Sanders Proves Revolutions Don't Come Peacefully

by Emily Shire

When he officially launched his campaign, Bernie Sanders promised a revolution for his brothers and sisters (or "sisters and brothers" as many of his press emails begin). At a rally in Vermont, he declared, "We begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally." There was a Kumbaya quality to it. Even if you were a Democrat who disagreed with this "revolution," you probably didn't loathe it, either. But recently, between his supporters' behavior in Nevada and his move against Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Sanders' revolution has turned ugly — or at least, uglier than what it was initially sold as.

The Vermont senator made unexpected gains on longtime Democratic favorite Hillary Clinton by saying he would lead a revolution — and a really beautiful, all-inclusive, mellow one at that. He preached free college tuition at public universities and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Sanders proudly proclaimed he was a "strong feminist" and reminded us that iconic feminist and Clinton supporter Gloria Steinem once called him an "honorary woman." This was not an off-to-the-guillotine French kind of revolution.

And to be absolutely clear, the Sanders revolution is most certainly still nowhere near that violence and horror. But his and his supporters' recent actions are a departure from the drum-circle spirit his revolution once exuded. There have been reports of some feelers of the Bern were throwing chairs and phoning death threats to Roberta Lange, the Nevada Democratic State Party Chairwoman, because they were angry over the rules of the state party convention on May 15. To add insult to injury (so to speak), Sanders arguably didn't do a great job of disavowing such behavior. While criticizing the violence in a statement released last week, he also laid blame on the Democratic Party:

If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned ... Unfortunately, that was not the case at the Nevada convention. At that convention the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place.

Sanders made a stronger declaration of war against the Democratic establishment on Sunday, when he told CNN's Jake Tapper that he would campaign for Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's challenger in her primary, Tim Canova. Just to make it clear that things were not copacetic with Wasserman Schultz, Sanders also said that he would not reappoint her as head of the DNC if he were elected president.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In the grand scheme of history and the way revolutions play out, Sanders' revolution is not that aggressive, violent, or dramatic — but it is for modern-day American politics, and it is operating at a strikingly different, divisive tenor than what he was selling at the start of this year. Think back to the absolutely brilliant "America" ad Sanders released in January just ahead of the Iowa caucus, where he would nab a "virtual tie" with Clinton.

With the backdrop of Simon & Garfunkel's "America," shots of Americans of all walks of life — farmers, baristas, people who seem to work in a cool tech startup — filled the video as Sanders happily shook hands with all of them. I dare you to not feel good (or patriotic) after watching that ad. Flashes of different faces of supporters flooded the screen. It was unifying and inspiring, and if you didn't think too hard, it made it seem like the "revolution" would happen as along as we all got along and bonded over our love of Bookends.

The thing is, revolutions are rarely peaceful and pretty. Even the far less controversial revolutions and the ones held as great successes don't come without (often violent) upheaval. Our own revered American Revolution resulted in more than 10,000 injured and killed in battle. This is not to say that revolutions aren't needed and aren't beneficial, but it's easy to forget that they rarely move to the smooth, feel-good pace of Simon and Garfunkel folk rock songs.

Sanders and his campaign is now reminding us of that fact. Whether the Democrats who have been backing the Vermont senator will remain on board after this realization remains to be seen.

Image: Bustle/Caroline Wurtzel