What will the Bernie Sanders revolution look like without Bernie Sanders?

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Hillary Clinton won four of five primaries along the East Coast on Tuesday night, and while I’m not here to predict if or when Bernie Sanders will drop out of the race, his delegate math just got advanced calculus-level difficult. According to the Associated Press' count, with superdelegates included, Clinton now has at least 90% of the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.

Sanders appears intent on staying in the race through June in order to give every voter a say and keep his core issues in focus. But, barring some kind of massive upset, Clinton is very likely going to be the Democratic nominee.

So for the millions of voters who have made Sanders’ insurgent candidacy a force that reset the national political conversation and pulled the Democratic party to the left, the question is now: What will the Bernie Sanders revolution look like without Bernie Sanders?


Well, a lot like it already does.

While Sanders’ candidacy undoubtedly galvanized progressive voters, young progressive voters in particular, a major force behind his rise had actually been building for years. Sanders was the right candidate—at the right time and with the right platform—to push issues like Medicare for all and free in-state tuition into primetime focus, but he is also the beneficiary of some serious movement groundwork that came before his presidential run—and reshaped it as it gained its footing.


In addition to support from young voters, the Sanders revolution drew its strength from a coalition of movements—from the Fight for $15 to Black Lives Matter—that have spent years building up the public vocabulary on issues like structural racism, police violence, income inequality, food insecurity, and poverty wages.

So after Bernie, this same coalition will continue its work of forcing the conversations—and shifting the boundaries of political possibility—that can improve the material conditions of people’s lives. The added benefit for those movements is that the last 12 months of Democratic debate has meant that there are some more newly woke baes talking about things like the economic necessity of paid family leave and ending mass incarceration.


And for a majority of Sanders voters, the post-Bernie comedown will also include voting for Clinton come the general election. Even Jane Sanders, the Vermont senator’s wife and an influential presence on the trail, has said she and her husband will cast a ballot for Clinton if she’s the party’s nominee.

But beyond the general and its significance in sweeping terms—think Supreme Court nominees and presidential stopgaps against debilitating cuts to social programs or efforts to defund Planned Parenthood—the Sanders revolution will only become a meaningful political reckoning if the same voters who turned out in staggering numbers in their states’ primaries and caucuses turn out again in mid-term and local elections.


One of the major criticisms of Sanders’ campaign—which frankly applies just as equally to a majority of Clinton’s agenda—is that there was no way in hell he would be able to get anything like a $15 minimum wage past an obstructionist Congress.

That’s true, and will remain true unless the Sanders’ coalition turns out in the same numbers to flip their districts. Ditto for states with Republican governors who have rejected the Medicaid expansion or signed off on massive cuts to education. Ditto (again) for Republican-controlled state legislatures that have managed to pass a flood of anti-abortion legislation, voter suppression laws, anti-LGBTQ laws, and state-wide prohibitions on a living wage.


Sanders annihilated Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, and his margin among young voters was even larger. Those voters came out in response to a message of raising the minimum wage, among other things. Coincidentally, their state's junior senator is a Republican who has voted against efforts to do just that. Sanders narrowly eked out a victory in Michigan, a state in which some residents are pushing for a recall effort after the pro-austerity government poisoned their children.

So if the ambition of the Sanders revolution was to ensure that people in the United States could have access to healthcare, a living wage, affordable housing, and education, then there’s good news: virtually every other election ahead, from municipal to congressional, has exactly those same stakes.