On January 23, thousands came together in cities across the country to show their support for Bernie Sanders by marching in the streets, carrying banners and chanting slogans like “We are here to fight!” “Health care is a human right!” and “We need jobs and education, not black youth incarceration!” Socialist Alternative (SA), the party of Seattle’s socialist city councilmember Kshama Sawant, took the lead in organizing these these marches in a number of cities including Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, and New York City using the hashtag #Movement4Bernie. All these cities reported higher than expected turnout and overwhelming enthusiasm for the idea of building grassroots movements to support Bernie and the issues in his platform.
In Seattle we decided to try and build for a much bigger march on the next national day of action – February 27 – and to engage as many Sanders supports as possible in helping to plan and organize the event. We called and emailed everyone who signed in at our first march and public meeting (about 120 people), inviting them to a planning meeting to help organize a second MarchForBernie on February 27. We had the meeting on the University of Washington campus, recognizing how overwhelming support for Bernie is on college campuses.
Out of the 120 people we reached out to, over 30 showed up to the planning meeting. As we predicted, most were students, though all age groups were represented. There were slightly more women than men, and very few people of color, reinforcing the need to build links between Movement4Bernie and Black Lives Matter (BLM).
Debate on the Democrats
We started the meeting with a political discussion on the Iowa caucus results and perspectives on how the race might develop. We highlighted the undemocratic role being played by the Democratic party establishment and the need to build links with labor, women’s groups, and BLM. One of the people in attendance was a democratic precinct captain and argued that it would be easier to “reclaim” the democratic party than to build a new, independent one. SA members responded by pointing out the amount of power the pro-corporate Democratic Party leadership has at every level of party activity, and the dampening effect the party has had on practically every social movement that has attempted to use it as a vehicle for progressive change. Many participated in the resulting debate, which became the highlight of the meeting. By the end, it seemed like most supported our call for a new party of the 99%, and all agreed the discussion should be continued in the future.
After the political discussion, we broke into two groups, logistics and mobilization, to discuss and delegate the practical tasks of organising the February 27th March for Bernie. Despite the differences of opinion during the preceding debate, everyone was eager to participate in these practical tasks. We assigned roles and set deadlines for the completion of tasks like poster design, march permits, and confirming speakers.
We hope to continue working with this group to organize additional #Movement4Bernie events throughout the rest of the presidential campaign period, and afterwards to encourage participants to stay active in local movements like housing affordability and a millionaire’s tax initiative.