They Shook the Walls of Their “Betters”: A Report on the Sanders Campaign

Chris Aquino

Summary: On the class divide between rank-and-file workers and trade union bureaucrats, that motivated the Sanders campaign in Iowa and Nevada — Editors

A movement of workers, youth, and people of color has attached itself and its dreams to the Bernie Sanders campaign. In the Democratic primary the capitalist media and the politicians in Washington, D.C. have consistently underestimated and lied about the chances of a workers’ movement under capitalism. Yet now the landslide victory in Nevada and huge margins among Latinos and Chicanos across the United States has the eyes of the world upon it.

I have been honored to see with my own eyes this movement in action. I witnessed it in the stream of anticapitalist volunteers from all over the country and indeed, all over the world. I stood agape at anarchists and communists of many sects working together. I saw it in lily white Iowa, where Caucasian workers wrecked by capitalism’s free trade united with Latino and Ethiopian immigrants.  I noticed it spectacularly in Nevada, one of the states most like the nation in both demographics and the pain it has experienced.

There, the union bureaucrats of the culinary and casino workers had become accustomed to crowning the victor of the Democratic presidential primary. In the undemocratic primary Nevada uses, one attends a meeting called a caucus. There you are forced to publicly state who you support. Unlike an honest election with a secret ballot, it is psychologically jarring to have your friends, family members, neighbors, and bosses watch you vote. This is a system prone to intimidation, most of which is deniable and therefore most useful for those in power.

The Democratic Party, whose establishment pioneered NAFTA, TPP, USMCA, and all the other union busting, outsourcing trade agreements of past decades, claims to be pro-union. With a Republican Party that does not even pretend to be pro-union, the Democratic Party discovered decided their sterling duty was to tell the workers who their candidate will be and how to think.

They after all, are the ones with the vast data mining machines (that lost 2016 in an Electoral College landslide). They are the ones with the money (as with billionaire racists like Michael Bloomberg). They are the ones who gave us Barack Obama (who deported 3 million people) and Bill Clinton (who cut aid to the poor and people of color). In this context, driven into hopelessness by the lack of a progressive alternative against the reality of their day to day lives, many people of color became leaders of their unions. There, they were co-opted by the union bureaucracy.

For the February 22 Nevada Caucuses, their orders were to tell their members that the upstart Jewish reformist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, was not to be trusted. The moderate Democratic Socialist (or Radical Social Democrat if you will), plans on having the government pay for all your healthcare as a human right. This is a policy common to most industrialized nations, many of which are not only good American allies but also states where the local right wing claims to support these policies as well.

Yet, the line went out that not only was this plan unrealistic to an extreme, but also that it would harm worker’s interests by replacing their union healthcare! Being that these hard-fought gains came as the result of great struggle, including strikes, the union bureaucrats told their members that Bernie Sanders was annihilating their hard work.

This did not go over well with the rank and file. Like all American workers they recalled the terror of unemployment when average workers lose the health insurance plan that is owned by the boss. They remembered the times during strikes when they and their children’s healthcare was suspended. They remembered in their hearts all the times it was cheaper to take a taxi to the emergency room instead of the ambulance. Then, they did their best to forget how cheap it was to see their loved ones die, than to stay alive and need help with their medical bills.

We who worked and volunteered on the campaign saw a need to organize this movement against the union bureaucrats and the Democratic Party establishment. Allied shop stewards gave us the crucial intelligence that their confidence had rotted into complacency. Joe Biden’s campaign, the commonly known favorite of the union bosses in Nevada, may have counted on the union as its local organizers. This proved a fatal mistake.

The Las Vegas Strip caucuses in particular are not only symbolically important due to their emotional connection to the unions, but they are also responsible for 2% of the entire state of Nevada’s delegates.

We realized this weakness, that a wise few had already worked on in small numbers by themselves and doubled down upon. Phone banking that lasted until 9:00 PM reminded and reconfirmed, again and again, that voters would caucus. Canvassing shifts from 4:30 in the morning (I did not participate in the earliest shifts thank God) until early evening were launched to organize baristas, maids, flight attendants, and most importantly, taxi drivers. Our brother and sister taxi drivers proved essential to the outcome of several strip caucuses.

