By Bruce A. Dixon, Black Agenda Report
April 20, 2016
Will there be a new movement born from the ashes of Bernie Sanders' failed campaign? Some think so, citing the broad popularity of his issues and the growing numbers of his core demographic. But few of those imagining new political formations outside the two capitalist parties talk much about how such movements and parties will be financed or led.
What's going to happen when Bernie endorses Hillary Clinton? A springtime blizzard of articles and internet postings says some big fraction of Bernie's activists and voters won't work or vote for Hillary. But we all know what happens after springtime blizzards. The snow stops, the white stuff melts and the landscape changes.
When it does Bernie will hand over his volunteer lists, fundraising, email and social media assets to Hillary. Most of Bernie's activists will get out the vote for the Democratic nominee against the greater evil that is President Trump, and most of Bernie's voters will follow. But a minority, a significant number will be disposed to do something else election day, or to help build something afterward. What about them?
Most discussions of putting together a force outside and to the left of the Democratic party dwell on the issues and the demographics but fail to credibly explain how such a thing could be funded or to whom its leaders would be responsible. Democrat and Republican parties, politicians and all but a tiny number of campaigns are funded by the generous and more and more often the anonymous donations of wealthy corporations and individuals. Take the big easy money and your donors will, directly or indirectly determine your leadership. Don't take the money and you're broke, looking for new models of funding maybe leadership too.
What about the hot new funding model: lots of small donations, reaped over the internet? To tell the truth except for the internet part this is an old model, not a new one --- religious congregations have long supported ministries and pastors, sometimes in opulent style, off the small donations of mostly poor people. But it's the leaders and big donors if they have any, who call the shots in these organizations, not the small donors.
Moveon.org used to bill itself as an example of an outfit supported by tens of thousands of small donations, presumably from people of modest means. But MoveOn's leadership, like that of many organizations sustained by small donors are a self-selected and self-perpetuating crew. Its thousands of small donors cannot choose or un-choose the leaders, cannot determine or change its policies, any more than small donors to the NAACP or the Sierra Club both examples of places happy to take both large and small contributions.
When people discuss the formation of political movements outside the Democratic party in this or any other season they like to talk about ideas and policies, but not so much about how to guarantee some semblance of small d democratic leadership of these movements, leadership responsible to members. The answer pretty much suggests itself. If your funders will inevitably choose your movement's leadership, and you need your leadership to be responsible to your rank and file members, then you need to have dues paying members as your principal funders.
Membership funding, with organization structured so that leaders are directly accountable to, selected and un-selected by members. That's the model we should be exploring. This is the way genuine left and socialist parties and movements for the last hundred years have funded their operations all over world, a fact not much taught to so-called community organizers here.
Until these old lessons about choosing internal democracy and membership funding over s big donors and self-perpetuating leaders are re-learned, it's hard to see how a new political movement left of the Democratic party will ever take hold and grow.