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Trump and Clinton slug it out at the top as an inspiring movement builds from the bottom up

United States

Bernie Sander campaign rally and supporters on 24 October 2015, during the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson Dinner. Phil Roeder under a Creative Commons Licence

The US presidential election is near but young people and grassroots activists have their eyes set on long term transformation. John Tarleton reports.

When Bernie Sanders officially ended his historic run for the presidency by throwing his support behind Hillary Clinton during a nationally broadcast speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), television cameras showed many of his supporters openly weeping. Since then, Sanders has been relegated to giving speeches on behalf of Hillary Clinton to crowds of college students only a fraction of the size of the roaring throngs that greeted him in the spring during the heat of the nomination battle.

Yet while the heady days of his primary contest against Clinton may be past, interviews with core Sanders supporters suggest that far from dissolving in a puddle of tears the campaign has strengthened a movement for social and economic justice that will continue beyond this November’s election – whatever the outcome – to impact US politics for many years to come.

‘Before Bernie, during Bernie and after Bernie, it was about the issues,’ explains Lauren Steiner who served as lead organizer for Los Angeles for Bernie, a grouping of 40 neighbourhood, college and campaign groups that supported Sanders.

Steiner says she now supports Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. She is among a minority of Bernie supporters, according to the polls, who are presently not willing to support Clinton. She has returned to focusing her energy on campaigns such as those against the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, the North Dakota Access Pipeline and the continued use of fracking in central California.

‘This is my life,’ she says. ‘I feel like I have to keep fighting because, if we don’t, we lose.’

Other veterans of the Sanders campaign have focused on reforming the Democrats from within. In DuPage County, Illinois, in the suburbs of Chicago, a group of several dozen, mostly young Bernie supporters, are participating in the local Democratic Party. Their grassroots organizing for Sanders saw him prevail over Clinton by 6,400 votes in their county during the Illinois primary and they are now flexing those newly acquired campaign muscles to run a pair of their own candidates for local office as Democrats.

In 2017, they plan to run candidates for many more local political offices in the towns that make up DuPage County. In addition, they are looking to help start initiatives that meet immediate needs, such as donation drives to assist people staying in homeless shelters.

‘Our main goal is to get people involved, and get them to stay involved, in whatever way they think is best for them,’ says Darryl Holloman, one of the group’s main organizers.

Moumita Ahmed, 26, of New York City was a co-founder of the Millennials for Bernie Facebook page (now known as Millennials for Revolution), a social media platform with 115,000 followers that mobilized young voters who flocked to Sanders over Clinton. She is working to keep up momentum with this newly politicized constituency.

‘We want to show that millennials are rising up and leading the movements and most of us are on the frontlines,’ says Ahmed.

Her next organizing-move is the Millennials March, an effort to get young people into the streets in cities across the country on 21 January to push the key demands of the Sanders campaign: free public college, universal health insurance, $15 per hour minimum wage and sweeping action to address climate change.

The Millennials March is intended to be the opening salvo in a longer wave of protests by other groups who will press their demands in the first 100 days of the new administration.

Other Sanders supporters are digging in to fight localized battles. Mindy Rosier teaches developmentally disabled children in New York City’s public schools and is active in her neighbourhood’s Democratic Party club. First introduced to activism in 2014 while trying to organize against a politically connected charter school chain that sought to take over the building that her special-needs students used. She subsequently threw herself into the Sanders campaign and was a delegate to the DNC.

This October she will walk 150 miles in eight days with parents and educators who are journeying from New York City to the state capital of Albany to press demands for billions of dollars in additional funding for poorer black and latino school districts that have historically been shortchanged by the state government.

Winnie Wong is an activist who is taking the internationalist view, moving across nations to weave together movements. Since the DNC, Wong, a co-founder of the mammoth People for Bernie Facebook page, has travelled to North Dakota to help the National Nurses Union marshal support for the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, met with Podemos members in Spain, visited Iceland to assist Pirate Party activists with building their electoral strategy and teamed up with other Bernie 2016 alumni on a digital campaign in support of a ballot initiative in Colorado to make it the first state to offer its residents universal health care coverage.

‘Solidarity is a verb,’ Wong says. ‘[With] a united people, the rhizome becomes unstoppable.’

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