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Sanders launches progressive advocacy group

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By Matthew Jack | matthew-jack@uiowa.edu

From the ashes of his Democratic nomination bid, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has established a new non-profit organization, Our Revolution, to carry the momentum from his supporters to elect progressive candidates to positions from local school boards to U.S. Congress.

On Wednesday, in a live stream broadcasting to over 30,000 viewers from his home state of Vermont, Sanders kicked off the organization he had previously only hinted at, inviting speakers Bill McKibben — an environmentalist and author — and Mari Cordes — a Vermont State Representative candidate — to headline his speech.

Sanders touched on many of the core issues of his presidential campaign, including income inequality and high tuition prices, while setting the tone of Our Revolution as an advocate for radical change that would succeed “not by moving to the center, but by putting forward bold, progressive policies that deal with the underlying problem of economic inequity.”

Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson said this iteration of Sanders’ movement will allow some of the Vermont senator’s proposals to blossom outside of conventional politics. “The traditional party is more about the team and less about ideas,” said Oleson — previously a Ron Paul supporter who was a delegate for Sanders at the national convention. “On the shiny objects like social issues [the Democratic establishment and Sanders] oppose each other, but on major issues like the environment, campaign finance and trade they are on the same team.”

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In stinging asides, Sanders made it clear that his frustration with the Democratic National Committee was not only present, but a catalyst for Our Revolution.

“Our campaign took on virtually the entire Democratic Party establishment — and I mean the entire Democratic establishment,” he said, referring to his presidential bid, and the leaked DNC e-mails revealing a pro-Clinton bias within the organization. “We redefined what the vision and the future of our country should be…making the establishment very, very unhappy — and that is a good thing.”

One major victory of Sanders’ campaign was its profound impact on the 2016 Democratic platform, “the strongest and most progressive Democratic platform in the history of the United States of America,” he said. “As Americans, our goal must be to elect progressives at every level…and there will eventually be over 100 of them in every region of the country, candidates from the school board to the U.S. Senate.”

At the time of the broadcast, OurRevolution.com listed 61 candidates supported by the organization.

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However, Our Revolution’s launch was shadowed by reports of mass resignations within the staff, including “the group’s entire organizing department,” according to The New York Times.

At the heart of the turmoil was Sanders’ decision to select Jeff Weaver, his former campaign manager, to head the organization. Many staff members felt Weaver had mismanaged campaign funds, and worried he would “betray [Our Revolution’s] core purpose by accepting money from billionaires and not [remain] grass-roots-funded,” the Times reported, referring to the group’s 504(c)(4) designation — a non-profit organization that can accept anonymous donations.

Following up Sanders’ speech, however, Our Revolution’s Executive Director Shannon Jackson reinforced that the group would participate in both direct action — such as calls to members of Congress — and the grass-roots activities including door-to-door canvassing, rallies, and community events that defined the Sanders campaign.

Follow Matthew Jack (@matthewmjack) on Twitter for updates on the campaign trail in Iowa