European Political Revolution Summer, Part I

Former Bernie Sanders bros, Winnie Wong and Claire Sandberg, check-in on the political freak scene abroad.

by Nick Chedli Carter
Jun 20 2017, 3:00pm

Illustration by Xavier Lalanne-Tauzia.

This is Part I in a multi-part series that will feature original commentary on the state of leftist movements in Europe from political disrupters Winnie Wong and Claire Sandberg as they schlep their way across the continent. The two were embedded in US Senator Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign in various official/non-official capacities, and have continued their version of the political revolution through campaigning, speaking engagements and general person in politics fuck-around-ery.

Whether your horse is Trump or Bernie, Corbyn or May, Macron or La Pen, it's hard not to agree that global politics is wild right now. This is for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to disruptive communication technology, debilitating income disparity, slow-moving political parties, and a refugee crisis that is a massive humanitarian fail. Some attribute today's colossal woes to neoliberalist policy failures and a lack of backbone in centrist politicians. Others blame an undisciplined set of hardheaded purists incapable of compromise. Whatever your point of view may be, electoral politics look like they'll never be the same again.

It's what inspired Winnie Wong and Claire Sandberg to set out on a European political quest to find answers A few days before their European departure, VICE Impact caught up with the pair to get a handle on what their little socialist-inspired vacay is all about.

VICE Impact : For those of us who might not have felt the Bern, who are you and why go to Europe?

Winnie Wong: I'm the co-founder of People For Bernie, the internet mom of #FeelTheBern and one of the key organizers behind the People's Summit.

Claire Sandberg: I was the distributed organizing director on the Sander campaign in 2016, and I recently spent a little over a month in the UK advising organizers for the general election. Winnie and I were in Madrid in late April for a conference with Podemos, the left populist party in Spain, and leaders from the UK, France, Germany, Poland, and Portugal. The conference was eye-opening in many ways, but we didn't have time to report back on our impressions to our friends back in the States; Winnie went back to New York and spent the next five weeks intensively planning the People's Summit, while I was enlisted by Paul Hilder,a longtime British changemaker, to go to London and help with the UK election instead of flying home.

Photo via the People's Summit

Now, post-People's Summit, we have the opportunity to go back to Europe and we wanted to make sure to observe and share our learnings with the American left.

WW: Our first stop will be Oslo, where we'll be appearing at Popvenstre, a festival of culture and politics. The event is organized by the Norwegian Reds in concert with various partners from the left in Norwegian politics.

CS: In addition to this first Norway leg, we'll be checking out what's happening now in the UK after the dramatic upset for Corbyn and Labour, and then heading to the annual Podemos summer school, where we'll be doing trainings on big organizing.

Jeremy Corbyn at a Labour Party rally (Photo via the Labour Party).

What are big picture themes you're expecting to see out there?

WW: In America and elsewhere across the developed world, people are living under crushing conditions borne out of economic inequality. Wages are falling, housing prices are soaring, for the many, debt is mounting and the prospect of secure employment remains tenuous. This is a global epidemic caused by the failures of our governments to push back against the greed of oligarchy. Fortunately, we are seeing a common prevailing theme emerge: overwhelming numbers of young people are rallying around candidates of the populist left.

In 2020, more than 90 million millennials will be eligible to vote Trump out. This is a time of tremendous opportunity to reflect on the lessons we have learned, build our justice movements and strengthen our connections to each other and across the world.

CS: There are big cultural, economic, and political differences between all three countries on our tour, and we don't want to draw false equivalences to the US. But we do think each place could yield insights for us back home.

Norwegian social movements are resisting attempts to privatize the welfare state and also pushing for a more welcoming refugee policy. In the US, elites have used dog whistle politics since the 1970s to undermine the welfare state. The warning to our European partners here is pretty obvious: as migration changes the face of Europe, racist backlash can and will lead to increased attacks on the welfare state. The question is how movements in Norway and the United States can build solidarity across racial and religious lines and withstand the rise of divide-and-conquer politics that pits people against one another in a race to the bottom.

Podemos in Spain has been thinking for a long time about how to create a new political identity not around ethno-nationalist terms, but around a shared sense of the common good. They articulate the main conflict in society as between the top and the bottom rather than as a conflict between racial or ethnic groups, or even between the left and the right. It will be great to join their summer school for their grassroots activists at a time when they're reflecting on how to build on gains at the municipal level, reinvigorate their base, and strategize about how to go beyond 20 percent of the vote, three years into their movement that has already changed Spanish politics.

Volunteers at a Labour Party event (Photo via Claire Sandberg).

Bringing it back around to the UK, Corbyn and Labour's slogan "for the many, not the few" shows that organizing people around defining the central conflict in society as top verus bottom could bring a left coalition back into power. Across the board, there is a lot to dig into.

WW: We're really looking forward to learning and sharing our knowledge with activists from the social movements of Europe and England. Huge shout out to VICE Impact for opening up your platform so we can share our findings. Expect cameo appearances from extraordinary people.

Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon.