Socialist Alternative

The Battle of New York: Sanders Campaign Faces Decisive Test

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After a string of primary and caucus wins, culminating in Wisconsin last week, Bernie Sanders regained momentum and has forced Hillary Clinton into a dogfight in New York State which will likely be a decisive battle. If Clinton loses New York on April 19 it would be a humiliating blow that could send her campaign into crisis. This is why the establishment has come rushing to her aid with a brutal media campaign against Sanders.

On the other hand, if Sanders who already faces a very steep hill to win the majority of pledged delegates, loses this huge state with its nearly 250 pledged delegates, it will much more clearly put the Democratic nomination beyond his reach. The media will then engage in an orgy of triumphalism. But the real point will not be that Hillary survives but that the revolt against the establishment has become so strong that it forced the heir apparent into such a protracted fight.

It is abundantly clear that large numbers of Sanders supporters who were attracted by his call for a political revolution against the billionaire class, for single payer, free education and a $15 minimum wage, have been further radicalized by the experience of the undemocratic primary process controlled by the Democratic Party’s corporate establishment. From the attempt of the Democratic National Committee last December to deny Sanders access to critical voter data; to the way debates were kept to a bare minimum; to the role of the corporate media in trying to shut out or distort Sanders’ radical message, millions have seen through this cynical game. Many have become particularly incensed at the role of the super-delegates – party officials who are chosen by the leadership to help maintain their control of the party – and the fact that in state after state where Sanders has won, all or almost all of the super-delegates are still going to Hillary.

The corporate media has said Bernie is unelectable, but national polls over the past couple months have consistently shown Clinton and Sanders tied or even Sanders edging slightly ahead and, in head to head polling against Trump and Cruz, Sanders does much better than Clinton. Also, contrary to the mainstream media narrative, Sanders has been gaining support among black people and Latinos, particularly young people. One recent national poll showed Sanders inching ahead of Clinton among Latinos nationally. This shift was clearly visible in the South Bronx, one of the poorest areas in New York City, on April 1 when 18,000 turned out to hear Sanders, nearly half of them people of color.

Of course in the early primaries in the South, Sanders lost the black vote overwhelmingly. This reflected a number of things including that Sanders remained an unknown quantity in the black community until very recently; the historical support for the Clintons especially among older black voters; Hillary’s presentation as the inheritor of Obama’s legacy and his implicit endorsement of her; and the relative low proportion of younger black people voting. Hillary retains these advantages but it is striking how they have diminished as the primary process has proceeded.

In the Bronx, there was huge openness to Socialist Alternative’s call for a new party of the 99% and for Sanders to run all the way to November as an independent, if he loses the primary. As we said in the leaflet we distributed, “We need Bernie on the ballot in November when even more people will pay attention. We need to keep fighting, but how can we make sure our movement for a political revolution does not end up imprisoned by the constraints of the Wall Street dominated Democratic Party?”

Establishment on the Attack

For nearly two months after Super Tuesday the liberal corporate media largely ignored Sanders and focused on Trump 24/7. There is no doubt that Trump’s vicious right populist circus is compelling viewing and sells papers. But this focus also clearly served Clinton’s campaign by presenting her as the “experienced,” “tested” candidate who could be relied on to defeat Trump – who rightly scares progressive workers, young people, women and people of color – in the general election. Fear of Trump in reality has been the main prop holding up her weak campaign.

Sanders winning seven out of the last eight caucuses and primaries has, however, forced Clinton back in the ring with Sanders, making a series of attacks. The New York media has swung in hard behind her. Particularly outrageous has been the coverage in the Daily News, the nation’s fourth largest circulation paper. They initially gave space to criticisms of Clinton before attacking Sanders from all sides, especially on the issue of gun control with front page headlines like “Bernie’s Sandy Hook Shame” trying to suggest his votes on particular pieces of gun control legislation contribute to mass killings like the one in Sandy Hook.

But what is even worse is the role of the leaders of key public sector unions like the United Federation of Teachers and AFSCME in a city where the labor movement still has substantial weight. They have gone into overdrive to back Clinton despite her long, dedicated service to Wall Street; her failure to support $15 as a federal minimum wage, single payer healthcare or free college; and her support for job-killing trade deals.

The reality is that the New York primary which is closed is inherently unfavorable to Sanders, as it excludes the large number of independents who would vote for him if the primary was open. Current polls show Sanders somewhere between 10 and 15 points behind statewide.

The Sanders campaign is pushing back, opening offices around New York City and holding daily rallies around the state and the city. There is also a March for Bernie on Saturday with key labor supporters of Sanders speaking including Rose Ann De Moro of National Nurses United (NNU) and Larry Cohen, ex-president of the Communications Workers of America whose members have just gone on strike against Verizon. Also speaking will be Seattle socialist councilmember Kshama Sawant.

The city’s historically most militant union, Transport Workers Union, Local 100, has now come out in support of Sanders. The Indypendent and Occupy Wall Street activists have printed 500,000 copies of a four page pro-Sanders newspaper called Battle of New York to be distributed across the city and state in coming days. Finally the debate being held tonight between Sanders and Clinton will be critical to Bernie’s effort to close the gap. He will have to make the case decisively that Clinton’s promises and fake shift to the left during the primaries cannot be trusted.

Time for a New Party of the 99%

Socialist Alternative will be present at all these events talking to people about the need for a new party and the real meaning of democratic socialism, a term which Sanders’ campaign has popularized to an audience of millions. We will be gathering signatures on our new national petition calling on Bernie to run through November as an independent.

If Sanders loses, all the enormous energy created by his campaign, the enormous hunger for change, must not go to waste. Sanders must not endorse Hillary Clinton and thereby demoralize hundreds of thousands of his best, most dedicated supporters.

Reflecting the increasingly militant mood of Sanders’ supporters, several prominent figures including Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow and Daily News columnist Shaun King have called for a new party on the left. An online petition entitled “A Love Letter to Bernie” is calling for turning his donor base into a membership organization with democratic input into the platform and building this organization locally beyond this election. This also points in the direction of a new party but it does not clearly spell out that this organization must become fully independent of the Democrats if it is to really represent the interests of workers and young people.

And even if Sanders were to somehow overcome all the obstacles in New York, and throw the Hillary Clinton campaign into crisis, it will still be an all-out fight to win the nomination with the party apparatus doing everything in their power to sabotage the political revolution. In this situation, building the structures of a new party would be even more imperative.

The Battle of New York is now fully engaged and has demonstrated more clearly than ever the enormous potential for building a real left in this country and the need to break with the Democratic Party.

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