Can the seeds from Sanders '16 grow into a grassroots revolution?

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- There’s a revolution brewing just across the Potomac River from the Nation’s capital.

(Source: Gray DC)

A dedicated group of volunteers represents one of 600 chapters nationwide of Our Revolution – a grass roots advocacy organization born out of Sen. Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign. “We are a small organization, but we are having a big impact on Arlington,” declared one member at a recent meeting.

Chapter leaders said they essentially came together as a support group after President Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, but within a few meetings the focus shifted to local issues. “To find other people that wanted to work on the same stuff, suddenly became something to put that energy into,” said Alison Acker, a steering committee member with Our Revolution Arlington.

The group lobbies their elected officials, endorses candidates for state and local office, and are right in the middle of the debate surrounding Amazon Headquarters’ pending arrival in their community.

“The local groups are what animates me, and all of us here,” said Larry Cohen, the Board Chairman of the national Our Revolution organization. He said the organization has three goals that guide their efforts at the locally and national level:
- win elections
- reform the Democratic Party
- and leading issue-based discussions.

Each chapter is a bit different. In places like Vermont, Our Revolution works in concert with established progressive groups, elsewhere, they’re building a movement from scratch.

There’s not a big focus on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ home state. “Vermont is not where you need a political revolution,” Cohen explained, “Texas is probably our biggest single state, we are much more important in those so-called red states.”

The 2020 election cycle is expected to draw more members into the fold in Arlington – but leaders insist local issues won’t be swept aside.

But, will the larger movement’s efforts will translate into wins at the ballot box?

Georgetown University Political Science professor Mark Rom said the Sanders movement has succeeded in shifting the democratic party to the left. Candidates who receive endorsements from Our Revolution can get a dramatic fundraising boost and the national organization could choose to pump millions of the cash it raises into campaigns.

But, Rom said – that like the Tea Party on the right – Our Revolution’s biggest impact will be in its people power. “In 2018, Our Revolution was not highly successful in electing the candidates that it endorsed, in part, because there were so many progressive Democrats and so many energized Democrats,” he said, “so, it’s not necessarily that they will be able to pick winners, but that they will mobilize individuals who will work, and they hope, will work to elect the next president.”

Rom said the Sanders revolution has created a ‘civil war’ within the party. He said it’s not clear yet to him whether the progressive or moderate wing will win out, and what kind of impact either would have on general elections.

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