Luz Sosa came to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as a disappointed Bernie Sanders delegate. But she is leaving fired up to take on big political fights in her home town of Milwaukee.
“This election was never about Bernie Sanders. These elections were about issues the American people care about,” such as “families struggling to put food on the table,” said Sosa, who is Latino outreach organizer for Citizen Action Wisconsin and an economics professor at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
“Bernie Sanders has been the voice of the movement, but the movement has always been there,” she said, and her advise to her fellow Bernie Sanders supporters “is to get involved in the organizations that are already working on the issues that Bernie had mentioned before.”
Sosa on Wednesday was among a group of convention delegates, most of whom representing Sanders, who gathered at a reception sponsored by People’s Action and its Pennsylvania affiliate, Keystone Progress.
“The soul of the Democratic Party is up for grabs,” said George Goehl, co-director of People’ Action, and these were among the delegates who would be executing the inside-outside strategies for winning that battle for progressives.
Many of the people in the room were like Sosa, under 35, relatively new to politics and community organizing, and combined a harsh critique of the state of American politics in both parties with plans for what they would do to bring about change.
Robert Peters, a recent college graduate who now works as the director of political engagement for Reclaim Chicago, said that this convention, his first, started with a “very tense” Monday as he struggled along with other Sanders supporters with the feeling that his candidate would eventually lose and that the Democratic establishment would douse the radical fire of the Sanders campaign.
“Bernie was the first candidate who showed there could be this very left movement that could run and not be a fringe candidate but actually build some power,” he said.
Peters has a $42,000 student debt, so he is very interested in continuing to push politically for policies to relieve student debt and to raise wages for workers. But Peters said he wants to devote some of his energy into getting progressives elected in some of the smaller municipalities surrounding Chicago. “We believe the down-ballot revolution matters,” he said, and with successes in getting progressives elected in lower-level political offices “we can have a ladder for the progressive movement.”
Barbara Kalbach, an organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and a fourth-generation farmer, has a similar goal, working with rural communities in her state. She has been helping fellow family farmers successfully fight such foes as large pork processors that have been allowed to pollute the ground water farmers depend on with pig waste. Most recently, her organization launched a 501(c)(4) political arm. “We’re learning how to endorse candidates, and then get behind them and move them into the statehouse so that they can make some changes,” she said.
Jaime Alvarado, a Sanders delegate from Milwaukee, said that he, too, was “disappointed” that the Bernie Sanders campaign fell short, “yet looking at the big picture. We have to unite.”
The “great big picture” for Alvarado “is poverty, and as we know people of color are disproportionately in that category. We are looking for opportunities and support for lifting people out of poverty.”
One issue that Alvarado will be working on when he returns to Wisconsin is prescription drug prices and deductibles. Citizen Action has been fighting drug and insurance companies, and state regulators, to lower premiums, deductibles and co-pays for the state’s insured residents. Already, the organization has helped state residents save $270 million on insurance deductibles over the past year, he said, and the organization is pressing to save residents even more.
The message that these delegates are sending is that the Bernie Sanders coalition is more than the occasional chanting, and the one or two walkouts, that people watching the Democratic convention on television saw and heard. This is a movement of disciplined people who have plans for taking the energy of the Sanders campaign, and the lessons they learned, back to their communities.
“It’s important to keep organized, to keep involved,” Sosa said. “Come to our organizations and keep working on the issues that Bernie Sanders talked about.”
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Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007 and also directs the Campaign for America's Future's online communications.