This story is over 5 years old.

How Bernie Sanders plans to keep his revolution alive

Sanders launched his post-election group, Our Revolution, on Wednesday amid reports of internal dissent and turmoil inside the organization.
Photo par Shawn Thew/EPA

Bernie Sanders' presidential ambitions might be over but the progressive revolution that fueled his presidential campaign isn't going anywhere — at least according to Bernie Sanders.

In a live speech Wednesday night, Sanders described how he would continue pushing for the liberal, grassroots agenda that was the backdrop of his presidential bid with the launch of a new nonprofit organization, named appropriately Our Revolution.


"The question on the minds of a whole lot of people tonight is 'ok we ran a great campaign, we woke up the American people but where do we go from here?'" Sanders said in a live speech from his home town of Burlington, Vermont. "Tonight I want to introduce you to a new, independent nonprofit organization called Our Revolution, which is inspired by the historic Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign."

The group will work to elect progressive candidates at all levels of local, state, and federal government and campaign for liberal ballot initiatives across the country, Sanders continued. The goals of the organization are many of the same ones he discussed during his campaign; fighting income inequality, getting money out of politics, reforming the criminal justice system, and limiting international trade agreements.

Plans for what to do with Sanders' lucrative email list and still-active base of supporters (and donors) had been in the works for months. Sanders first announced the creation of Our Revolution in July, shortly after Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination. The new organization started soliciting donations earlier this month.

But before Our Revolution even formally launched, reports of internal dissent and turmoil are swirling around the organization. As many as eight staffers quit the group earlier this week, including two top campaign aides who were close to Sanders' throughout the primary.


Related: Hillary Clinton is raising millions from hedge funds, thanks to Citizens United

The staff departures were largely due to the appointment of Jeff Weaver, Sanders' former campaign manager, to the position of Our Revolution's president. Weaver has been Sanders' closest aide for years and oversaw nearly every detail of his presidential campaign. But he has also been a controversial figure within Team Bernie, representing the "old guard" that was made up of long time Bernie loyalists who often clashed with the younger members of the campaign, according to former staffers who worked on the campaign. Many of those younger staffers felt that this inside circle was not open to new ideas or bottom-up grassroots organizing, which they viewed as one of the primary reasons Sanders lost to Clinton.

Moumita Ahmed is the 26-year-old lead organizer for Millennials for Bernie, a national grassroots group who worked alongside the campaign and is now helping to carry on Sanders' message after the election. There were plenty of times during the campaign, Ahmed said, where "we didn't understand why the people at the top didn't engage with us or collaborate with us."

Ahmed said that the intransigence of the campaign's inner circle toward the younger activists drove away much of what made Sanders' improbable White House bid so successful in the first place — namely through it's impressive digital operation and social media strategy.


After the election, "a lot of us are looking for what to do next and we were hoping that the campaign has learned from its mistakes," Ahmed said. "My concern is whether [Our Revolution] is going to be functional [if] the people who made Bernie's campaign succeed have quit."

Two of the top staffers who left Our Revolution this week are Claire Sandberg and Kenneth Pennington, both of whom oversaw the digital operations during the campaign and were brought on to do the same for Our Revolution.

Weaver himself didn't seem too concerned about the apparent animosity from his former staffers. "I wouldn't describe it as turmoil," Weaver told VICE News. After he accepted the offer to become president of the group, he said "clearly some staffers wanted to go in a different direction… That's obviously their prerogative."

Related: Bernie supporters are shocked — shocked! — at how politics works

Sanders acknowledged Weaver during his speech Wednesday by thanking him for his loyalty.

"Jeff has worked with me for most of the last 30 years, since he first volunteered to work on a gubernatorial campaign I was running way back in 1986," Sanders said. "He had just been expelled from Boston University for protesting the racist apartheid policies that then existed in South Africa. I thought those were pretty good qualifications for the job."

It's not only Weaver's role as president that has caused some Sanders supporters to drop out of Our Revolution. Adding to the discontent are the various questions being raised about the group's campaign finance activities, specifically that Our Revolution is designated as a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization under the tax code, which means it does not need to disclose its donors or cap its contributions. 501(c)4's are intended to be "social welfare" organizations and are not allowed to have their primary purpose be explicitly political, nor directly coordinate with candidates or elected officials.


Weaver said part of his role would be to make sure the organization conforms to federal election rules. Still, he said, the group has no plans to disclose their donors or cap the amount of money people can give.

So far, it seems that a hefty portion of Our Revolution's activities are within the realm of electoral politics. Sanders said the group plans to announce the full slate of candidates and ballot initiatives they're endorsing in the coming weeks and months, but they have already stated their support for several campaigns. The group is supporting two races: Tim Canova's congressional primary campaign against former DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in Florida and Zephyr Teachout's liberal campaign for New York's 19th US Congressional district.

This is not the first time an organization is being born from the ashes of a presidential campaign. The Democratic National Committee tried to capture the same wave of grassroots activism that fueled Barack Obama's successful 2008 election by forming a 501(c)4 group called Organizing for America. Howard Dean did the same, after his 2004 bid, with the creation of Democracy for America. But despite their initial early buzz, neither organization ended up making more of a splash in Democratic politics.

Related: The DNC's pro-Bernie protesters won't go away

Weaver said Our Revolution was looking at those groups, in addition to other nonprofits on the left like Move On, as models for Our Revolution


There were no signs of the infighting at one of the live stream parties in Manhattan on Wednesday night. Over a spread of hummus, chips, salsa, and wine, several dozen Sanders volunteers and supporters happily immersed themselves in his speech.

Before Bernie's speech began, a woman introduced herself as Claudia and declared that she would marry Sanders if she didn't already have a husband.

"Not if I marry him first!" interjected another woman standing nearby.

Expressions of love for Sanders reverberated through the room. Despite losing to Clinton in the primary and the bumpy rollout of Our Revolution this week, most of Sanders' supporters were still pleased when reflecting on his campaign.

"The left has been looking for a place to go for a while," said Duncan Wall, a 36-year-old software engineer who hosted a "hackathon" for Sanders during the primary season. "We saw it a bit with Occupy Wall Street but it hasn't existed on a national level really." He said he is hopeful that Our Revolution can keep that progressive spirit going by electing liberal Democrats in races down the ballot.

Claudia Brown is a retired dance instructor who was also inspired by Sanders' plans for the future. A lifelong leftist, Brown said she got engaged with the Sanders campaign after realizing that, "at a certain point, you can't kvetch about all that's wrong if you don't do anything about it."

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker