- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2016

His presidential bid may have fallen short, but Sen. Bernard Sanders now aims to mobilize a grass-roots army that will fight for progressive causes and elect liberal Democrats across the country.

Mr. Sanders launched his advocacy group, Our Revolution, on Wednesday evening.

The organization, which already is embroiled in controversy and saw many key staffers depart over the weekend, will be built around the policy positions Mr. Sanders fought for in the Democratic presidential primary race.

He told his backers that they must not abandon their fight for economic, racial and environmental justice, and must hold elected leaders responsible.

“Real change never ever takes place from the top on down. It’s not some guy signing a bill,” he told supporters at a gathering in Vermont. “It always takes place from the bottom up when millions of people come together and demand fundamental change in the country.”

“Over time, Our Revolution will involve hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “These are people who will be fighting at the grass-roots level for changes in their local school boards, in their city councils, in their state legislatures and in their representation in Washington.”

The organization, Mr. Sanders said, will continue the work of his failed White House campaign by taking on “special interests” in the political and financial sectors, fights many of his supporters seem especially eager to continue.

He also said his supporters will push ballot initiatives across the country dealing with “campaign finance issues, health care issues, labor issues, gender issues” and others.

The senator also seems intent on pushing the Democratic Party further to the left and instituting more liberal leadership at the top. He succeeded this summer in pushing out former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz after leaked emails revealed she and other party officials actively favored Hillary Clinton during the party’s primary contests.

With the nominating process now a memory, attention now turns to how best to mobilize Sanders supporters. Our Revolution has sole control over Mr. Sanders‘ email list, which contains millions of names, addresses and phone numbers and will be invaluable to progressives looking to raise money for Democrats in local, state and national races.

Mr. Sanders‘ group seems to be following a path similar to that of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s presidential campaign structure. After his own White House bid failed in 2004, Mr. Dean turned his campaign, Dean for America, into Democracy for America, one of the most powerful and influential political action committees on the left.

But Our Revolution has a long way to go before it’s on the same plane as Democracy for America or other powerful liberal organizations. Mr. Sanders‘ group already had run into major problems even before Wednesday night’s highly anticipated address.

Eight of the group’s 13 full-time staffers quit over the weekend amid internal disputes, according to multiple media reports. Those disputes centered on the presence of former Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver, who was brought on board to oversee Our Revolution.

The staffers said they signed on under the assumption that they wouldn’t have to work with Mr. Weaver, a polarizing figure among many inside the Sanders campaign. The disgruntled former staffers also fear that Mr. Weaver plans to solicit donations from wealthy liberals such as climate change activist Tom Steyer.

Such big-money donations from powerful lobbyists such as Mr. Steyer would seem to go against everything the Sanders campaign stood for, yet there are rumblings that it is the direction Our Revolution will go under Mr. Weaver’s leadership.

“I left and others left because we were alarmed that Jeff would mismanage the organization as he mismanaged the campaign,” Claire Sandberg, the group’s former organizing director and a veteran of the Sanders presidential campaign, told The New York Times this week.

She said she fears Mr. Weaver will “betray its core purpose by accepting money from billionaires and not remaining grass-roots funded and plowing that billionaire cash into TV instead of investing it in building a genuine movement.”

Despite those problems, other progressive activists say Our Revolution can succeed.

“Any new organization, especially one that emerges from a campaign as strong as the one Bernie Sanders ran all across the country, is going to have some early growing pains,” said Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America. “Democracy for America remains incredibly excited about working with Our Revolution to grow, strengthen and empower the millions of grass-roots progressive leaders Bernie Sanders’ campaign inspired to win important policy fights, support others who share their values, and run for office themselves.”

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