After losing the Democratic nomination in 2016, Bernie Sanders started Our Revolution, an organization devoted to grassroots organizing and raising the profiles of progressive candidates. However, today’s POLITICO article by Edward-Isaac Dovere paints a bleak picture of an organization that may have begun with noble intentions but now finds itself sinking in terms of credibility and transparency.
Our Revolution had a spotty track record of success from the start. While some of the candidates it endorsed have gone on to win, they have mostly been in small, local elections. While supporting local candidates is certainly integral to our democracy, Our Revolution has failed to win in federal and state-wide races. Even when Sanders-like candidates who lean left have won their primaries, it has often been without the help of Our Revolution, with John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, being a recent example (although Sanders, who has not affiliated himself with Our Revolution, endorsed Fetterman personally.)
One of their most notable blunders came in last year’s Virginia governor’s race. Initially, Our Revolution supported Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary as a progressive alternative to Ralph Northam, a former Bush voter who the group’s then-president, Jeff Weaver, dismissed as “Republican-lite.” After Northam won the primary, Perriello buried the hatchet and campaigned for his former opponent, who won in an even-bigger-than-expected victory against Republican Ed Gillespie. However, Our Revolution never endorsed Northam, nor did it learn from this mistake and endorse either Doug Jones or Conor Lamb. Roles in their victories could have significantly boosted their profile, but sitting out some of the most important pre-midterm races have contributed to their tattered image.
What’s more, the group’s process of allotting endorsements lacks transparency. According to its critics, they rush to endorse candidates before they have gone through the proper steps of interviewing them, reviewing their mandatory questionnaires, and coordinating with rival campaigns on these decisions. Often they will only complete two of these three steps, as they did with their recent endorsement of Cynthia Nixon for governor of New York. Nixon filled out their questionnaire and submitted to their interview, but the group never contacted Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaign about any of this.
A Cuomo endorsement was unlikely in that particular case, but in other races, the process has snubbed Democrats more favorable to the Sanders agenda. In Georgia, the group endorsed Stacey Abrams for governor, but did nothing to inform her opponent, Stacey Evans, who hadn’t even finished filling out the questionnaire before losing their endorsement to Abrams. They also forgot to inform the Georgia chapter of the group, baffling Georgia State Senator and former Bernie backer Vincent Fort, who said he was “dumbfounded” at how it all went down.
Much of the blame for these failings fall on its president, Nina Turner, the former Ohio State Senator whom many of Our Revolution’s critics and board members have accused of making decisions without the participation of others, and using the group as a springboard for her own agenda. Recently, Turner committed a massive tactical blunder by announcing the appointment of her friend Tezlyn Figaro to be their chief of staff, despite having no fundraising or organizational experience. Figaro had also made multiple appearances on Fox News and tweeted inflammatory remarks about immigrants. The board objected to this appointment, having no idea that Turner had already put Figaro on the payroll. POLITICO says that Figaro’s contract with the group is set to expire without renewal.
As their importance has dried up, so has their fundraising: Dovere reports that online fundraising totals for Our Revolution are now a third of what they used to be a year ago. What’s more, Sanders’ exclusive “email list” has proven not to be the secret weapon many assumed it was. After promising the Perriello campaign to send out a slew of fundraising emails that would supposedly net “between $150,000 and $300,000,” the emails not only went out later than promised, but they only netted around $50,000. It comes as no surprise that Sanders has announced plans to have his own PAC to raise funds for Our Revolution directly.
If Dovere’s article is any indication, it seems a drastic course correction is needed for Our Revolution to gain its footing (and relevance) in time for the midterms this fall. The Democrats have always been a big-tent party welcoming all kinds of voices, and it cannot afford to have a group whose leader shouts “Any blue won’t do” in an attempt to stifle the voices of centrists within the party. If Our Revolution keeps this up, they may become what many of their strongest partisans have always been: a bunch of angry left-wingers screaming into the winds of social media.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.