You cannot build a movement for the common people if you hold the common people in contempt. — Thomas Frank at the 2017 People’s Summit
Chicago, IL — This past weekend Jered Weber and I attended the 2nd annual People’s Summit. The first one in 2016, was held shortly after Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), went from a little known and self-described democratic socialist to the brink of the Democratic Party nomination. Taking on Hillary Clinton (D-NY), former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State in the first Obama administration, who had nearly every endorsement from Democratic elected officials and party leaders, as well as the support of corporate America, Sanders received 46% of the primary vote.
Assembling a coalition of millennials who had previously helped put then-Senator Obama over the top in the 2008 presidential primary and general election, progressives, independents, and populists, Sanders shocked the country, especially the donor and billionaire class by proving that in the Age of Citizens United, there was another way forward. There was another way to run a viable national campaign without having to offer fealty to the Super PACS, corporate lobbyists, and special interests holding the country back in the 20th century.
And what was remarkable to so many who flocked to the campaign, new and old, of all different generations and backgrounds, was that it was the ideas and message that mattered. It was the positivity of the campaign and its focus on the issues, and it was the remarkable consistency and authenticity of the candidate throughout the years.
Sanders repeatedly explained that when the people come together in common effort, they win. It was never about him, it was about a “future to believe in.” And we now know it was never about him because the campaign never ended, because ultimately, it was more of a movement than a campaign to begin with.
And that is where the People’s Summit comes in.
The People’s Summit is first and foremost, an Ideas Summit.
Not just ideas for the future of the country, but also ideas on how to fundamentally improve and outright save our democracy. Those critical of the People’s Summit only needed to give these ideas attention at the Center for American Progress and perhaps they would not have to get mad that not everyone is falling in line and “uniting.” Before moving on to an analogy for what to think about the People’s Summit, let me just say that no matter which route one prefers to moving this country forward, there is no need to come together on the issues, on party unity, or anything other than basic civility and decency because we still have three years to go. In other words–see you in 2020.
Bubbles need to be pierced, and introspection and national conversations must continue en masse.
Now onto how to think about the People’s Summit in terms of what it means for the future.
Each year movement conservatism (or what passes as that these days) has its annual ideas conference called the Conservative Political Action Conference, put on by the American Conservative Union. Think of it as a “State of the Movement” address to conservatives from all across the country. Upcoming elected officials and advocates often get heavily promoted and featured at the conference. In addition to think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and others, CPAC gathers all of the various grassroots conservative groups and organizations from around the country. Not being included almost serves as a statement that one is not “conservative” enough or not a “true conservative.”
CPAC operates very much like an ideas and state of the movement arm of the major American political party on the right–the Republican Party.
In 2003, recognizing the power think tanks, ideas conferences and so forth had in propelling the conservative movement to electoral victories through its political arm–the Republican Party, John Podesta founded the Center for American Progress, which is both a think tank and has an annual conference. There is no mystery that the annual CAP conference and its ideas are heavily attached to the Democratic Party. But while the Democratic Party was slow to jump on the think tank bandwagon and invest heavily in the think tank model in comparison to the GOP, its adoption of that model and investment in it represent the final shunning of its historical roots as the FDR “party of the people.” Consider this, CAP founder Podesta was national Chair of the Clinton campaign, Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, and later counselor to President Barack Obama, made several versions of this sentiment throughout the 2016 election cycle:
For every working class voter we lose, we’ll pick up 2 or 3 professional class voters.
That’s the thing with the establishment or corporate Dems. I’m not much of an ideologue, I have a governing and leadership philosophy yes, but at the end of the day I have a healthy respect for facts. A respect that is lacking in so many political leaders and those who cover and follow our nation’s politics today. I’m fine with compromising. All democracies and constitutional systems require it. However, what incentive do people who do not like to compromise their belief systems have to follow a strategy that not only is not their views in key areas, but also does not and has not won? I submit these simple truths about where the party stands in terms of electoral strategy:
And I direct these six points of logic to the failed Podesta mentality from above and a similar mentality echoed by (permanent) Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which stated that “for every working class vote we lose, we’ll pick up 2-3 moderate Republican voters.”
