raise the minimum wage and blasting Donald Trump and Republican “voodoo economics.”

It’s an attractive pitch to Sanders’ supporters, who may get the best of both worlds here — a battle-hardened Clinton who will use her practicality to achieve goals Sanders gave her the space to explore.

Some like Rios may be reluctant to make the jump, though. She says she’s considering the Green Party’s Jill Stein for November but taking things day by day, waiting to see how Clinton addresses money in politics throughout the general election.

But if a Pew poll released last week, which found 85% of Sanders supporters prepared to go over to Clinton, is accurate, the combination could be a formidable coalition.

The path to November

For delegates and supporters like Rios, their willingness to whole-heartedly follow Sanders will depend on how tightly the Democratic Party embraces those platform concessions.

After Tuesday’s endorsement, several NYC Sanders supporters and delegates pointed to continuing the pressure on Clinton and maintaining grassroots groups to hold the nominee accountable.

"Our role is not that different" than if Sanders had won, said Jessica Frisco, a Sanders delegate from Manhattan: organizing to make a "powerful force for grassroots change."

Rios said many of her fellow delegates were performing the responsibility for the first time. That’s largely a factor of the Democratic Party leadership’s general opposition to Sanders — there weren’t many establishment figures for Sanders’ campaign to tap. Rios ended up working for the campaign briefly doing get out the vote in New York and California, but her involvement started with canvassing and outreach to Spanish-speaking voters. An organizer asked her whether she’d be interested in applying for a delegate position, as the campaign was looking for diversity.

But the upshot of this non-establishment approach to delegations is the new cohort it represents. “There’s a new wave of us who have woken up,” Rios says, “who need to be involved.”

Rios is one of a number of Sanders’ supporters working to get candidates running for local party committees, school boards, and the like.

“The next wave,” she says, “changing from within.”

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