Our Revolution Is Already the “Post-Bernie” Organization We Need

Jacobin wrote last week that “Our Revolution failed to live up to its potential.” But the Our Revolution that I know is already a mass organization of working people fighting for real change.

Our Revolution chairman Larry Cohen at the People's Rally, Washington, DC, November 17, 2016. Lorie Shaull / Wikimedia

In the first half of his commentary about Our Revolution (OR), Jacobin’s David Duhalde says, “Our Revolution failed to live up to its potential.”

The Our Revolution he describes is not the organization I know in Maryland.

Our Revolution Maryland (ORMD) has seven chapters, in counties from Worcester on the Atlantic to Washington County near West Virginia. An elected Steering Committee runs each chapter; they coordinate state-wide through a nineteen-member elected State Organizing Committee. We are united behind Bernie’s politics and mission. We work every day to carry out OR’s three-part program.

In coalitions with other progressive organizations we fight at the county level on local issues — from gas pipelines and bail reform to publicly financed elections and clean water. At the state level we focused in this year’s Maryland Assembly on education reform, Medicare for All, and strengthening climate protections. We lobbied in Annapolis and home offices, testified in committees, delivered petitions, and confronted politicians at town hall meetings. We successfully used the OR emergency ambulance to hold Medicare for All events all over the state and have played a leadership role in Maryland on this issue.

We have engaged, with some success, in electoral politics. We were decisive in making Ben Jealous the Democratic Party nominee for governor and in electing progressive county executives — one of whom is an ORMD member — to two of the largest counties in the state; they and Senator Van Hollen and Congressmen attend our chapter meetings. We have run progressive candidates for local office. Our Baltimore chapter co-chair, Sheila Ruth, is now a member of the Maryland General Assembly. This coming Saturday over 300 ORMD members will have a video conversation with Congressman Jamie Raskin and OR Chair Larry Cohen.

We are engaged, with other progressives in changing Maryland’s Democratic Party. Our “Operation Cuckoo” elected eighty-five progressives to county committees. (Check out the wildly perfect definition of “cuckoo”!) We are already strategizing to focus on the counties where we can elect majorities in 2022.

Every single chapter operates phone banks, most of them weekly, using the excellent technology and training OR provides for our activists. In the past six weeks, during COVID-19, we had 419 conversations with Maryland supporters and added over 100 to our activist network.

We finance all our activities from donations from our 30,000 supporters. We are able to pay one half of an organizer’s salary, sharing him full time with national OR.

Volunteer activists, not staff in a distant office, carry out this entire program.

National OR provides more grassroots support for ORMD today than when it was started four years ago. They have ironed out the kinks in keeping and using lists and in texting and phone banking technology. They help us publicize our events. They respond to all our requests for help. They coordinate ORMD nationally with other states. They provide the same help to other chapters all over the country. The other day, I sat in with 7,000 other OR activists from around the country on a Zoom conversation with Sen.Merkley, Keith Ellison, Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna, Susan Sarandon, Chesa Boudin, Ben Cohen, Marie Newman, and Rashida Tlaib on the next phase of the OR program.

Duhalde says in the second half of his article that “the Bernie movement needs a mass organization.” Of course, we need such an organization. What we don’t need at this decisive moment is more distraction and diversion on the Left.

I have talked with — and mostly listened to — countless OR and progressive activists in the weeks since Bernie suspended his campaign. They grieve, curse, attack Biden and the Democratic Party, are confused and profoundly demoralized. They say they want to stay involved in progressive politics. They want to be part of a movement that is grassroots and bottom up, deeply democratic, that fights on both national and local issues, has an inside/outside strategy of electing progressives to office and at the same time challenges and changes the Democratic Party.

Duhalde’s wishes for the future actually describe the real Our Revolution — its politics, mission, program, and strategy.

We here in ORMD know our shortcomings better than David Duhalde. We are intensely critical of our failure to mobilize more activists, raise more money, broaden our membership in some of our very diverse counties and among younger progressives. We have suffered setbacks in Operation Cuckoo. We need to create more lasting coalitions with other grassroots progressive organizations throughout Maryland. We are struggling with how to work under COVID-19 restrictions.

But that’s the key. We are engaged in struggle right here and now. We are committed and trying and learning how to build a mass grassroots progressive political movement following Bernie’s politics.

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Bob Muehlenkamp is the Chair of Our Revolution Maryland, and has been active in the social justice and trade union movements for more than forty-five years. He served as Executive Vice President and National Organizing Director at SEIU-1199, the hospital workers union, and as the Teamster Organizing Director.

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