Whether it’s canvassing in swing state Iowa for Bernie Sanders, spending lunch breaks picketing on the steps of major corporations on behalf of the Standing Rock Indians, or crashing a GOP social club as a member of “Millionaires for Wealthcare” to present the “Silver Spoon Award”, Patricia Bazemore (37), mother of two teenagers, is the epitome of a grassroots organizer. We met at Cadence Coffee Company in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee to discuss the bold steps required to break away from establishment politics and focus on the platform instead.
In retrospect, do you think the Democratic Party should have thrown its full weight behind Bernie Sanders when polls starting indicating he was more likely than Clinton to beat Trump in the general election?
Yes, certainly, and I think he would have won. I talked with many Republicans when I was working as a fellow for the Sanders Tennessee primary campaign and a lot of them really liked Bernie. Nationwide, he would have turned out the vote better than Clinton, especially among students. Unfortunately, the mainstream media painted the picture of Bernie as the weaker candidate. The Democratic Party even aided in this narrative. The Republican Party wasn’t strong enough to keep out an outsider; the Democrats, unfortunately, were. Now, establishment power has cost us as a nation.
The GOP is often described as the party having the most ties to corporate America and being the most involved in big money politics. Is that a fair assessment?
The Democratic Party likes to pretend it’s working for the people. The reality is that both establishment parties are heavily influenced by the donors that fund them. The Democratic Party, for instance, receives a lot of money from insurance companies. That’s part of the reason Obama didn’t push for universal single-payer health care and why Hillary Clinton campaigned on it being a pie in the sky idea, saying it wasn’t going to happen. The Bernie campaign raised a lot of money through small donations, about $132 million from people who gave less than $200. That creates a level of independence you need to truly be inclusive of the demands of marginalized Americans.
Have Democrats given up on winning elections in certain states and counties in the South?
Yes, I believe they have. Many of the seats around here only get around thirty percent of the vote and the party focuses mostly on fundraising, not running effective issue-based campaigns that build power. I see very little effort from the Democratic Party to register voters or get them to the polls. Locally, the right is organized pretty well; the left, however, has a lot of infighting. Democrats are out of touch with the grassroots. They fail to understand that the power should be around a platform, not a person or a party. They need to fight to get the support of everyday working-class people, not big donors. That’s the battle I, and local organizers like me, are waging.
What’s your weapon of choice?
It’s essential that we do more than resist. We must resist and rise up at the same time with a vision of the future we want to see. We need initiatives that are platform-based and centered on the demands of the most marginalized. One key initiative in this effort is “Brand New Congress”, originally started by a group of volunteers and staffers from the Bernie Sanders campaign. I was their national social media team leader during their first few months on inception, mid 2016.
Brand New Congress (BNC) is essentially a campaign to run 400+ non-politician candidates for Congress in 2018 in one unified campaign behind one plan. They’ll run as Republicans in red states and Democrats in blue states. So, it’ll build power around the platform instead of a particular party or candidate. It’s become obvious over the years that solutions to our country’s biggest problems will not come from the bi-partisan establishment. It will be a combination of the grassroots groups and organizers that have been doing this work for years and groups like BNC that are coming up with new ways to shake up the existing power of the establishment that will pave the path forward.
Wouldn’t it be better for the future success of liberal politics in general, when movements like the ones you’re involved in would partner with the Democratic Party?
The Democratic Party has been saying repeatedly that we all need to unify under the leadership of their establishment leaders. Unity, however, should come from uncompromisingly standing behind the marginalized. That’s the only path towards unification. The platform Bernie ran on in 2016 is what garnered the most attention. It’s where the energy was – and still is. No party, no establishment politician running on old ideas, will be able to bring about real change in the United States and inspire millions of Americans to regain faith in American democracy.
The Chattanooga Chapter Of Millionaires For Wealthcare present the Silver Spoon Award to Marsha Blackburn, Todd Gardenhire and the rest of the Pachyderm Club at their 2015 National Convention.