WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 06: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a news conference on better wages for workers, on Capitol Hill October 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. Sanders held the news conference to introduce legislation designed to make it easier for workers to join together and bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Ralph Nader first championed the Green Party in 2000 where many perceived him to play “spoiler” for Al Gore. What exactly Nader’s Green Party run caused and accomplished is up for debate, but what is undisputable is the fact that it fed a longstanding appetite for a challenge to the Democratic Party from the left.
Bernie Sanders was faced with a choice in 2015, run for president as a Democrat despite being a lifelong Independent, or run as a third party candidate. Bernie Sanders opted for the first one and there is a lot of good reasons for that choice, but one stands above all the rest.
Taking over a national institution is easier than building a new one.
It really is that simple and ultimately every conceivable reason Bernie Sanders chose to run as a Democrat boils back down to that one thing. Taking over an institution that can reach people in all 50 states is a lot easier than building a new one. Something Ralph Nader’s candidacy definitely proved in the same way it proved there was an appetite for a shift to the left within the Democratic Party’s would be base.
It’s not that the Democratic Party is necessarily an inherently worthy vessel for progressive change. In fact they have proven time and time again that they are more than willing to stifle change to keep the status quo in place. Still, carrying the vessel metaphor out, the Democratic Party is a ship with a lot of hands on deck that might be convinced to steer it to the left. All it takes is compelling discussion and local engagement.
The fact is that there is a finite number of potential political activists and a finite amount of energy people can devote to politics. Any third party attempt is going to first have to convince those activists to ditch their current focus and for millions of people around the country to take on a more progressive party means ditching the Democratic Party. Then those people need to be convinced that instead of apathy or some other option their energy is best when channeled towards a new progressive entity, or perhaps planting the seeds to start a chapter of that new entity in their community. Whether it’s the Green Party, the Democratic Socialists of America, or some other left wing alternative party, getting these people on board has to happen.
The thing is though, these people are showing up to Democratic Party meetings, weekly, monthly, maybe yearly. Still millions of people around the country, from Los Angeles to rural New Hampshire, are showing up at Democratic Party events. Convincing these people to adopt more progressive policy stances has to happen either way. Whether it’s in a more progressive minded Democratic Party or a left-wing alternative, these are the people in their communities who are on the ground and engaged. These are the people who will make any alternative party a realistic option.
Which is why Bernie Sanders decided to run as a Democrat to begin with, he knew convincing these people to spend their energy pushing the party to the left was a faster way to progressive change than building a new party from the ground up. Because ultimately the people pushing the policy will be the same no matter the banner they work under. Again there is a finite amount of political energy and political activists in any given community. Convincing them to move the party to the left removes the step where they have to be convinced the party must be ditched.
Democrats have proven repeatedly they are apprehensive to be pushed by forces outside the party. Even after bringing millions of energized people on board Democrats were skeptical of Bernie Sanders. Some still are. Local activists will share that same skepticism. Which is why getting involved, getting out there and meeting them, proving that a more progressive way forward is the right one, is in fact the only way forward.