DSA should plan for a 2020 Sanders Presidential Campaign

By Neal M

At NYC-DSA’s Convention on May 5, a resolution to begin planning how to respond if Bernie Sander’s decides to run for President in 2020 narrowly failed. While the resolution received a majority of votes cast (there were 96 votes for, 84 against, and 10 abstentions), the convention rules required resolutions to receive a majority of votes from seated delegates (in this case 98).

As the main sponsor of the resolution, I argued that DSA should plan for the likelihood that Bernie Sanders will run for president again in 2020, probably entering the race early in 2019. Preparing ahead would position DSA to play a leading role in a grassroots campaign for Sanders from the beginning. Not preparing could mean getting bogged down in debate about what to do for months after the campaign gets underway.

The purpose of the resolution was not to endorse Bernie (that would be premature), but debate at the convention hinged on that question anyway. So, let’s talk about whether we should endorse Sanders.

I believe that if and when Sanders declares he’s running for president in 2020, DSA should endorse him and actively participate in his campaign. A Sanders 2020 campaign would be our next great opportunity to build support for Medicare for All, free college education, stronger union rights ー and democratic socialism.

DSA benefited hugely from being the only socialist organization to actively endorse Sanders in 2016. If we enthusiastically support Sanders in 2020, DSA could become a 100,000 member organization, with significantly greater capacity and resources.

The number one lesson we should learn from 2016 is that small socialist organizations must participate in the big movements that dominate national politics. In 2020, as in 2016, millions of working-class people will have to choose between neoliberal Democrats, a democratic socialist, and a right-wing Republican. Any organization that wants to play a leading role in socialist and progressive politics will have to choose sides. This shouldn’t be a hard choice for us.

Opponents of the resolution argued that Bernie is more moderate politically than DSA. They rightly noted, for example, that DSA supports sex workers’ rights and opposes the SESTA/FOSTA bill, while Bernie voted for it. In my opinion, such disagreements are a big reason to start planning to play a leading role in the grassroots campaign. I think we can push the campaign’s demands and messaging to the left, at least at the grassroots, if we plan ahead and get involved early. While we may not succeed in pushing the campaign left on every point, we should not make 100% agreement a condition for entering into alliances or endorsing a candidate. Such a policy would isolate us from broader movements.

While the Convention didn’t vote to begin a formal organizational discussion about this question in 2018, I am eager to begin planning informally for Bernie 2020 with anyone who is interested. I also look forward to comradely discussions with everyone about why endorsing Bernie is important.

The socialist left faces a real political opportunity for the first time in generations. Let’s think strategically and plan our next steps together!