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Bernie Sanders. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Bernie Sanders. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Bernie Sanders is running for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential election, what difference can he make this time?

In 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders came very close to winning the Democratic nomination for presidential candidate in a campaign in which he described himself as a socialist and won mass popular support. Now that Sanders is standing for nomination again in the 2020 presidential election, Counterfire asked activists from Britain and North America what difference they think he can make this time around.

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Steve Five

Steve Five is the founder/campaign manager of Bushwick Berners (Brooklyn For Bernie)

Bernie’s place in American politics is still vastly important. Obviously the primary difference he could make in 2020 is that he could win, and his policies enacted. In my view, it's literally the only way to steer the American ship of state onto anything other than an environmental, economic, and cultural crash course. Aside from that, his campaign this time around will further raising class consciousness, primarily in America where any ideology other than conservatism and liberalism has been almost wholesale neutered or erased over the past 50-100 years.

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Lindsey German

Lindsey German is the convenor of the Stop the War Coalition and the author of How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women

The last presidential campaign by Bernie Sanders took everyone by storm and it may well be that had he been the Democratic party candidate instead of Hillary Clinton, we would never have had President Trump. He has been the biggest single force in popularising socialism in the US, and this has led to the election of some important new political figures and the growth of the DSA. He has been compared to Corbyn many times and they both represent a turn away from centre politics towards a left solution to the crisis. Part of the secret of their success is that politics is polarising internationally under the weight of austerity and crisis, with the growth of a racist far right, but also with many looking to ideas of solidarity, equality and socialism. Unlike Corbyn, however, he is much less good on international issues. But Venezuela and Palestine will be at the centre of US politics, and the left has to be on the right side here. 

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Liam Young

Liam Young is the author of Rise: How Jeremy Corbyn Inspired the Young to Create a New Socialism

Bernie Sanders’ candidacy in the race for the American presidential election in 2020 should not be underplayed. We only need to look at the difference between the last Democratic primary and this one to see his influence. Last time around, Clinton was proud to act as the defender of the establishment. This time, nearly every candidate supports Bernie’s long-held belief in Medicare for All, something that was roundly attacked in the last primary race. A number of candidates also support the idea of universal free childcare, the Green New Deal and tuition-free college education. These are all policies which were once demonised by the Democrats and yet are now the staple of most of the campaigns for the party’s nomination. This is all down to Bernie Sanders. Without his candidacy in 2016 this revolution may never have happened. But as much as the new candidates want to tack left, it is only Sanders who has the history to accompany his left-wing policies. Sanders sees the class war that is waging in American society and he isn’t simply talking up the idea of being more radical: he genuinely is. His campaign offers the chance of a democratic socialist President of the United States. Let’s not forget how massive that opportunity is.

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Kulsoom Jafri

Kulsoom Jafri is a Momentum and Labour Party activist

As the current Democratic Party frontrunner for president, it is clear that Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist approach resonates with the public. At a time when other 2020 candidates have adopted the progressive policies Bernie championed, it may seem as though it will be anyone’s game. However, what makes Bernie unique is not only what he campaigns for (policies for working people and marginalized communities), but also how he campaigns. He is uprooting the rigged electoral process as we know it.

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, the funds funnelled to candidates by dark money, corporations, and special interests is at an all-time high. Among others, Ilhan Omar recently raised concerns over this legalized corruption — campaign contributions leading directly to policy outcomes. Among 2020 candidates, some have pledged not to take corporate or super-PAC money, another approach championed by Bernie Sanders. Kamala Harris, for example, had vowed not to take corporate PAC money. However, she still relies on high-dollar fundraising dinners and phones billionaires for support. Bernie remains the only candidate with a commitment to grassroots support and organising without the ‘help’ of big money. This not only demonstrates people power (as Bernie outraised the other 2020 candidates), but also proves that we can overcome an unjust campaign finance system in the United States.

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Des Freedman

Des Freedman is vice-president of Goldsmiths UCU and researches media policy and power

The US Attorney General’s decision not to prosecute Trump for collaborating with Russia in 2016 means that domestic issues are now more likely to dominate American politics.

That’s good news for Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator and self-declared socialist who came close to winning the Democratic nomination in 2016, winning 13 million votes and raising enormous amounts of money from individual supporters and not the political action committees that dominate the US electoral system.

Sanders’ policies on a universal ‘Medicare for All’ healthcare system, $15 per hour minimum wage, Green New Deal, free tuition at public colleges and higher taxes for the rich will once again take centre stage – and, crucially, provide the best means of undercutting Trump’s fake concern for the ‘left behind’.

Sanders will face enormous pressure to tone down his policies and not to criticise US foreign policy on, for example, Israel or Venezuela, not to criticise the rampant racism of the US judicial system and not to throw his support behind undocumented immigrants who Trump will continue to scapegoat.

Sanders can’t afford to buckle on these questions. He needs unequivocally to channel the rage and despair of millions of Americans, let down by the neoliberalism promoted by centrist Democrats, into progressive policies and to provide an outlet for the 50% of millennials who have declared their support for a socialist alternative. Whether he does or not will be down to how activists mobilise on the ground.

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Kiri Tunks

Kiri Tunks is Joint President of the National Education Union

The fact that a self-declared democratic socialist is seen as a realistic contender in the 2020 US Presidential election should give us all hope that another United States, and another world, is actually possible.

