The grassroots leader of The People for Bernie Sanders says: ‘We’re just getting started’
‘It’s important young people don’t give up’
Bernie Sanders' "political revolution" saw unprecedented interest from young people in politics – and near the heart of it was Winnie Wong. She's a grassroots leader, a day one organizer for Occupy Wall Street, and one of the minds behind The People for Bernie Sanders, a gigantic Facebook page with over a million dedicated followers. We spoke to her about the future of young Bernie fans in Trump's America, or "the Trumpster fire," as she puts it.
The community you've built is huge – how powerful is it?
It's extremely powerful because we're networked with so many other communities. To give you an example, our primary Facebook page has well over a million, very active followers. They're not passive, we have over 100 million people engaged with our content over a 28 day period.
Now we're in the middle of the Trumpster fire, these issues are intersectional. We worked very closely with the Women's March in Washington, I am one of the co-authors of the Women's March on Washington Liberty Principles, we work very closely with the climate justice activists, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Immigrants' Rights movement. We're very proud of the work that we've done, and we're really just getting started. It's very important for us to confederate and build a movement of movements in order to fight and resist Trump and his authoritarian tendencies. Because he is an authoritarian, let's call it what it is. If CNN is daring to report that he's authoritarian, then I think everybody in this country should say: "You know what, he is authoritarian."
It looks like, despite everything, there's never been a better time to be a young progressive activist. Is that right?
Yes. First of all, young people have everything to lose. You are leaving college facing insurmountable student debt and the prospect of really low wage work, without the even the benefits of ACA. It's young people who have the most to lose. The idea of home ownership is far-fetched for a young person. It's inconceivable. So why wouldn't you want to get involved in creating a transformative politics in this country and around the world? Young people more than any other people are using the internet to connect – you are the people who grew up with the internet. It's so critical for young people to continue to use the internet to organize.
I can't stress the importance of young people thinking about running for office, especially local office. Because what else are you going to do? You either work in Starbucks or you work inside to create a transformative government.
Is that the future of the community?
I think so. I stand by "Bernie would have won." I think that had Bernie won, we would be in a very different position now, where we would be actually executing some of those policy rollouts. The Bernie executive orders would be very, very different than the Donald Trump executive orders. There probably would be a $15 minimum wage, we would have Medicare for all, we would have free public college for students across the country. That would have been part of Bernie's first 100 days, and a lot of the activists working on his campaign would have been a part of that. So it's critical for us to continue to work towards those goals.
We need to have free public college for students across America, we need to have a $15 federal minimum wage, we need to have a single PAYER healthcare system which is humane, and what democracy looks like. We need to make sure we expand social security for the elderly and for those who need it most. We have to continue working toward building that vision of society and not the vision that is being forced down our throats by Donald Trump's government.
It's important young people don't give up, that they don't throw in the towel. We have to win in 2017, we have a number of very important special elections coming up. One of those is happening in Georgia. Tom Price is vacating his seat to become the HHS – he's the one taking away your health insurance, he's the one who's going to be prioritizing insurance companies and Big Pharma to control the health of Americans, while prioritizing profits over people. Jon Ossoff is running for his congressional seat, and it's critical that young people across America go to Georgia if they can to volunteer, and for young people in Georgia to support his campaign, because he's got a great chance of winning. It would send a strong signal to Donald Trump that we're just getting started.
That's 2017, and in 2018, we have to win all the governorships, we have to win House seats, we have to win back six to eight Senate seats. And then in 2020, we have to win it all and replace Donald Trump's horrible, garbage fire of government, wholesale. And we can do it. We're gonna do it. This is not something that we can even sit on for one second, and young people know this, and they're getting fired up. It's really exciting for me to see the large numbers of young people who are getting excited about working and organizing inside electoral politics.
And what's Bernie's role going to be in 2020?
I think Bernie is the leader of the Democratic Party now. He's the leader who is also openly a Democratic Socialist. This is very important. The normalization of Democratic Socialism will continue unabated. There's no question about it. Large numbers of young people are joining YDS chapters across college campuses in America in both rural areas and urban centers. This is very significant. The membership of Democratic Socialists of America is increasing by leaps and bounds. These are not people who are signing petitions, they are committed to organizing, and that is the difference. You're base building. As far as the Democratic Party is concerned, Bernie Sanders is one of several leaders of the party. Outside of the party are large numbers of Democratic Socialists who will be supporting him and pushing the party left. This is not something we're going to abort mission on. This is a movement moment. I'm very excited to be an adult helping young folks normalize Democratic Socialism in America.
So Bernie has a very important place inside our government right now. He's going to be doing what it takes to push the party left from the inside, while we build a significant confederated movement from the outside which will support these important policies. As far as whether he'll run in 2020, I can't speculate. Whoever does run in 2020 will need his support, and his endorsement in order for them to win. And that's really where we're at. Bernie is the leader of the party and the movement outside of the Democratic Party are full of Bernie people. We are absolutely everywhere.
I'm like the ultimate Bernie bro, when you really think about it. I'm Asian American. It's interesting to me that both the right and the Democrats failed to acknowledge this during the primary season. The fact that Linda Sarsour and myself are Bernie bros to the hilt while narrative of the Bernie bro being this white, college-educated dude as reinforced by the liberal media is actually somewhat false. Yes, there are large numbers of Bernie bros who are white and obnoxious. But that's the internet, a large container full of obnoxious people who engage in bad internet behavior: tweeting, trolling, creating content and oversharing videos of themselves. The reality is when you think of what the Bernie Sanders movement looks like, you only have to think of me and Linda Sarsour to remember the constituencies we have behind us, and the movements that we lead. We have significant constituencies, and armies of people behind us. She has the Women's March, and so do I because I am a part of that community. I have People for Bernie, and so does she, she's a part of my community. This is intersectional feminism in right up in Trump's face.
This is the message that we are sending the opposition. Both they and the current corporate class democratic leadership inside the party needs to understand that simply put: we're not playing.
Conversation edited for clarity and length.