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Stop Filtering Local Democratic Politics Through the 2016 Primary


Sarah Jaffe has a really good piece on some of the leftists running for office which is worth reading just to know about these people. But the real plus of this piece is the important point that these races have basically nothing to do with Bernie Sanders or his supporters or the 2016 Democratic presidential primary and that instead we should be focusing on the local activists who are making change happen.

These breakthroughs are bringing fresh ideas and new faces into the foundational layers of the political system, where conservatives have been ascendant for years. But the national media, which actively misunderstands both the South and the rest of “red” America, has decided to cover these stories only as triumphs of the “Bernie Sanders left,” as though all politics were not (in the famous phrase) “local” anymore; instead, national reporters and pundits increasingly, misleadingly, see all local politics as national.

“Bernie Wins Birmingham” is convenient shorthand for those who have no idea what actually goes on in Birmingham. But Bernie Sanders and the group his 2016 campaign inspired, Our Revolution, are not winning elections in places like Birmingham or Jackson, Mississippi, which in June elected a mayor who’s promised, “I’ll make Jackson the most radical city on the planet.” Activists in Birmingham and Jackson and Albuquerque and Long Island are winning them—left-wing activists who’ve toiled for years in the trenches, working with a new wave of organizers from Black Lives Matter and other insurgent groups, who bring social-media savvy and fired-up young voters into the mix.

Of course, it’s a great thing that groups like Our Revolution, which sprung out of Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, are bringing money, volunteers, and national attention to candidates like Woodfin. But the top-down narrative misses a lot about what is happening on the ground around the country. For starters, it misses the movements that shifted politics to the point where someone like Sanders could run for president and win state after state in the first place. More important, it misses the specifics—the ideas, the tactics, the challenges to existing political hegemonies—that have made these campaigns successful. And telling the story wrong lessens the chances that these unlikely wins can be replicated elsewhere.

I would take this one step further. It’s not only the national media providing lazy, shallow coverage of these issues. It’s people writing on the internet or commenting on blogs who can’t resist filtering everything through the 2016 primary. Every race becomes a proxy between Hillary and Bernie, which is not only inaccurate but also incredibly lazy. For all we talk about the laziness of the national media, it doesn’t help when we are lazy ourselves in our analysis.

In conclusion, I can’t wait for this comment thread to be yet another rehashing of the 2016 Democratic primary.

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