- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sen. Bernard Sanders is giving the silent treatment to progressive activists clamoring for him to end his political marriage with Democrats and pilot a new party committed to making his progressive vision a reality.

Activists say they still hope Mr. Sanders will join their effort, but are miffed the Vermont independent is hewing so closely to the party that they say mistreated him in last year’s presidential primary.

They hope to give Mr. Sanders a nudge next week, dropping off 50,000 signed petitions at his Capitol Hill office calling on him to lead a new party and to take part in a town hall.

“Bernie only has to gain from this conversation,” Nick Brana, founder of Draft Bernie for a People’s Party, told The Washington Times. “These are people who really led on his campaign. They were making videos. They were on social media. These were really grass-roots leaders and so many of them have come to the opinion that we need a new party.”

The plea comes two weeks after Mr. Brana and left-wing activist Cornel West invited Mr. Sanders to attend the Sept. 9 town hall meeting, part of a three-day “Convergence Conference” at American University that also will include appearances from Jimmy Dore, a comedian and political commentator, and Kshama Sawant, who in 2013 became the first socialist elected to the Seattle City Council and helped lead the successful push for $15 per hour minimum wage in the city.

Mr. Sanders’ office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

“Obviously, Bernie is dedicated toward defeating Trump and holding back the Republicans, but that is not the question — the question is instead what is the best way to do that?” Mr. Brana said, adding that even Mr. Sanders has struggled to unite a majority of Americans under the Democratic banner. “Nobody can unite the country inside a Democratic Party that remains as corporate as ever.”

Other progressive groups have steered clear of the “Draft Bernie” efforts, saying the country is locked into the two-party system.

“While we respect allies who may disagree, we stand with Bernie in the belief that the clearest path to fight economic and racial inequity in our country comes through working to reform the Democratic Party rather than creating a new party from scratch,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America.

Christy Setzer, a Democratic strategist who has worked on three presidential campaigns, said Mr. Sanders would risk his relevance if he joined the rebel movement.

“Sanders is wise to steer clear, lest his legacy be the guy with crazy hair and fringe politics who was only taken seriously for a brief moment in time,” she said.

For his part, Mr. Sanders has tried to overhaul the party from the inside.

He accepted a leadership post in the Senate Democratic caucus, endorsed Rep. Keith Ellison’s failed bid to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee and threw his support behind former Rep. Tom Perriello’s unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Virginia.

More recently he has headlined events in Indianapolis, Detroit and Ohio, where he slammed President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, reiterated his calls for Medicare-for-all and decried tax cuts for the rich

“Our job is not to allow them to divide us up, it is to bring our people together,” he said at one of the stops. “When we stand together it is black and white and Latino and when we fight for an agenda and a government that works for all of us, we can do extraordinary things.”

Mr. Sanders, who will be 79 in 2020, has refused to close the door on another bid for president.

On Wednesday, Mr. Brana, who worked on Mr. Sanders’ presidential campaign, said he hopes his former boss comes on board and in an email blast reminded his followers the invite to the Vermont senator is open ended.

“Progressives across the country are waiting to see if Bernie Sanders will sit down with the working people who fought and sacrificed for him in 2016,” Mr. Brana said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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