Washington D.C. — Former staff, delegates, and supervolunteers from the 2016 presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have joined to launch a campaign called Draft Bernie For A People’s Party. The group will embark on a nationwide effort to convince Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to found a new party rooted in the progressive principles that awoke a political revolution during his campaign for the presidency. A people’s party free from the influence of the corporations and billionaires that fund the Democratic and Republican parties.The Draft Bernie campaign has begun organizing both digitally and on the ground. In the coming weeks, they will spark a conversation in the progressive movement between reforming the Democratic Party and drafting Sanders to a new party.
“The candidates for DNC chair have been meeting with billionaire donors at fancy retreats to discuss the future of the Democratic Party and our country. Grassroots activists and working people were not invited. Now we are going to discuss the future of the political parties through which they enforce their outsized social and economic control,” said Nick Brana, the founder and director of Draft Bernie for a People’s Party. Even the most progressive candidates for DNC chair haven’t proposed barring party members from accepting large campaign contributions, lobbyist gifts, or closing the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street. Leading Brana to ask, “How can we free our government from the influence of the oligarchs without even challenging their mechanisms of political control?”
Draft Bernie points to Gallup data from January showing a remarkable exodus from the Democratic Party since the presidential election. The party has lost nearly 20 percent of its following from early November. That represents about 14 million people who have left the Democratic Party and now identify as independents. The number of Democrats has fallen to a historic low. So low that Republicans now outnumber Democrats in a progressive country.“Despite Bernie Sanders’ monumental endeavor to bring people into the Democratic Party, people are leaving it by the millions,” said Brana. “The collective efforts to reform the party cannot stem the tide of people who are going independent, let alone expand the Democratic base. The people are leading the way to an independent alternative. Imagine if instead of struggling against the populist progressive current, we swam with it and created a new party to represent the working majority?”
There is a successful model for creating a new party in America, the one that the Democratic and Republican parties used to become major parties. A popular politician builds a large following in the establishment parties by representing a neglected majority. Then he breaks from the old regime to form a populist party. Bernie Sanders can follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Van Buren and found a people’s party capable of replacing the Democratic Party in four years. Both men became president a few years after building their parties.
It was Abraham Lincoln who rapidly replaced the Whig Party with the abolitionist Republican Party in a trajectory that could resemble Bernie Sanders in the next four years. Brana points out that during that time, “the country was much more sharply divided over slavery than it is over present-day money in politics and inequality. Yet Lincoln’s Republicans successfully replaced the Whig Party in four years.” Similarly, “If Bernie starts a people’s party representing the political views of the majority of the American public, we can surpass both the Democratic and Republican parties.”
Jonathan H. Martin, Framingham State University sociologist, contributing editor for the book Empowering Progressive Third Parties in the United States, and member of the Draft Bernie team adds, “Polls suggest that most Americans want progressive reform that addresses growing class inequality. If the major parties and especially the Democrats can’t deliver on that popular demand, then the door is open for the rise of a new party that can. It is no coincidence that surveys show most Americans today also want a viable third party option.”
If Bernie founds a people’s party, it would start with at least half of the Democratic Party, Brana asserts. Then it would add independents, anti-establishment voters, the white working class, young voters, people who’ve given up on the political process, third party voters, and many conservatives who just want a decent life. That would produce something much larger than the Democratic or Republican parties.
The most recent Gallup poll conducted on party identification in January shows a rise in those who identify as independent from 36% last November before the general election to 44% in January. Gallup estimates that number will rise to 48% by 2018, and that by 2020 a full half of the electorate will likely call themselves independent, a party designation that Sen. Sanders himself has held throughout his career.
The Draft Bernie campaign premiered its website along with two primary organizing asks of supporters. The first is a petition that will be personally delivered to Sen. Sanders. The second is a donations pledge to the new party. Contributions will accumulate for all to see, but donors will only be charged if and when Bernie Sanders starts the new party. If he does, the contributions will act as a seed fund and get the party off to a running start.
The ‘Draft Bernie’ campaign was conceived and is led by Nick Brana, the former national political outreach coordinator for Bernie 2016. “Lobbying the superdelegates for Bernie taught me that the Democratic Party sees progressives as worse than Republicans. They would rather lose than allow a progressive to rise to the presidency,” said Brana. The superdelegates system was created to give DNC members veto power against progressive presidential candidates. “The superdelegates are the hundreds of DNC members who lead the Democratic Party. Even if Bernie Sanders had won the popular vote, the superdelegates would have gleefully fulfilled their historical mission and reversed the result,” Brana added.
Brana worked on the campaign until the Democratic National Convention, when he became a founding member of Sen. Sanders’ Our Revolution. He served as its electoral manager, in charge of seeking candidates for endorsement nationwide and creating a plan of support. He resigned when new leadership sought to accept large donations from the billionaires that Sen. Sanders’s campaign had rejected.
Draft Bernie for a People’s Party is being guided by Brana along with a 12-person steering committee. “These are staff and volunteers from nearly every branch of the campaign who excelled in their area of expertise,” Brana says. The committee, along with an ever-expanding working group of committed supporters, will strive to persuade Bernie to start the new party through petitions, house parties, social media organizing, donation pledges, videos, forums, and debates at college campuses and other venues around the country.
Thousands of committed supporters have rallied around the idea and will work to draft Bernie. “We’re looking forward to sparking an open conversation and comparison between reforming the Democrats and drafting Bernie to a new people’s party.
“Sanders can be the Lincoln of our times.”