Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Our Revolution: Yes; But First Some Questions

Following Bernie Sanders Almost Anywhere

[NOTE: Since writing this, the Web site Support Progressives has been brought to my attention. It creatively addresses many of the questions and concerns about Our Revolution discussed, below, in the sections on "Candidate Selection" and "Coalitions." -- N.J., Sept. 1, 2016]

[Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign] was a campaign about doing, not about being [president]. Indeed, he would reject his crowds' chants of "Bernie! Bernie!" from the beginning of the campaign through his Santa Monica rally two nights ago [June 7, 2016], by telling them that it is they, not just he, who are "part of the political revolution."

-- Nicholas Johnson, "On Being, Doing and 'Compromise;' What's Next for Senator Sanders' Revolution? Here's My Suggestion," June 9, 2016

So what's the current status of "Our Revolution"?

What Can Be Learned From the Web Site?

"Who's on first; What's on second"

God or Mammon, that is the Question


Candidate Selection


The Money



Yes, Senator Bernie Sanders made it clear from the beginning of his campaign for the the Democratic Party's nomination for president. He was in this race for many reasons but, win or lose the Party's presidential nomination, the overriding reason was the creation of an ongoing organization, a political revolution to bring about the populist programs he had been advocating for at least 30 years. That organization now bears the name, "Our Revolution."

I had been involved in some way with every presidential election since 1948, but never before with the emotional and financial support I gave to the Bernie campaign. As some evidence, here's a list of some 14 blog essays I wrote, starting in June of 2015.
"On Being, Doing and 'Compromise;' What's Next for Senator Sanders' Revolution? Here's My Suggestion," June 9, 2016
"When 'The Morning After' Looks Even Worse," June 8, 2016
"Searching for the Media's Soul," June 7, 2016
"Why Won't Media Give Bernie a Break?" March 23, 2016
"The State of the Media," February 28, 2016
"Bernie's Extraordinary, Unacknowledged Accomplishment," February 3, 2016
Why Nobody 'Wins' the Iowa Caucus," February 1, 2016
"Caucus With Your Heart And Head -- For Bernie," January 28, 2016
"Why I'm Caucusing for Sanders and You Should Too," January 22, 2016
"Feeling the Bern at The Mill," December 9, 2015
"Anyone for Democracy," November 22, 2015
"Senator Bernie Sanders and America's 'Mainstream,'" July 25, 2015
"Bernie's Media Challenge," June 19, 2015
"Bernie! Why the 99% Should Support Bernie's Campaign," June 1, 2015
Now the primaries and caucuses -- and the Bernie Sanders for President campaign -- are over. On July 26, 2016, the Democratic National Convention delegates selected Hillary Clinton as their nominee for president of the United States. Notwithstanding his having run against Hillary -- with speeches noting the disparity between what each of them has chosen to fight for, and against, during the past 30 years -- Senator Sanders made the motion for her nomination at the Convention, endorsed her, and indicated he would campaign for her.

So what's the current status of "Our Revolution"?

The organization was officially "launched" with an hour-plus video stream into 2600 home gatherings across America the evening of August 24. David Weigel and John Wagner, "Bernie Sanders Launches 'Our Revolution With Electoral Targets -- and a Few Critics Left Behind," Washington Post (online), August 24, 2016.

Our Revolution is by now, among other things, a Web page: I would have preferred it was an "org" (as I am: rather than a "com." But a superficial search suggests "" may already be held by someone else. Hopefully, that's someone affiliated with, and confusion between the two can be controlled.

At the moment -- from July 26 through November 8 -- Our Revolution is in a kind of limbo. Bernie's enthusiastic throngs have nothing further they can do to get him elected. Many may end up voting for Hillary, but may feel that they never signed up to campaign for her. Moreover, 20 months into a 22-month presidential campaign season (Jan. 2015-Oct. 2016) most Americans inclined to political action have long since committed their time and other resources to presidential and other candidates for public office they probably want to stick with through election day.

After the votes have been counted in the national election on November 8th, and a presumptive president selected, Our Revolution's participants and programs can be more specifically self-selected.

Make no mistake, Our Revolution already has my support; it doesn't have to earn it, it just has to keep from losing it. I certainly want to give it a chance. But I do have some questions for which I will be seeking answers.

What Can Be Learned From the Web Site? The Web site opens with an invitation to "join," "Watch the Launch Event" (which occurred August 24) and to "Help five of our candidates win" with an option to click on "Take Action." Scrolling down further is an "In the News" section with three stories, including the August 29th announcement of an 11-person "board" chaired by Larry Cohen, former CWA President, 2005-15. Although at the "Launch Event" Senator Sanders named the organization's president (Jeff Weaver, formerly Sanders' campaign chair) and an executive director (whose name I can't find or recall), I was unable to find their names, descriptions -- or how and by whom they were chosen -- anywhere on the Web site. (That information may very well be there; it's just that I didn't see it.)

