Thank You, Massa Bernie: How Our Revolution's Birmingham "Victory" Reeks of Racism and Sexism

Thank You, Massa Bernie: How Our Revolution's Birmingham "Victory" Reeks of Racism and Sexism

Desperation is ugly. 

In the wake of Bernie Sanders' failed political run, some of his closest allies got together in the summer of 2016 in hopes of continuing Sanders' self-proclaimed "political revolution." Led by Nina Turner, this group formed their own PAC, a 501(c)(4), which they aptly named Our Revolution. The mission of this organization is to "reclaim democracy for the working people of our country by harnessing the transformative energy of the political revolution" and to "transform American politics to make our political and economic systems once again responsive to the needs of working families." To do all this, they would take donations (a recommended $27 for starters) and would identify and endorse progressive candidates at the local and state level. To be endorsed, a candidate had to have been nominated by an approved progressive group and had to agree with the Our Revolution platform which forbade the acceptance of any corporate money.

In 2016 the group endorsed a total of 106 progressive candidates at the local and state level. Of those 106 races, they were victorious in 59 of them for a winning percentage of roughly 56%. Among those victories were Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Sanders surrogate who openly campaigned for a position in the Trump Administration as well as Representative Pramila Jayapal, one of three candidates whom Sanders chose to fundraise for after receiving widespread criticism for refusing to do so through March of 2016. Our Revolution also endorsed Representatives Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, the first two members of Congress to openly endorse Sanders during the Democratic Party nomination process. 

The problem for Our Revolution in 2017 became how to identify and promote a new crop of candidates who weren't able to openly share their love for Bernie Sanders. This led to the group trying to identify winnable races where they would not only support the candidate but would also provide the support of Sanders himself to interject himself into these races. By sharing the stage with Sanders, Our Revolution hoped these candidates would be able to ride Bernie's coattails all the way to a swift and decisive victory. The group endorsed candidates across the political spectrum from blue states to purple states to red ones. Our Revolution firmly believed the "political revolution" had spread throughout our entire country and that its message would resonate with voters, regardless of local or regional politics. 

Our Revolution could not have been more wrong. 

Unfortunately, folks just aren't that into Bernie outside of college campuses and farmers markets. In 2017, Our Revolution has endorsed a total of 52 candidates at local or state level races and has lost 35 of those races for a 33% win percentage. This has included Sanders-backed candidates in the Virginia Democratic primary for governor, US Representative for Montana, mayor of Omaha, and even chairman of the Democratic National Committee. In each of those races, Bernie Sanders personally stumped for the candidate in question and was a visible part of the campaign up until the very end. Not only did he not help each candidate, but it can be argued he actually hurt each candidate, especially in the case of Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello whose embrace of Sanders may have very well alienated his more moderate constituents. With a string of high-profile losses, Our Revolution needed something, anything to help offset its terrible track record thus far in 2017. 

Enter Tuesday night's Birmingham, Alabama mayoral race.  

In a blue oasis in the heart of deep-red Alabama, Birmingham not only went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but also had two Democrats emerge after an August runoff in which two-term incumbent Democratic Mayor William Bell placed second to challenger Randall Woodfin. Woodfin, a Morehouse College grad who served as both a local attorney as well as a member of the Board of Education, was an integral part of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign after having first endorsed her in the primary and then serving as her Alabama state director. Despite Woodfin's disturbing lack of faith in Sanders, it didn't prevent Our Revolution from endorsing him in May of this year. Our Revolution was so desperate for a win that they were willing to endorse not only a Hillary Clinton supporter but a state director in order to claim a seemingly elusive political victory.  

And victory is what they got. Woodfin won the race with 59% of the vote, unseating Bell in what many in the media are calling a changing of the guard in the South. However, almost immediately after Woodfin's victory came numerous reports and publications detailing how it wasn't Woodfin himself but rather Our Revolution who was able to put the campaign over the top. In a statement on its website, Our Revolution humble-bragged about its efforts including the sending of 11,000 text messages as well as having made "hundreds of calls" on behalf of Woodfin's candidacy. In addition, Nina Turner visited Birmingham to campaign with Woodfin twice and none other than Bernie Sanders himself recorded a last-minute robo-call urging voters to vote for Woodfin. Despite building his campaign himself for well over a year, Woodfin was being overshadowed by Turner, Sanders, and the entire Our Revolution organization. 

But this overshadowing was no accident. Because our media loves to peddle the narrative that there is an epic war going on for the heart of the Democratic Party. Just look at how many publications called Woodfin a "Bernie-backed candidate": The Washington Post, CNN, The Huffington Post, The Intercept. Our media loves the idea that Sanders' revolution is poised to break through at any time and with a desperate Our Revolution yearning to earn some kind of positive election result, this became the perfect combination to again reignite the debate as to what the future of the Democratic Party holds. If a Bernie-backed progressive can take out an incumbent mayor in Birmingham, Alabama of all places, then there can simply be no stopping the revolution as it sweeps across the country. 

Despite the narrative clearly being false as demonstrated by Our Revolution's abysmal track record, it also damages Randall Woodfin himself. It's saying that Woodfin cannot win in the South without Bernie Sanders' help. It's saying that Woodfin cannot win without an Ohio State Senator like Nina Turner coming to stump for him. It's saying that Woodfin would not have won had it not been for the "hundreds" of calls made by Our Revolution, an organization with a base largely made up of affluent, suburban White members. It's saying that Woodfin cannot win on his own charisma and his own organizing in his very own backyard. It's saying that a Black progressive like Woodfin cannot win based on his merits alone. 

Because his merits are not enough. It's not enough to be a Black progressive in the South. It's not enough to be an attorney and School Board member in the state's largest city. It's not enough to have worked 80+ hour weeks for half a year to serve as a state campaign director for Hillary Clinton. It's not enough to have campaigned for over a year and assembled a dedicated and committed volunteer base on your own. No, you need help to be successful. You need Our Revolution and you need Bernie Sanders. 

Nowhere over the past two days has there been a single substantial article about Woodfin's campaign experience. It's as if being Hillary Clinton's state director in no way prepared him for his mayoral bid. Nothing about identifying leaders. Nothing about finding organizers. Nothing about recruiting volunteers. Nothing about canvassing and Get Out The Vote efforts. Apparently, none of what he learned from his experience as a paid member of Hillary Clinton's staff helped him in any way unseat a two-term incumbent Democratic Mayor who had been a staple in Birmingham politics over the past quarter-century. But Nina Turner showed up twice, Bernie Sanders recorded a single robo-call, and Our Revolution made a few hundred calls. Clearly, Woodfin would have lost had it not been for them. 

And that is why Our Revolution and our media cannot be trusted. They are looking for victories, real or imagined. Rather than delving into Woodfin's experiences as a state director, the media and Our Revolution are instead proclaiming Bernie Sanders to be the White, male savior of the South. Let's be clear: Sanders had as much to do with Woodfin's victory as you or I. He is not popular in Alabama. He lost the primary by a whopping 58%. There's a reason he stayed up north rather than campaigning with Woodfin. Hillary Clinton actually did have something to do with Woodfin's victory, but she knows this race wasn't about her. It was about Randall Woodfin and Randall Woodfin alone.  

A man who didn't need anybody else's help.

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