Sanders' impressive activist DNC platform committee could help transform U.S. progressive politics

Bernie selected Cornel West, Keith Ellison, Bill McKibben, a pro-Palestine advocate and a Native American activist

Published May 24, 2016 6:47PM (EDT)

Bernie Sanders   (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Bernie Sanders has run a close race with Hillary Clinton — although media reports and the Democratic Party itself have frequently distorted this fact.

"There’s something absurd when I get 46 percent of the delegates that come from real contests, real elections, and 7 percent of the superdelegates," Sanders said in a recent CNN interview, blasting the undemocratic unpledged delegate system and the DNC's attempts to prevent him from winning the nomination.

In response to mounting criticisms and accusations of undemocratic behavior, the Democratic National Committee allowed Sanders to appoint a proportional number of members to the Democratic Party's platform drafting committee.

"The platform committee is among the most important party bodies, since it writes the policy on which the presidential candidate runs and around which Democrats are supposed to rally," The Washington Post noted — although it pointed out that the "platform is nonbinding, however, and presidents have ignored parts of it in the past."

Sanders was given five seats in the 15-member committee, and Hillary Clinton was given six. DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a longtime Clinton ally who co-chaired her 2008 presidential campaign, appointed the remaining four members.

The Vermont senator and self-proclaimed democratic socialist did not waste his opportunity to have a big influence on the platform of the Democratic Party. He assembled a top-notch team comprised of first-rate activists working on a variety of issues.

The members of the team were revealed by the DNC on Monday.

Sanders selected renowned scholar and dissident Cornel West, progressive Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, leading environmentalist Bill McKibben, pro-Palestine advocate James Zogby and Native American activist Deborah Parker activist.

“We believe that we will have the representation on the platform drafting committee to create a Democratic platform that reflects the views of millions of our supporters who want the party to address the needs of working families in this country and not just Wall Street, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry and other powerful special interests," he said in a statement released by the Sanders campaign on Monday.

Sanders' "selections foreshadow the possibility of a fight over some major tenents of the platform, including minimum wage and the relationship in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," The Hill reported.

James Zogby has spent years advocating for Palestinian rights. He is a frequent critic of hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and president of the D.C.-based NGO the Arab American Institute.

Sanders has broken with Democratic Party dogma on Israel-Palestine. He has pledged to be "neutral" on the issue, and has condemned the Israeli military for using disproportionate and indiscriminate force in its brutal 2014 military assault on Gaza, for which human rights organizations accused Israel of war crimes.

Deborah Parker served as a legislative policy analyst in the Office of Governmental Affairs for the Tulalip Tribes from 2005-2012. She has advocated for better access to education and improved health care for indigenous Americans.

Bill McKibben is one of the most prominent American environmental activists. He founded the eco group and has written a dozen books about climate change over the past nearly three decades.

Rep. Ellison is the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He is also the first Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress, as well as the first black American elected to the House from Minnesota.

Ellison has been one of the most outspoken Democratic critics of U.S. foreign policy. He condemned the illegal U.S. war in Iraq, and called for an end to the war in Afghanistan. He has also criticized Israel's siege of Gaza, and has called on the U.S. to pressure its close ally Saudi Arabia to pardon activists who were sentenced to death for attending protests.

He has also co-authored legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15. Unlike Ellison and Sanders, Clinton and other prominent Democratic leaders instead have pushed for a $12 minimum wage.

Prof. Cornel West is one of Sanders' most high-profile endorsers. He is a longtime civil rights leader, socialist activist and liberation theologian, who has taught at Harvard, Princeton, The Sorbonne and more.

In a recent interview with Salon, West called Clinton "a milquetoast neoliberal" who is pushing for "hawkish policies around the world." He also slammed Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump as "a narcissistic neo-fascist in the making," and insisted "Bernie Sanders has been the candidate of integrity and vision when it comes to poor working people."

"Those of us who are blessed to work with Brother Bernie are going to go down fighting until the last moment, because we’re tied to a cause, not just a candidate," West stressed.

“With five good members on the platform-drafting committee,” Sanders announced at a rally in California on Monday, “we will be in a very strong position to fight for an economy that works for all of our people, not just the 1 percent; to fight to break up the large banks on Wall Street, who in my view now have much too much economic and political power."

"We will be in a position to fight for a carbon tax, so that this nation can begin to lead the world in aggressively addressing climate change," he added.

"We will be in a position to fight to have the United States join the rest of the industrialized world in guaranteed health care as a right."

The pro-Clinton members of the platform drafting committee are former Clinton staffer and current Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden; former State Department official Wendy Sherman; Ohio Rep. Alicia Reece; environmentalist Carol Browner; Illinois Rep. Luis Gutiérrez; and union head Paul Booth.

The remaining four members that were appointed are Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, who has endorsed Clinton; California Rep. Barbara Lee, who has not endorsed either candidate; ex-Rep. Howard Berman; and Bonnie Schaefer, former CEO of Claire's jewelry stores.

Sanders' influence over one-third of the party's platform drafting committee could potentially help to transform U.S. progressive politics for years to come.

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

MORE FROM Ben Norton

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bernie Sanders Bill Mckibben Cornel West Israel Keith Ellison Native Americans Palestine