The Bernie Tribe
For the tens of thousands of people who poured their sweat and tears into the Bernie Sanders campaign, the last year has been a woeful one. Sanders was tantalizingly close to winning the Democratic presidential primary, despite having the establishment stacked against him. And then what many of those people said during the primary came true: while Bernie could have beaten Trump, Hillary Clinton could not.
For decades, more and more money has flowed into our political process and we have now reached a point where it is considered nearly impossible to hold a House or Senate seat without taking money from billionaires and corporations. The vast majority of our Congress members are beholden to the 1%, as proven by a 20-year study from Princeton. Our country, and our world, deserve better.
For the millions of Americans who agreed with Bernie’s “future to believe in,” there is a very simple explanation for what is wrong with our government: it’s not filled with Bernie Sanders. Here’s how we change that.
The Incorruptibles’ Worldview
The Incorruptibles have a unique set of beliefs that shape their strategy.
Money buys influence
If politicians are allowed to take corporate money, they will vote accordingly. Incorruptibles candidates take no corporate money and focus on raising small dollar donations.
Progressives start locally
Bernie’s first four campaigns for office failed: he ran for U.S. Senate twice and Vermont Governor twice, and never got more than 6% of the vote. But when he ran for mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he was elected and so started his political career. His story holds a lesson for Incorruptible progressives: build your base locally, because power is built at the local level first.
Grassroots support is key
Most progressive local politicians begin taking money from the wrong sources once they begin their campaigns for state or national office. To avoid this they must have a strong grassroots organization larger than their city to support them as they move up from the local level.
The community picks the candidate
Most candidates pick themselves: “Hey everybody, I’m running for office!” But looking at best-practice local organizations around the country, we see that strong grassroots movements convince great, selfless leaders to run, not the other way around.
Listen, educate, mobilize
Half of a politician’s job is to write and vote on laws; the other half is to listen to, educate, and mobilize the people. Bernie has a proven practice of specialized town halls that do just this.
Support the leadership – by helping lead
Grassroots organizations can act as an adjunct staff to truly progressive politicians, doing the research and legwork to help get progressive policies passed. This turns the notion of “holding your representatives accountable” upside down and creates a truly participatory government.
How do The Incorruptibles’ chapters work?
The Incorruptibles has begun to set up grassroots chapters in cities nationwide. In time, we envision local TI chapters in every city and county. Much like Indivisible, The Incorruptibles has produced a guide for how to do this. In brief:
1. One chapter per city
The grassroots chapter forms a core team of organizers and begins outreach. As more people join, the growing membership votes on platform, actions, and candidates.
2. Coalition building
The chapter doesn’t work alone to reinvent the wheel. It contacts other community groups and organizations to help enlarge its coalition. These can include unions, service organizations, churches, NGOs and others.
3. Continuous Town Halls
The Incorruptibles National provides training to facilitate Bernie-style town halls, where the chapter listens to, educates, and mobilizes constituents.
4. Knock every door
The local chapter organizes to knock on every door in the city. This is unlike conventional campaign canvassing where only likely voters are reached, and where almost no listening takes place on the side of the campaign. It is unlike other “knock every door” canvassing efforts in that residents are given an opportunity to join a local group, becoming a voting member who can affect city policy. This gives the person behind the door real agency and a stake in what they’re being asked to support.
The Incorruptibles National provides training to conduct local educational workshops that empower constituents with knowledge and understanding of the issues. For example, TI presents Les Leopold’s “Runaway Inequality” workshop to help explain in clear terms how the 1% uses corporations and government to siphon money away from working families. This kind of educational training plays well in both blue and red communities and leads a majority of listeners to support the policies in Bernie’s platform.
5. Create a platform
Each city will develop its own platform, informed by the town halls, door knocking, and inequality workshops, and incorporating the specific needs and demands of constituents.
6. Choose a slate of candidates
Incorruptibles candidates grow out of the organization, emerging from the coalition that has formed in the community. They might be activists who have already spent much of their lives fighting for social justice and other causes, they might be political novices from other professions, or they might have been candidates before. Through a participatory democratic process, the local chapter votes and puts together a slate of candidates that is representative of the residents of the city.
7. Pool campaign resources
Because the candidates are running as a slate, they can pool community resources. Paper material, events, press releases, and social media all publicize the slate of candidates instead of each candidate having their own. Traditional forms of canvassing and phone banking also support the slate; this not only saves money and volunteer time, it also helps build the chapter.
8. Support the elected officials
After the campaign season and elections are over, the chapter helps its elected officials get progressive policies passed. From doing research and legwork, attending city councils and expanding community alliances, to writing letters to the editor and organizing public events or demonstrations, local chapters are a powerful force in passing progressive legislation.
Because the chapter continues its work year-round every year, each campaign brings the grassroots chapter more experience to use for the next election.
Through The Incorruptibles national organization, locally elected officials can move up to the state level with support from constituents in every city that has an Incorruptibles chapter. Once a state has multiple chapters, there will also be a statewide organization that communicates and coordinates with city chapters to run the best slate of candidates for statewide offices.
The basic model outlined above has already been used successfully to forge strong progressive city councils in formerly corporate-controlled cities like Richmond, CA. For over a century, the Bay Area city was effectively ruled by Chevron, whose massive oil refinery makes it the city’s largest employer. Over the decades, Chevron donated to every political campaign – and exercised so much control over the city that in the 1990s it actually had its own desk at City Hall. Every decade the refinery had a leak or explosion that wreaked environmental havoc and sometimes sent thousands of people to local hospitals. The city had the second highest homicide rate in the country, and was known for its police brutality in a city with 36% African Americans and 27% Latinos.
In 2003, Richmond residents had enough. They formed the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which began running candidates for city council and mayor. Today, the RPA has a super-majority on the city council, has pushed through a raft of progressive legislation like rent control and assistance to foreclosed homeowners, and its successful former Green Party Mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, is now running for California Lieutenant Governor. In short, community political activism has turned this city, once dominated by Chevron money, into a leading progressive force in the nation. The way they made it happen in Richmond has become one of the models for The Incorruptibles as it seeks to transform political participation on a local scale nationwide.
1,000 Bernies starts with 1,000 progressive city councils
The Incorruptibles aims to create 1,000 local chapters by spring of 2018. Those local chapters will mobilize people across America to choose true progressives for candidates in the primaries ahead of the 2018 midterms. These chapters, and city councils, become fertile grounds to produce 1,000 Bernie Sanders – an army of incorruptible officials ready to take back their communities, cities, states and the U.S. Congress from special interests and the corrupting influence of money.
The Incorruptibles co-founder Anna Callahan will be speaking at the Democracy Convention on Thursday, Aug. 3rd, at 1pm on the University of Minnesota campus. To find out more, visit the Democracy Convention website.
This article is a co-publication between NationofChange and Occupy.com