In August, just one month after the Democratic National Convention, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced the launch of Our Revolution, a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping his progressive movement alive and strong. Among its stated goals are “supporting a new generation of progressive leaders” and “empowering millions to fight for progressive change.”
To these ends, Our Revolution backed more than 100 candidates from the school board level to the U.S. Senate between August and Election Day. It also took positions on nearly three-dozen ballot measures, ranging from support for legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational uses and for raising the minimum wage to opposing charter school expansion and the death penalty.
Much like Sanders’ campaign, these efforts were sustained in large part by small-donor donations. Our Revolution contributed $1.3 million to help support its candidates.
Sabrina Shrader, for example, a candidate for the West Virginia state legislature, received nearly $19,000, which she used to purchase yard signs, mailers, billboards, and magnets for the side of her orange Chevy sedan. In North Carolina, U.S. Senate candidate Deborah Ross received approximately $300,000.
Our Revolution’s efforts were also fueled by grassroots activism. Volunteers sent out nearly one million text messages and made 100,000 phone calls to “get out the vote.”
Yet despite this support, a number of Our Revolution-backed candidates suffered defeats on Election Day. Among them were eight candidates for the U.S. House, including Zephyr Teachout in New York’s 19th congressional district.
Teachout, a law school professor and author of a book chronicling the history of corruption in the United States, was one of the few candidates endorsed by Sen. Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary in April. Sanders’ endorsement helped propel Teachout through her party’s primary in June, but Teachout was defeated by Republican John Faso on Election Day.
Also defeated were all three candidates that Our Revolution endorsed for U.S. Senate: Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, Deborah Ross in North Carolina, and Misty Snow in Utah.
Volunteers sent out nearly one million text messages and made 100,000 phone calls to 'get out the vote.'
Yet according to Our Revolution’s tracker for the 2016 election, a majority of the 106 candidates it supported have won. Among them are eight candidates for U.S. House, including incumbents such as Keith Ellison in Minnesota and Raúl Grijalva in Arizona, and newcomers to the federal scene such as Nanette Barragan in California and Pramila Jayapal in Washington state.
Our Revolution also suffered some defeats on ballot measures. Opposition to the death penalty failed in Nebraska, Oklahoma, and California. Our Revolution also failed to muster enough support for two major healthcare measures. In California, Proposition 61 was defeated, which would have put a ceiling on the amount of money that the state agencies pay for prescription drugs. And in Colorado, Amendment 69 was defeated, which would have created a universal healthcare system.
Yet, as with its candidates, a majority of the ballot measures that Our Revolution took positions on went the organization’s way. Our Revolution saw success in backing measures legalizing medical marijuana in Arkansas, Florida, and Montana and legalizing recreational use for adults in California, Maine, and Nevada.
It also saw success on labor issues. In Virginia, it helped to defeat a right to work amendment to the state’s constitution, in Maine and Washington state, voters approved measures to increase the minimum wage, and in South Dakota, voters defeated a measure that would have permitted employers to pay workers under the age of 18 less than the state’s minimum wage.
Moreover, in several states, voters approved measures backed by Our Revolution related to good governance and campaign finance reform.
Voters in South Dakota also approved a comprehensive anti-corruption act, which will reduce coordination between candidates and their political action committees, mandate more transparency and disclosure of campaign contributions, and empower South Dakota voters by giving each resident two $50 credits to donate to state candidates. In Maryland’s Howard County, residents’ campaign contributions will now be matched by public funds, and in California and Washington state, voters approved non-binding measures urging their congressional delegations to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
Yet despite these victories, many Sanders supporters are mourning the outcome of the presidential election. After all, some commentators have argued that Sanders may have had the candidate profile necessary to defeat Trump, especially in rural and Rust Belt states where Trump outperformed Clinton to take the presidency.
Yet Sanders and his organization are looking forward rather than backward. The day after the election, Sanders stated on what terms he is willing to cooperate with president-elect Trump.
“To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him,” he wrote, adding, “to the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”
Our Revolution offered a similar sentiment in a press release.
“We will do everything in our power to ensure that the president-elect cannot ignore the battles Americans are facing every single day, the statement says. “Our job is to offer a real alternative vision and engage on the local and national level to continue the work of the political revolution in the face of a divided nation.”