Maybe Sanders’s movement doesn’t need leaders. Some of his supporters maintain an idealistic sense of a movement that continues to create change from the bottom up, the way Sanders says he hopes will happen. Vermont Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman evoked the example of Black Lives Matter, which has a dispersed leadership model. “What I think Bernie’s campaigns have done, and Bernie’s efforts beyond the campaigns have done, is helped create the network that is far stronger than being reliant on one figurehead,” Zuckerman told me.
But Sanders was able to push his ideas into the mainstream and shepherd a new generation of progressives into office because his presidential campaign was so successful. Progressives aren’t going to lead America to a different future without a leader of their own. And that’s stressing them out. The potential successors whose names get tossed around generate doubts: that Ocasio-Cortez is too young and inexperienced to be president, that Newsom is too establishment for the movement at large, that Abrams is too centrist.
Could Sanders’s movement unite without the unifying personality who almost won the Democratic nomination? Might the movement even do better without him?