Building the Revolution – Tens of Thousands Feel the Bern in Oakland

Written by Guest Contributor. Posted in News, Opinion, Politics

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Published on June 01, 2016 with 4 Comments

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As many as 20,000+ attended a Bernie Sanders for President rally outside Oakland City Hall on Memorial Day. Photos by Luke Thomas.

By Steven T. Jones, guest contribution

June 1, 2016

People snaked their way through Oakland on a hot holiday afternoon to see Bernie Sanders, thousands waiting in a miles-long line to experience this historic presidential campaign, even if it meant missing the beginning of Game 7, when our beloved hometown Warriors won the NBA Western Conference Finals.

It’s hard to imagine Hillary Clinton garnering such a massive, passionate turnout of support on that busy Memorial Day, even though she’s pretty much a cinch to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination on June 7. So why did so many come to “Feel the Bern” the week before the California primaries?

“We’re going to win here in California,” Sanders told the capacity crowd packed into Frank Ogawa Plaza outside City Hall.

Democratic Party presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders (VT).

Democratic Party presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders (VT).

He very well may be right — the polls are close in California and the momentum and enthusiasm seem to be on Sanders’ side — even if that probably won’t stop Clinton from winning enough delegates that day to pass the nomination threshold.

Even Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary who has become a progressive hero with his crusade against the dangerous consolidation of wealth in this country, seemed to acknowledge that reality when he introduced Sanders as “the person all of us want to see as the next president of the United States.”

Not “the next president of the United States,” the customary introduction even for long-shot candidates, but instead something both aspirational and slightly defeatist.

Former Bill Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

Former Bill Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

Millions of Americans desperately want Sanders to become president and bring to the White House his decades-long commitment to a progressive political revolution. And most of us accept that it’s probably not going to happen this year, barring a major meltdown by the Clinton campaign.

Yet I and around 20,000 people who share my worldview and political concerns came to Oakland and waited hours in the sun just to catch a speech whose major points most of us already embrace and know by heart: the wealthiest one-tenth of 1 percent have way too much wealth and power, climate change presents an existential threat to life as we know it and requires a rapid transition away from dependence on fossil fuels, workers should get at least $15 per hour and be able to unionize, public college education should be free, we must demilitarize our police departments and incarcerate far few people, the political system is corrupted by money and needs reform, Wall Street perpetuates financial fraud and we should break up the big banks, we need a single-payer health care system, war creates more problems than it solves, and it will take a political revolution to accomplish all of this.

Standing room only at Frank Ogawa Plaza with many others queuing in long lines to hear Bernie Sanders' speech.

Standing room only at Frank Ogawa Plaza with many others queuing in long lines to hear Bernie Sanders’ speech.

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“It’s not a complicated concept — it is one person, one vote, not billionaires buying elections. When a handful of billionaires buy elections to elect those who will represent the wealthy and the powerful, that is not democracy, that is oligarchy,” Sanders told the fired up crowd.

Democracy is also about more than just elections, and I think that begins to get at what motivated such a massive outpouring of support for Bernie that day. It’s important that Sanders win California and continue the campaign all the way into the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer — whether he can win the nomination or not.

Democracy isn’t just what you do at the polls every two or four years. Even more important is what happens between elections, with the issues that are being discussed and the democratic community capacity that we develop to implement the changes this country and planet desperately need right now.

As Bernie himself has said repeatedly in this election, this is about creating a political revolution in this country, not about President Sanders and the reforms he would decree. It’s about the movement and not the man — and judging by the turnout and energy in Oakland and around the country right now, that progressive movement is real and gaining strength.

We need real alternatives to the Establishment political duopoly in this country, and real action on pressing issues like climate change, police reform, and a more equitable distribution of wealth. And the best way to achieve that is for Sanders to run strong into the convention, demand progressive planks in the party platform and a running mate acceptable to progressives as conditions for his endorsement and support, and then to continue what his campaign started by organizing his supporters to stay involved in politics and set ourselves up for future political and electoral victories.

“What seems impossible today in fact happens when millions of people demand that it happens. Please do not tell me that the United States can’t do what every other major country does and guarantee health care for all people as a right. Don’t tell me that the United States can’t do what Germany and Scandinavia do today and provide free tuition at their colleges and universities. Don’t tell me that the United States has to be the only major country not to guarantee paid family and medical leave. Don’t tell me that we have to have to highest rate of childhood poverty of almost every major country or that our infrastructure, our roads, and our bridges have to continue to collapse. Don’t tell me that we have to continue having a broken campaign finance system or a grotesque level of income and wealth inequality,” he said in Oakland at the end of his speech. “The truth is that if we stand together, we can address all of these issues.”

Senator Bernie Sanders.

Senator Bernie Sanders.

And don’t tell me that this movement — supported by over 9 million Americans who have voted for Sanders so far this election, and the millions more votes that he’s going to receive in California on Tuesday — is going to end when Sanders eventually concedes the election.

We, like Bernie, are in this for the long haul.

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Steven T. Jones has been a political journalist in California for about 25 years, most recently with the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

  • PatrickMonkRn

    Luke, you old wanker, so good to see FCJ back in the mix.
    Steve, thanks for this. Are you still wearing those ugly golfer pants,

    • fogcityjournal

      Troll alert! 🙂

  • Jerry Jarvis

    A hard fought revolution gave us America.

  • Ralph E. Stone

    I voted for Bernie in the California primary. Now that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential candidate, the Democratic Party must open the Convention to at least some of Sanders’ progressive ideas and give him a meaningful say in the Party’s platform. If Sanders’ supporters are satisfied at the Convention, there is plenty of time between July and November for Sanders to play a unifying role to help beat Donald Trump. The alternative is a Trump presidency with Sanders relegated to a footnote in history. I doubt Sanders’ movement could survive a four or eight year Trump presidency. True for some, it will be choosing the lesser of two evils in November. But God help us if that choice is Donald Trump. I am voting for Hillary Clinton in November.