- There are not enough professional class voters to form the consensus.
- The ones who realigned from the GOP to the Democratic Party did so years ago.
- The ones still in the GOP are rich and unpersuadable.
- Working class voters are more numerous and more diverse than ever.
- Some of them are even organized already, through this thing called collective bargaining.
- You can’t build a party of the people if you have contempt for the people. You have to talk directly to the people about the issues, all the people.
Please note that when I say the working class I always mean that anyone who has to work for a living to keep existing. Many choose to work for a living and that is great, but their livelihood does not necessarily depend on it, and they likely have multiple streams of passive income.
Speaking of passive income, George Soros, a major funder of CAP and constant boogeyman that the right wing media likes to use to discredit policy agenda and goals, is not too different from the Koch brothers or any other member of the billionaire class engaged in electoral politics in the Citizens United age if one does not personally agree with George Soros. And that is the problem.
Neither party is seriously committed to taking on big, unaccountable, but organized money in politics.
If you are super-rich in America, or anyone really who can sit on their hands making millions in passive income revenue streams, and if your preferred party (whether Dems or GOP) does not win, you always have the other major party to protect your interests for the most part, with only a few exceptions.
It’s the same model. Controlled by the donor class, and dependent on the labor of others to keep itself in power both politically and economically.
And this is where the People’s Summit comes in. Ideas and voices, organizers and activists, leaders and followers that were shunned or not invited to CAP.
I would argue the People’s Summit is an ideas conference, that allows for networking, learning, and updating on the “state of the movement”, similar to CPAC. As of now, it is without a political party attached to it, but I have no doubt, shall a viable third party arise in the next few years, it will be called the People’s Party and it will have started and spear-headed by the 5,000 or so people that have attended the Summit, and those that followed along online, etc.
The central organizing goal of the movement, like the Republican Party, the last third party to replace a major party before in the 1850’s with slavery, is the biggest moral issue of our time — economic inequality and the forces that continue to make it worse, organized big money in politics and legalized bribery and corruption.
A Future Beyond Party Labels and Endless Partisan and Media Sensationalism. A Future that is not just Resistance, but Beyond Resistance.
In the weeks to come, this website will be recommitting itself to trying to churn out regular content the best we can. Apologies if we miss the mark on that front, as we all have busy lives in addition to written commentary, podcasting, etc.
This weekend the third season of the Agreeing Loudly podcast will be on just one topic and prompt: the Third Party option.
In addition, I’m hoping to finish up three articles in a “state of” series on the nation, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party.
If this coalition translated to the electoral college, which I understand is a big leap of logic this far out, but bear with me here, if that DID happen, you would not just see a Sanders victory over the most unpopular presidential candidate of all time (candidate Trump) but you could possibly see the first genuine popular vote AND electoral college landslide since 1988 (and to a lesser extent 2008).
My Constructive Criticism of the Summit.
First of all, folks at the summit of all stripes were amazingly self-reflective of what could have gone better not just for the movement, but also for the 2016 Sanders campaign for President.
My two points for potential improvements to next years Summit.
- Get a vets or foreign policy-focused speaker to talk about and call for a national “Peace and Security” movement. There are massive levels of economic implications to our #ForeverWar policy that tie into the larger issues presented by the movement. The social and economic costs in caring for our veterans and veterans issues have been some of the best policy work that Senator Sanders has done, so it only makes sense to feature this going forward.
- Reach out to Republicans concerned with the direction of their party, big money in politics, and the growing, unsustainable levels of economic inequality. Perhaps this one will be more controversial, but if we’re truly to talk to everyone, we have to mean it. And we see evidence every day, not so much amongst Republican political leaders but we do see it amongst the rank and file and they are growing uncomfortable with the Trump-led GOP. The GOP is dominated by the interests of the donor and billionaire class even more so than the Democrats most years, and disillusioned Republicans becoming former Republicans would be a key feature of any future coalition, especially in current red to light-red states.
The participants were divided on the question of a Third Party movement, but were engaged, passionate, and committed to the future no matter what — it’s an “All Hands on Deck” strategy for saving democracy for all and creating a 21st century economy that works for the many and not just the few.