His policies certainly look socialist: free Medicare for all, action on climate change, a $15 minimum wage, tuition-free college, an overhaul of criminal justice, equal pay and maternity leave to name a few.

But they have not come out of thin air. Struggles for policies like these are already happening at community and union level and Sanders should be confident of building strong support for them. Look at what the trade union organising of educators in Chicago & LA and the wildcat teachers strikes in the red states have accomplished.

The signs are that a clear commitment to social and economic justice are gathering real grassroots support. He raised $18.2m in the first six weeks of campaigning from 520,000 individual donors (average donation of $20).

His commitment to a progressive foreign policy could also gain traction. He is asking the voters honest questions about the costs and implications of US intervention in other countries. They might just like his answers. And so might we.

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David Bush

David Bush is a Canadian socialist and an editor at RankandFile.ca

Bernie Sanders is running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2020. In 2016 he was an insurgent candidate running against a presumed frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. Despite losing the nomination he garnered significant support and helped popularise socialist ideas. His run helped pave the way for the growth of Democratic Socialists of America, the election of open socialists such as Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Congress and many others at the state and local level.

This time around, Sanders is one of the most popular candidates in a crowded Democratic field. Trump’s defeat of Clinton, the subsequent mass resistance to Trump and the popularity of Sanders’ agenda has altered the political landscape on the left. Once marginal ideas supported by Bernie and a few Democratic politicians, such as Medicare for All, are widely popular and are now seen as a litmus test for potential Democratic candidates. But what distinguishes Bernie from even his most left-wing rivals in the contest, such as Elizabeth Warren, is Bernie’s unabashed support of socialism and his positive orientation towards movements. While there are many pitfalls to running inside the Democratic Party, his candidacy is likely to further popularise socialist ideas, shift the political debate on class issues and public services to the left and cause panic amongst the American ruling class.

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Ellen Graubart

Ellen Graubart is an artist and socialist activist born in India of American parents. She has three grown-up children, a grandson, and lives in Stoke Newington, Hackney

Bernie Sanders is the United States’ version of Jeremy Corbyn, in that he has introduced a socialist agenda into US politics, a pretty remarkable feat, considering the stigma the word socialism has ‘enjoyed’ for the past several decades. A huge chunk the population has been awakened to the fact that socialism means economic, racial, social and environmental justice for all, and they really like the idea.

Though this time around, a crowded field presents more competition than he faced in 2016: he is no longer the main alternative to Hillary Clinton, and every candidate is more or less embracing his brand of socialism; but Sanders proposes the most change (and threat) for businesses and wealthy Americans.

His key issues are the following:

  • Healthcare: transition to Medicare for All
  • Labour: a $15 per hour minimum wage
  • Taxes: expansion of the estate tax to address growing wealth inequality
  • Investing/banks: breaking up of the banks and restricting stock repurchases
  • Education: make community college tuition-free, eliminate tuition at four-year universities for students from families with income of $125, 000 or less
  • Climate change: Introducing a Green New Deal to reshape the economy, cut carbon emissions and address climate change
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Lucy Nichols

Lucy Nichols is an anti-war activist who works for the Stop the War Coalition

 

Whether or not he wins the 2020 election, Bernie Sanders has already made a significant difference to US politics. During his 2016 presidential run, Sanders brought ideas such as free health and free college tuition into the mainstream. Seen as radical in 2016, these policies are now supported by 17 major Democrat candidates running against him, who are younger and much more diverse than 77-year-old Sanders.

While good, this means that Sanders cannot rely on populism for support. He will also have to work hard for the minority vote due to the diversity of his opponents. As groundbreaking as it would be to see a woman of colour like Kamala Harris become President, America probably isn’t ready for this yet. Sanders, a straight white man (and millionaire), is therefore already at an advantage.

If Sanders does win, it will still be on a fairly progressive platform of social reform and less aggressive foreign policy; hopefully he will stand by this once president. Even if he doesn’t keep his promises, the main concern is getting Trump out of office and as the most popular politician officially running for president, Bernie Sanders is best placed to do this.

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Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a political activist and officer of the Stop the War Coalition

Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign was a game changer. He openly called himself a socialist and showed that an alternative to neoliberalism and the reactionary alt-right was possible.

He drastically changed the political landscape and in the 2018 midterms, left-wing candidates made some headway within the Democrats, championing popular policies that defy the neoliberal consensus like the Green New Deal, higher taxes for the richest in society, free education and universal healthcare. Their successful pushback of the attempt to censure Ilhan Omar by the Democratic establishment gives hope that any attempt by the DNC to sabotage Bernie like they did in 2016 might be stopped.

Sanders’ weakness has been foreign policy. Though a step forward from neocon establishment Democrats, his positions on the attempted regime change in Venezuela and on challenging support for Israel have not been great. This shows just how important an independent grassroots movement that can agitate on these questions will be in both getting him elected and pushing him leftwards.

Nonetheless, the left’s success is evidenced in Donald Trump using his State of the Union address to say “America will never be a socialist country” and emailing his supporters that Sanders wants “FULL-BLOWN SOCIALISM”. It’s also evident in the constant vilification of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar in the mainstream media, yet recent polls show that Americans would prefer socialism to capitalism.

American politics is polarising, and even more than in 2016, only a left-wing candidate like Sanders stands a chance at beating Trump in 2020.

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