There are four locations on the Web site: About, Take Action, Issues, and Candidates -- along with a number of suggestions that we donate money.

"About" provides three general aspirations: "Revitalize American Democracy," "Empower Progressive Leaders," and "Elevate Political Consciousness."

"Take Action" promotes an anti-TPP project urging us to call and register our opposition with members of Congress. If you think to scroll down there are 7 state ballot initiatives for which a click will take you to the sponsoring organization's Web page or other information.

"Issues" reads like a party platform, itemizing and describing 18 policy areas familiar to Bernie supporters.

"Candidates" lists, with pictures, 62 presumably progressive individuals running for office (primarily state legislatures). A click on a candidate takes you to more information about each.

"Who's on first; What's on second." I'm sure things will become clearer with time, but at this point I'm reminded of the story of the city cousin who visited his country cousin's farm. Leaning against the fence, but wanting to be helpful, the city cousin inquires, "What can I do to help?" He's told, "Just grab a plow and start plowing."

That's about as much specific instruction as is provided those who "join" Our Revolution. Maybe that's enough. Look over the ballot initiatives; if there's one in your state, or elsewhere, that interests you check out its Web site and contribute money or other efforts to assist. Ditto for the candidates. Look 'em over. If you're willing to support one or more on the basis of the information provided, have at it.

But I would think there would be some reason to have a way of reporting back to someone what you did. With the links going directly to the Web sites of the ballot initiatives' organizations and candidates it would appear that's not going to happen. Even if one wished to report what was going on in one's hometown, or another location chosen for action, it's not clear to whom they would report or how.

God or Mammon, that is the Question. A more serious, fundamental question is the core heart and purpose of this organization. As California's Big Daddy Unruh was credited with observing, "Money is the mother's milk of politics." To run multiple local and statewide campaigns all across the country is going to require enormous sums of money. Will Bernie's followers be capable and inclined to provide it?

There's a big difference between an individual contributing money for a single candidate -- especially a presidential candidate, and more especially one like Bernie Sanders -- and contributing money to a fund diversified among 100 or more individuals running for everything from school board to U.S. Senate, candidates from distant cities whom one does not know and had no role in selecting.

The Web site shouts that Our Revolution is a Section 501(c)(4) organization (ineligible to provide donors a tax deduction). Is what is envisioned, in effect, just another PAC for millionaires and billionaires with progressive inclinations to give money subsequently distributed by Our Revolution staff members to candidates of their choosing? If so, I don't see that there is much role for the participation of at least most of what were once Bernie's enthusiastic followers.

I once asked Senator Hubert Humphrey what he told new U.S. Senators when they arrived. He said, "Nick, I tell 'em they have to give four years to the Lord, and then two years to get re-elected; four more years to the Lord, and then another two years to get re-elected."

Today's new senators are told, from their first day on the job, that it's six years of fund raising and campaigning to get re-elected, and then another six years to do it again. To make sure this happens, they are provided with targets for hours on the phone each day and week, and the sums they are expected to raise.

The question for Our Revolution is whether God and Mammon can co-exist; whether wealthy donors, and their large contributions, can co-exist with a progressive grassroots organization; and if not, whether either can bring about Our, or anyone else's, Revolution all by itself.

An insightful and fuller exploration of these and related issues can be found in Lambert Strether, "Is 'Our Revolution' the Way to Build Transformative Politics?", August 30, 2016.

Governance. There is a literature regarding board governance. See, for reading suggestions, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Board Governance: Theory and Practice," April 28, 2000.

Governance involves all stakeholders thinking through, agreeing upon, and putting in writing, the assignment of responsibilities, delegations, and the relationships between Senator Sanders, the Board chair Larry Cohen, other Board members, President Jeff Weaver, other administrative persons, staff, and Our Revolution "members."

For example, will board members be limited to providing direction, determining mission and goals, and overseeing a management information reporting system regularly disclosing accomplishments along a timeline toward measurable goals, or may they also involve themselves in some administrative decisions? Must all board statements and actions come from the entire board, acting as the board (including accompanying concurring or dissenting opinions), or can the chair -- or any individual member of the board -- speak on their own, whether to the president, a staff member, or the public?

Will the Board members create their own meeting agenda, or will "board meetings" become in effect "president's meetings" to which Board members are invited to attend for purposes of listening to reports from the president and other members of the staff? Will the president sit in on all board meetings, or are they just for board members -- and whomever else the board may invite to discuss a specific item at a single meeting?

What will be the day-to-day role of Senator Sanders with Our Revolution, given his responsibilities to his Vermont constituents and his Senate colleagues?

