In recent weeks, I’ve been hearing from quite a few Democrats that they like Bernie Sanders and what he stands for but they’re not sure that he’s really a Democrat. After all, Sanders is the longest serving independent in the US Congress. It’s true that Sanders has always caucused with Democrats and serves in Senate committees accordingly, but is he truly a Democrat at heart?
A good person to ask that question might be John Burton, the fiery chairman of the California Democratic Party. Back in 2011, Burton invited Bernie Sanders to be the keynote speaker at the California Democratic Convention. He personally introduced him, to the tune of “I won’t back down” by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, telling Democratic delegates that Bernie “is our kind of Senator and we are his kind of Democrats.” Sanders electrified the audience of grassroots Democratic activists. He still does.
When Bernie Sanders started speaking about the possibility of running for President back in 2013, he was uncertain as to whether he’d run as an independent or as a Democrat. “ I want to hear what progressives have to say about it” he told The Nation in March, 2014. “The bolder, more radical approach is obviously running outside of the two-party system. Do people believe at this particular point that there is the capability of starting a third-party movement? Or is that an idea that is simply not realistic at this particular moment in history? On the other hand, do people believe that operating in framework of the Democratic Party, getting involved in primaries state-by-state, building organization capability, rallying people, that for the moment at least that this is the better approach? Those are the options that I think progressives around the country are going to have to wrestle with. And that’s certainly something that I will be listening to.”
Bernie asked and progressive Democrats responded asking him to run as a Democrat. Progressive Democrats of America immediately put together a petition asking Sanders to step forward and be “a champion of ‘the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party'”. Over 20,000 Democrats signed the petition, committing ourselves to “knock on doors, donate, make phone calls, use social media, and do everything we can to elect Bernie Sanders the next President of the United States.” Democratic activists followed up by hosting house parties across the country, organizing rallies and phone banking to try to build the basis for a Sanders run and thus convince him that he had a real shot at winning the Democratic primaries. This efforts paid off when Bernie announced he would run in the Democratic primary.
Bernie Sanders’ run is already helping to transform the party. After years of declining Democratic registration, we are finally to see an uplift. John Burton is right, Bernie Sanders is our kind of Senator and he will be our kind of President, a Democratic one.