Susan J. Demas: Where is Bernie Sanders’ Revolution in Michigan?

This column ran in Dome Magazine.

Hillary Clinton is now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, something that’s devastating to at least a sizable minority of Bernie Sanders supporters.

For months, the Sanders campaign and some of his overzealous voters have used faulty numbers and logic to claim that the former independent was, indeed, winning. Some of them doxxed or harassed superdelegates, like U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield).

These are Tea Party tactics, befitting for folks who have peddled in conspiracy theories. (For years, Tea Partiers have insisted chemtrails are poisonous, Clinton planned the Benghazi attack and more).

As someone who believes the scientific research that vaccines, genetically modified food and fluoride in the water are not just safe, but have helped millions of people, I’m not terribly sympathetic.

But there’s been talk of Sanders sparking a Tea Party on the left. Of course, we all heard that Occupy Wall Street was going to fill that role, and that fizzled fast.

I felt sick to my stomach watching Tea Partiers shout down and threaten then-87-year-old U.S. Rep. John Dingell, a veteran and a patriot, back at a 2009 town hall on Obamacare. That’s not a style of politics I think the left should embrace.

One test will be the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next month. Several pro-Sanders protests are scheduled. Will they be peaceful? Will most Sanders voters come home and vote Democratic, especially with race-baiting authoritarian Donald Trump as the GOP nominee? We’ll see.

But what I’ve been looking for, and have seen absolutely no sign of, is Sanders’ revolution in Michigan.

This was a huge state for him. Now that the primary season is almost over, his shocking March 8 victory here still remains his most impressive. He did it with zero institutional support, albeit with a hefty advertising campaign.

Sanders inspired thousands at rallies at Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University and more.

Where are those diehard Sanderistas now? I don’t see too many running for the Legislature or Congress. Are they seeking local office below the radar? That’s a logical place to start if you want a revolution. Most people’s lives are far more impacted by local government than presidential platforms.

There’s so much to be done in Michigan, even if you don’t want to put your name on a ballot, however.

You could work on a campaign for much-needed redistricting reform so that Democrats don’t end up taking roughly 49 percent of the statewide vote, but only 11 of 38 state Senate seats, as they did in 2014. People dismiss this as inside baseball. They’re wrong. This is the real game in town.

You could work to ensure that LGBT people can’t get fired at work –– yes, it’s still legal in Michigan –– or that transgender children can use the bathroom of their choice without Republicans weirdly policing them.

You could work to make it easier for women to exercise their right to choose. In the last five years, laws have been enacted closing clinics and barring insurance companies from covering abortion unless it’s via a special rider (i.e. rape insurance).

And there are dozens, even hundreds, of other worthy causes to start working on if you want fundamental progressive change. It starts at home.

Sanders only raised about $1.7 million in Michigan, which is pocket change for ballot initiatives that typically require a $10 to $20 million investment. But he’s banked over $200 million overall, mostly from small donors. Imagine harnessing some of that small-donor financial potential for ballot initiatives in the Mitten State and across the nation.

It’s easy to get fired up for a single, inspiring politician. It’s also almost impossible for one person, however charismatic, to make real change in this country. (And it’s remarkably easy to be let down by that leader, who, in the end, is flawed like everyone else).

It’s fun to cheer at rallies and post memes on Facebook. But that’s being a fan, not making social change.

The real work of politics is hard. It’s knocking on doors and calling donors. It’s making compromise after compromise to try and win something that will make people’s lives better, like Obamacare, even if it’s not ideal.

It’s grinding and demoralizing, but completely necessary.

Is that the kind of work Sanders supporters are willing to do? I don’t know. Some will use the excuse that Clinton is so distasteful that they’re through with politics, (although they were never going to stick around anyway if their kindly grandpa hero didn’t win). Some will find the incrementalism of social change too hard to bear.

I sympathize.

But that’s our system. And I’ll take that kind of order over a radical like Trump, who’s threatened to mess with the First Amendment and the principle of an independent judiciary. Revolutions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Sanders’ millions of supporters hold tremendous power right now. Do they want to use it smartly by running for office and helming grassroots campaigns? Or do they want to squander it with ineffectual DNC protests and checking out of the political process?

I’m pretty sure I know which path a young, idealistic Bernie Sanders would have encouraged.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.