Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign shocked the political establishment by morphing into a movement with clear working- class politics that inspired a new generation of young people and working families.
Sanders won 12 million votes and scored victories in 22 states, but his campaign came to a bittersweet conclusion on June 7 when the final major primary in California was lost by 13 points.
Turnout was short
The California primary election involved 3.5 million voters – an impressive number that dwarfed other states – but fell short of the 5 million who voted in the state’s 2008 primary when Clinton faced Obama. Turnout wasn’t helped by an announcement just before election day that Clinton had won enough delegates to secure the nomination.
Young & indies register
Sanders’ powerful appeal to younger and independent voters motivated record numbers to register before the election. But many who took that step checked a “no party preference” box instead of registering as “Democrats” – then found it nearly impossible to actually cast a vote for Sanders due to cumbersome election rules. California’s steady growth of “NPP” voters, now totaling 4 million, amounts to 24% of the electorate and will soon surpass the number of registered Republicans, so winning independent voters is increasingly important to candidates and a source of anxiety for both establishment parties.
Days after the election, California’s Secretary of State reported that 2.6 million ballots had yet to be counted. Roughly 1.8 million of them were “mail-in” ballots with 705,000 classified as “provisional.”
While it’s virtually impossible that the remaining ballots would reverse the outcome, the results could narrow somewhat by the July 15 deadline when the final results must be certified.
The Bernie alternative
“The Bernie Sanders movement presented us with a rare opportunity to support a candidate who was willing to stand with the working class,” said Cathy Familathe, President of the ILWU’s Southern California District Council that helped coordinate member outreach and education efforts. “Bernie showed us that it’s possible to be a viable candidate who can challenge the growing influence of business-as-usual, corporate- backed candidates in both parties,” she said. “ILWU members seemed to respond to what he was saying.”
Sanders in San Pedro
Sanders warmly embraced endorsements from more progressive unions, including the ILWU, Communications Workers, Nurses, Transit and other local unions during his campaign, including Steelworkers Local 675 in Carson, CA. Sanders’ May 27 visit to San Pedro was extra special because of the significant ILWU presence.
Thousands came with only 48-hours’ notice to attend a spirited and photogenic waterfront rally with cranes and container ships in the background.
Longshore leaders who spoke at the rally – as individuals, not union officials – included Local 13 President Bobby Olvera, Jr., ILWU Pacific Coast Pensioners President Greg Mitre and International Vice President Ray Familathe who introduced Sanders by declaring: “Bernie doesn’t worry about stepping on toes or hurting the feelings of one-percenters, Wall Streeters, and puffed-up business tycoons. He’s willing to stand with the working class and stay with the working class. That’s what he’s always done in Congress; that’s what he’s done on the campaign trail, and that’s why we’re supporting him for President of the United States. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Bernie Sanders!”
Sanders arrived at the podium wearing an ILWU jacket that appeared in photos and television appearances for several days. After thanking the many union and community members who attended, Sanders delivered the passionate stump speech that distinguished him as the first Presidential candidate since Franklin Roosevelt to come down hard on bankers and big business – while advocating for workers and all Americans who have been left behind as the rich have become richer and more powerful.
“We need a political revolution because one-tenth of one-percent in this country now owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of Americans,” Sanders said.
He also struck a positive and hopeful tone, noting that “so many young people have supported our vision of social justice, economic justice, racial justice, and environmental justice.”
Sanders detailed his program for real change that included “breaking up the big banks, providing health care for all, reforming the criminal justice system and ending a corrupt political system that works for billionaires and corporations but excludes most Americans and threatens our democracy.” He concluded by noting that “real change always has come from the bottom-up, not the top-down. That’s the history of the labor movement, and that’s what our movement is about.”
Flurry of final campaigning
Sanders left San Pedro for a meeting with residents concerned about oil companies fracking in their neighborhood and held another rally before appearing as a guest on the “Real Time with Bill Maher” TV show. In the days that followed, Sanders visited California’s Central Valley before arriving at the Bay Area for a final push, including a rally in Oakland’s Oscar Grant Plaza where actor Danny Glover – introduced by Local 10 member and longtime friend Clarence Thomas – warmed up the large crowd before Sanders took the stage.
San Francisco finale
Sanders final California campaign rally was held on the eve before election day in San Francisco. With the sun setting on the Golden Gate Bridge behind him and a chilly wind buffeting thousands who gathered around him, Sanders urged activists to keep fighting for the issues raised by the campaign.
Election night & beyond
As polls closed the next day and the disappointing results came in, Sanders spoke to supporters in a large airplane hangar in Santa Monica. His address remained focused on the issues, but he also acknowledged speaking earlier that evening with President Obama and Hillary Clinton. He pivoted to focus more fire on Donald Trump, declaring that the “American people will never support a candidate who’s major theme is bigotry,” and added, “our vision is about more than defeating Trump – it’s about transforming the country.”
ILWU members in Philly
The next phase of the Presidential campaign will move to Philadelphia on July 25-28 where Democratic Party convention delegates will debate an issue platform and set rules for future elections – in addition to formally nominating the party’s candidate.
Many of the delegates will be members of labor unions who ran in little-noticed recently in each congressional district. One of those delegates is Local 23 President Dean McGrath. Another is Jeff Engels of Seattle, a member of the ILWU’s Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU) who serves as West Coast Coordinator of the International Transport Workers Federation. Joining them is Camron Pate, Local 29 leader and political activist who said she is, “excited and thrilled to be a delegate and looking forward to doing some serious work at the Philadelphia convention.” Another possible delegate is Local 63 member and SCDC President Cathy Familathe, who is a runner-up and at-large candidate for a possible delegate slot. Another alternate delegate is Local 23’s Zach Pattin.
“We’ll be travelling at our expense, but remembering all our brothers and sisters back home who want to see real change in this country, along the lines that Bernie Sanders advocated,” said Engels.
ILWU International President Bob McEllrath says he remains hopeful about the lasting impact of Bernie Sanders’ effort. “Sanders re-shuffled the deck and shook-up the political establishment, which is exactly what America needs now. He got the ball rolling, but the rest of us have to keep pushing for real change, even when it’s unpopular with those in power.”