Division is nothing new in this political age. Like the rest of the country, there was a split in views at the Summit. Progressives and populists committed to taking on the corporate state are divided on how best to achieve the desired results of taking on big money in politics and tackling the moral issue of our time–the highest levels of economic inequality in a century.
My unscientific observations of the sentiments is that the People’s Summit activists, organizers, leaders, and followers prefer starting a vital third party movement in this country. This is a sentiment I agree with more and more each day. However, for the time being, reforming the Democratic Party by taking it over seems to be the immediate goal and interest. A goal that has seen mixed results, winning some small battles early on, but losing the more high-profile battles like the DNC Chair election, California Democratic Party Chair election, etc. What is clear though is the ideas and message is winning over public opinion in America at-large. Significant portions of the speech last Saturday highlighted that.
And what is vitally true, is that we have now reached a 1955 William F. Buckley moment for progressives that this website had called for in 2015 and 2016 throughout the Presidential campaign as all of us ranted and raved about how badly the Democratic Party was going to bottom out in the coming years.
Progressives and populists have finally come to terms with the failure of the current model of the Democratic Party, and from this day forward–everyone knows that change will not come from the Democratic Party, change can only be brought to the Democratic Party. And the more and more party leadership grasps onto and protects their hold on power, even in the name of electoral viability (which is a ridiculous reason when you’ve lost nearly every election), the more and more power the movement, independent of any party control–will be. One way or another, the neoliberal and professional class consensus is over. And thank God for that.
I do not say these things lightly. After all, I am a member of the professional class in this country, but I also think that the younger cohorts of the professional class (Gen X and millennials, those under 45 or so) have far more in common (because of issues with student debt, broader acceptance of diversity, etc.) with the concerns of the working class (now more diverse than at any time in American history) than the concerns of the professional class consensus, whose obsession with incrementalism, education and innovation as a key to mitigating inequality (when in reality, it’s rationalizing it), and insistence that all problems can be solved from Harvard or Yale yard, Wall Street or Silicon Valley, New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, or by lawyers or financial service professionals, etc.
If the leadership of the party would rather go down on the Titanic, so long as they have a first class seat, then so be it. The overriding focus of the People’s Summit was not to re-litigate the 2016 election, but to move beyond just merely resisting what the Trump administration is doing, because guess what? That only goes so far, both in practical day-to-day terms and in electoral terms.
Folks, the only way out of this is to win elections, and to win elections you need a party willing to adopt a better message. A message capable of capturing a large majority of the nation and turning out and inspiring more voters than at any other point in modern U.S. history, because there are significant obstacles in gerrymandering and voter suppression to overcome.
The ideas and message of the folks who attended the People’s Summit were not welcome at the CAP conference this year, so we took them to our own conference, in the same state where the last successful third party movement in America took off from, Illinois.
The Republican Party was founded as an abolitionist party to end the immoral practice of slavery in this country. Similarly, if neither major party takes seriously the issue of big money in politics and the fact that we are in a 2nd Gilded Age, then it is highly likely that the movement makes a clean break. But as of now, in practical terms, the prevailing consensus was that there is not enough time for 2018, and undecided about 2020.
One of the conference speakers Thomas Frank (writer, historian, and co-founder of the Baffler), put it best at the end of his most recent book “Listen, Liberal!” which was written almost as if he already knew the 2016 electoral result, even though it was published in the summer.
Direct solutions are off the table for the moment… Democrats have no interest in reforming themselves in a more egalitarian way. There is little the rest of us can do, given the current legal arrangements of this country, to a build a vital third-party movement or to revive organized labor, the one social movement that is committed by its nature to pushing back against the inequality trend.
What we can do is strip away the Democrats’ precious sense of their own moral probity–to make liberals live without the comforting knowledge that righteousness is always on their side. It is that sensibility, after all, that prevents so many good-hearted rank-and-file Democrats from understanding how starkly and how deliberately their political leaders contradict their values. Once that contradiction has been made manifest–once that smooth, seamless sense of liberal virtue has been cracked, anything becomes possible. The course of the party and the course of the country can both be changed, but only after we understand that the problem is us.