Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign excited progressives as it aggravated the Democratic establishment. And Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager, fought the fight as hard as anyone.
While the Vermont independent came up short, the Democratic Party’s platform moved to the left and its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is supporting some of his policies. Roll Call spoke with Weaver, a panelist at Roll Call’s upcoming Election Impact Conference, about the campaign and the future of the movement.
Roll Call: What was the main impact you had on the primary and on the general election?
Jeff Weaver: I think Sen. Sanders’ campaign was a historic campaign. Over $220 million raised from small donors, 13 plus million votes, hundreds of thousands of people at rallies around the country. And I think what his campaign did is it demonstrated that there is a hunger for progressive change in the world. And he really articulated the progressive agenda he’s articulated for so many years.
RC: Will that energy be carried over and be there in two years, four years? And how do you make sure it’s maintained after Sen. Sanders and even into 2020?
JW: What we established during the campaign, there were grass-roots organizations that sprung up all over the country whom we are reaching out to, to keep them energized and to give them the type of assistance they need to be effective local organizations going forward. We have an extremely large volunteer base across the country who are still making phone calls around not only candidates but issues like the [Trans-Pacific Partnership] and others. We’re keeping our people involved in meaningful races and ballot initiatives around the country. And once the election is over, we will be engaging folks to ensure that the next administration or the next Congress carries forward on the progressive platform items in the Democratic platform.
RC: Once these progressives get elected to Congress, what are some ways they should hold a President Clinton accountable?
JW: There’s this huge, mass movement across the country now that’s been activated by Bernie Sanders’ campaign and by other campaigns across the country. And folks want to stay engaged and they will be engaged in making sure what goes through the Congress is something that progressives can be proud of. We intend to stay active. It’s not shutting down on Nov. 9. In fact, in many ways, it’s just gearing up. Obviously, there’s going to be important not only issues, but also appointments and personnel.
RC: It looks like there’s potential for big progressive victories. What is the best way to affect change?
JW: I think it’s a multipronged approach depending on the particular issue at hand. I think it also is an inside-outside strategy. Members of Congress now can rely on an organized grass-roots network that goes from one end of the country to the other to help them push forward the progressive initiatives that need to be done. And what is important about this is we can obviously have people calling into members’ offices, and educating people at the grass roots about what’s going on in Washington in a way that, I think, was not possible before. So I think it will give a lot of support for progressive members of Congress who are pushing for change.
RC: If you were to tell young progressive organizers the main lessons from 2016, what would they be?
JW: I think people discovered all across the country as a result of Bernie Sanders’ campaign that they are not alone. There are millions and millions of people; there’s people in their own communities. And I think that one of the benefits of the campaign is people learned just how many other people living in their local communities share their same views and I think it’s been an opportunity for them to organize at the grass-roots level. There are Bernie Democrats who have been elected to party committees and states all across the country and to the DNC. So I think we’re in a really great position to affect change. But people have to stay involved. You can’t check out. I think what the campaign showed young people is that if you get involved and you stay involved, you can actually affect some change.
RC: Do the DNC emails that showed the deck stacked against Sen. Sanders, that kind of stuff, lead young people to get discouraged and say, “Forget about the system,” and walk away? Or will it get them to say, “Why don’t we go into the system and break down the doors?”
JW: Well, that’s exactly right. Clearly, it was the case that Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chairwoman of the DNC had her finger on the scale against Bernie Sanders’ campaign. But Debbie Wasserman Schultz is no longer there. People should take that as a tremendous victory, that the sort of grass-roots uproar they heard after her misdeeds were exposed forced her out of that position. I think that’s a lesson, that you should stay involved and be involved and that you can make things happen. We got rid of somebody who was not playing a good role and now we have Donna Brazile, who has really sort of cleaned house, as I would say.