There is no one "right" way to answer these, and dozens of other challenging questions regarding governance. The only truly "wrong" way to proceed is to fail to identify, address, and resolve them as the board's very first order of business.

Candidate Selection. If the, or at least a, major purpose and strategy of Our Revolution involves the election of populist, progressive candidates "from school boards to the White House," a central process question is the way, the process, and the standards for Our Revolution's selection of those candidates. There is then the process question of what resources (whether campaign worker hours or money) will be provided these candidates, how much will be accorded each (and the standards for making those decisions), and what kind of oversight and regular reporting will be used.

Will the final decisions be made by Senator Sanders, the Board, its chair, the president, a staff group, a referendum of the members? How heavily will the decisions be influenced by major donors (if any)? Or will there be no such decisions? Will Our Revolution simply accept nominations from any of the above, put together a little information about each, post them on the Web site (as now), and leave it to members and donors to do the due diligence, and then put their time and money wherever they choose?

Or will there be a consensus as to who will receive Our Revolution's support, and will the goal be to limit the number of candidates to a number that can be supported (with workers and money) sufficiently to make a real difference in the outcome of their election? Will there be a preference for first-time candidates -- or for progressive incumbents in close races?

Will there be a preference for candidates whose polling numbers and other evidence indicate a real chance of winning, or is the goal to provide at least some token support and encouragement to as many first-time progressives as possible? What are the standards for deciding who is a "true progressive" worthy of Our Revolution's support?

Coalitions. Is it the goal of Our Revolution to be recognized as the single, preeminent, progressive policy and political organization in America? Or is the goal to bring some order and focus (on, say, electing progressive candidates) to the sometime chaos of America's progressive individuals, organizations, and media?

As the old saying has it, "There's no limit to what you can accomplish if you're willing to let others take the credit." Will Our Revolution be willing to stand by while "others take the credit"?

We've seen what splintered, underfunded, off-again-on-again efforts produce. What might a true coalition, a United Nations-style effort, be able to produce? What goals might be shared across all progressive organizations -- as was sort of the case with the coming together that was the Senator Sanders' presidential campaign -- while still leaving each organization to pursue its own other issues and strategic choices? (See, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Bernie's Extraordinary, Unacknowledged Accomplishment," February 3, 2016.)

The Money. I would be stunned if there was anything even mildly inappropriate, let alone illegal, in the way the money was handled in the Bernie Sanders campaign. But I also think transparency is even more important for Our Revolution. So I ask the following questions:

One of the most valuable assets of the campaign, and could be for Our Revolution, is the campaign's mailing list of donors, volunteers, and supporters. Has it been made available to the DNC, Hillary Clinton's campaign, other candidates? Are there plans to do so in the future? Who now has access to copies of this list? Will it become the main list for Our Revolution?

How much campaign money was left on July 26 -- the formal end of the Bernie for President campaign? What has happened to it? Has any gone to the Clinton campaign? The DNC, or other groups funding Democratic candidates (chosen by someone other than Senator Sanders)? How much has gone to candidates Senator Sanders supports? Is any used for his expenses while campaigning for Clinton? How much (if any) will ultimately be transferred into Our Revolution's resources?

Transparency. Transparency is important for any organization that requires the trust and support of its stakeholders. This is especially true for non-profit, progressive organizations. Members (and the public) need to know where Our Revolution's money is coming from, and what it's going to. Our Revolution needs to comply with the standards used by those evaluating non-profits. (A Google search on "evaluations of non-profit organizations' fundraising and salary expenses" brings up over 3.5 million hits.)

How do the salaries of Our Revolution administrators and staff, and expenses for Board meetings, compare with organizations of similar size? How do its expenses for fundraising, as a percentage of money raised, compare?

For Our Revolution, salaries and benefit packages are relevant to stakeholders not only because some may consider them "too high," but more likely because they might be thought to be "too low" -- given our "Issues" that focus on "Income Inequality," "A Living Wage," and "Creating Decent Paying Jobs."

And of course, Our Revolution being what it is, there will be member and public interest in the organization's employment practices with regard to gender equality, LGBT rights, and diversity of all kinds within the workforce.

Conclusion. There could be more, but there need not be. I'll simply close as I began: "Make no mistake, Our Revolution already has my support; it doesn't have to earn it, it just has to keep from losing it. I certainly want to give it a chance. But I do have some questions for which I will be seeking answers." What is spelled out above are some, illustrative, examples of those questions. Whether I hear from any Our Revolution administrators or staff or not, I'll keep looking for answers as I weigh whether Our Revolution has retained, or has lost, my support. (And see Roots Action's email and petition, "If It's Our Revolution, Let's Make It Better," Roots Action, August 31, 2016.)

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