When we began our race for the presidency in April 2015, we were considered by the political establishment and the media to be a “fringe” campaign, something not to be taken seriously. After all, I was a senator from a small state with very little name recognition. Our campaign had no money, no political organization, and we were taking on the entire Democratic Party establishment. And, by the way, we were also running against the most powerful political operation in the country. The Clinton machine had won the presidency for Bill Clinton twice and almost won the Democratic presidential nomination for Hillary Clinton in 2008.
When our campaign finally came to a close in July 2016, it turned out that the pundits had got it wrong—big-time. We had made history and run one of the most consequential campaigns in the modern history of the country—a campaign that would, in a very profound way, change America.
We received more than 13 million votes in primaries and caucuses throughout the country. We won twenty-two states, more than a few by landslide proportions. We won 1,846 pledged delegates to the Democratic Convention, 46 percent of the total.
Importantly, in virtually every state, we won a strong majority of younger people—the future of America. We won large percentages of the vote from white, black, Latino, Asian-American, and Native American youth. We set the agenda for the America of tomorrow.
On April 25, 2016, The Washington Post reported on a poll conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics. “‘The data, collected by researchers at Harvard University, suggest that not only has Sanders’s campaign made for an unexpectedly competitive Democratic primary, he has also changed the way millennials think about politics,’ said polling director John Della Volpe. ‘He’s not moving a party to the left. He’s moving a generation to the left,’ Della Volpe said of the senator from Vermont. ‘Whether or not he’s winning or losing, it’s really that he’s impacting the way in which a generation—the largest generation in the history of America—thinks about politics.’”
At a time when political apathy is high, voter turnout is abysmally low, and millions of Americans are giving up on the political process, our campaign attracted the energetic support of hundreds of thousands of volunteers in every state in the country. We had the largest rallies of the campaign and, in total, more than 1.4 million people attended our public meetings.
As a result of our victories in a number of states, there are now at least five new chairs of state Democratic parties who were elected as part of the political revolution. Further, there are a number of progressive candidates, energized and supported by our campaign, running for office for everything from school board to the U.S. Congress—and many of them will win. New blood. New energy in the political process.
And we showed—in a way that can change politics in America forever—that you can run a competitive national grassroots campaign without begging millionaires and billionaires for campaign contributions. We, proudly, were the only campaign not to have a super PAC. In a manner unprecedented in American history, we received some 8 million individual campaign contributions. The average contribution was $27. These donations came from 2.5 million Americans, the vast majority of whom were low- or moderate-income people.
During the campaign, we forced discussion on issues the establishment had swept under the rug for far too long. We brought attention to the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in this country and the importance of breaking up the large banks that brought our economy to the brink of collapse. We exposed our horrendous trade policies, our broken criminal justice system, and our people’s lack of access to affordable health care and higher education. We addressed the global crisis of climate change, the need for real comprehensive immigration reform, the importance of developing a foreign policy that values diplomacy over war, and so much more.
Importantly, the support that we won showed that our ideas were not outside of the mainstream. We showed that millions of Americans want a bold, progressive agenda that takes on the billionaire class and creates a government that works for all of us and not just for big campaign donors.
The widespread and popular support we received for our agenda helped transform the Democratic Party and forced Secretary Clinton to move her position closer to ours in a number of areas. She began the campaign as a supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Keystone Pipeline. She ended up being in opposition to both. As a result of negotiations between the two camps after the campaign ended, Secretary Clinton adopted bold positions on higher education and health care that moved her closer to what we had advocated.
Our campaign also had a huge impact on the writing of the most progressive platform, by far, in the history of the Democratic Party. Despite being in the minority, our supporters ended up shaping much of that platform. Here is some of what the Democratic Party of 2016 stands for:
- A $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, the expansion of Social Security benefits, and the creation of millions of new jobs that will be needed to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.
- The breaking up of too-big-to-fail banks and the creation of a twenty-first-century Glass-Steagall Act.
- The closing of loopholes that allow multinational corporations to avoid federal taxes by stashing their cash in offshore tax havens.
- The combating of climate change by putting a price on carbon and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels.
- Major criminal justice reform, including the abolition of the death penalty, the ending of private prisons, and the establishment of a path toward the legalization of marijuana.
- The passage of comprehensive immigration reform.
- The most expansive agenda ever for protecting Native American rights.
During the fifteen months of the campaign there was one central point that I made over and over again, and let me repeat it here: This campaign was never just about electing a president of the United States—as enormously important as that was. This campaign was about transforming America. It was about the understanding that real change never takes place from the top on down. It always takes place from the bottom on up. It takes place when ordinary people, by the millions, are prepared to stand up and fight for justice.
That’s what the history of the trade union movement is about. That’s what the history of the women’s movement is about. That’s what the history of the civil rights movement is about. That’s what the history of the gay rights movement is about. That’s what the history of the environmental movement is about. That’s what any serious movement for justice is about.
That’s what the political revolution is about.
I ended this campaign far more optimistic about the future of our country than when I began. How could it be otherwise? In fields in California, I spoke to thousands of working people from every conceivable background who came together determined to transform our country. They were farmworkers, environmentalists, gay activists, and students. They know, and I know, that we are stronger when we stand together and do not allow demagogues to divide us up by race, gender, sexual orientation, or where we were born.
In Portland, Maine, on a cold day, my staff watched people wait outside on long lines for hours, determined to cast their votes at the caucus there. In Arizona, it took some people five hours to cast a vote—but they stayed and voted. All across this country, people are fighting back to create the vibrant democracy that we desperately need and to stop our drift toward oligarchy.
In New York City, I walked the picket line with striking workers at Verizon who were determined not to see the company cut benefits and outsource jobs. They stood up against outrageous corporate greed. They stood together as a proud union. And they won.
In Washington, D.C., I marched with low-wage workers who told the world that they cannot survive on the starvation minimum wage that currently exists. That we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Their message and their fight is reverberating all across the country.
This book describes the history-making campaign that we ran. But more important, it looks to the future. It lays out a new path for America based on principles of economic, social, racial, and environmental justice. On behalf of our children and grandchildren, it is a path that must be followed and a fight that must be won.
The struggle continues.
Copyright © 2016 by Bernie Sanders
BERNIE SANDERS ran as a Democratic candidate for President of the United States in 2015 and 2016. He served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, for eight years before defeating an incumbent Republican to be the sole congressperson for the state in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1991. He was elected to the Senate in 2007 and is now in his second term, making him the longest-serving independent in the history of the Congress. He lives in Burlington, Vermont, with his wife, Jane, and has four children and seven grandchildren.