Often forgotten by the powerful, the precarious nature of their livelihood, along with their daily experience of coping with the spoiled rich, made taxi drivers some of the most enthusiastic supporters of Bernie Sanders I have ever seen. Most being immigrants or refugees of color made them conscious of American social conditions in ways no journalist could ever feel. They earnestly predicted our future success, for no other campaign had deemed them important enough, or more charitably, had the volunteer base to contact them at all. A common concern was that aside from one or two casinos, taxi drivers could not leave their cars in public parking garages. This would understandably harm casino business. As such, we knew we had to arrange parking for these cab drivers on caucus morning, courtesy of the grassroots campaign fund and free of charge.

The campaign prioritizes turning out first time voters. We do this to overwhelm the Democratic and Republican advantages from capitalist fundraising and corporate media lies. One first-time caucus goer, a working man by the name of Jamal, is worthy of attention here. Jamal is a cab driver from Somalia who our team canvassed. He attended the famous Mandalay Bay strip caucus.

In the caucus system, one often has the opportunity to hear speeches for candidates before publicly voting for your candidate. Given that many voters are genuinely undecided until the last minute, or at the very least are undecided about bucking peer pressure, these are very important. At their best, they demonstrate grassroots enthusiasm, and at the worst they showcase intimidation by your betters.

The billionaire Tom Steyer sent his heiress daughter to regale the workers. The original plan was to have someone from the Democratic Socialists of America give our speech. Jamal informed them he wanted to speak instead. The DSA comrade wisely agreed. Jamal, whose first language is not English, told us the truth that as workers we needed a movement that fought for all of us. We needed healthcare in this country to have dignity and security. This came from someone who just 48 hours prior had no idea what a caucus was. Tom Steyer lost so badly he did not earn a single delegate, and Joe Biden lost in a landslide to the first-place winner Bernie Sanders. As the results came in, the lenses the union bosses saw the world with shattered.

Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.

Frederick Douglas

Delivered at the Unveiling of The Freedmen’s Monument.

A million or two of working men’s votes next November for a bona fide working men’s party is worth infinitely more at present than a hundred thousand votes for a doctrinally perfect platform.

Frederick Engels

December 28, 1886

We who are aware of capitalism’s self destructiveness, its oppression of the human race’s creative instincts, its estrangement from our true nature of enjoying freedom to the fullest, and its threat to the planet Earth through climate change, know that a social democratic platform is NOT enough to save our species. Yet, we who passionately wish to abolish capitalism must, like those who yearned to abolish slavery outright, learn to organize the common everyday workers AS THEY ARE NOW.

With the horrors of climate change, the cruel breaking up of families, the crass stupidity of a system where to bleed out in a taxi is cheaper than being bandaged in an ambulance, we must organize or lose it all, once and for all. It is true that his platform exhibits great moderation, to say the least, compared to the avowedly communist or anarchist position. Yet, if he is today even 10% of the Bernie Sanders who wrote in 1989 to the Burlington Free Press — “Democracy means public ownership of the major means of production, it means decentralization, it means involving people in their work. Rather than having bosses and workers it means having democratic control over the factories and shops to as great a degree as you can” — the election of the most leftist president in the history of the United States would be a triumph for the human family and the long struggling leftist parties all over the world.

With his victories up to now, the current data science suggests that barring rigging from the Democratic Party establishment (that could bring tragic retaliatory violence from an anguished street), or an outright assassination, Bernie Sanders will probably be the 2020 Democratic nominee. He and the movement will face Donald Trump and perhaps end the racist rip off artist populism that has engulfed the United States and increasingly the world. Already, the billionaires from both parties, like both Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump, are planning on spending hundreds of millions of dollars to libel the movement. Their total spending for attack ads on TV and online may total over a billion dollars.

The Saudi bluebloods who for so long were brave with other people’s troops to murder other people’s children are now terrified they will have to become brave and fight their own wars. The Israeli racists condemn him for not being Jewish enough. The White racists hate him for being a Judeo-Bolshevik. The oligarchs of all nations despise him because he has a movement. They are right to hate him.

One can judge where people stand based on their enemies and their friends. With enemies such as these and friends like the countless immigrants, workers, youth, people of color and enthusiastic anticapitalists I have met in my work, I agree with brother Jamal that there is reason for hope. We cannot let him down and will not let him down.

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