Sen. Bernie Sanders highlighted his popularity and continuing ability to draw large audiences when he addressed tens of thousands of supporters (the majority watching via live stream) Wednesday night at the launch event for ‘Our Revolution’, a new non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the platforms of the senator’s presidential campaign by supporting progressive candidates and advocacy groups.
The kickoff arrived on the heels of internal turmoil within the organization. Over the weekend, two-thirds of the group’s staff members resigned when Sanders’ former campaign manager Jeff Weaver was brought on to lead the group.
The Issue with Weaver
The aggrieved staffers of OR expressed concern over Weaver’s aggressive leadership style, and the threat he poses to the movement’s grassroots ideology, pointing to a meeting this week with aides of billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer as proof. (Sources contacted by NBC News said the meeting was unrelated to OR.) The staffers believe Weaver mismanaged Sanders presidential bid, and all claim they initially joined OR with the explicit promise that Weaver would not be involved.
“I share the concerns that much of the staff have,” Paul Schaffer, former data and analytics director, wrote to Sanders, “about Jeff’s competence and vision for OR, and don’t want to be part of facilitating that vision.”
"Those of us who resigned left because we felt the organization couldn't make good on Bernie's promise to keep the political revolution going under Jeff's leadership. As a campaign manager, Jeff was a total disaster who failed Bernie's supporters with his mismanagement. We're organizers who believed in Bernie's call for a political revolution, so we weren't interested in working for an organization that's going to raise money from billionaires to spend it all on TV.” -- former organizing director Claire Sandberg.
Jane Sanders Supports Weaver
Bernie’s wife Jane Sanders supports Weaver’s position in the key role due to the former lawyer’s legal acumen. Since the group will be operating as a 501(c)(4) organization, a tax status that will allow it to accept unlimited donations without revealing its donors, but that sets tricky legal limitations on the groups involvement in elections and political activity, she believes the group will be best managed by a legal professional with keen insight on the intricate workings of tax law.
During the same conference call that detailed the elevation of Weaver to OR manager, Mrs. Sanders resigned from her chair on the board.
The organization’s 501(c)(4) status sets strict legal restrictions on the level of involvement Sen. Sanders can have with the group. When Mrs. Sanders’ resignation left the board to consist of four white men from Vermont, the organization attracted further criticism from former staffers who noted the board was unrepresentative of the progressive movement. Weaver downplayed the significance of the initial shakeups in an email to NBC.
“Not really much to it. New organization. Putting together the A team here,” -Jeff Weaver
Bernie Behind the Podium
At the kickoff event Wednesday night, Bernie did his best to quell concerns and launch the group on a strong footing. He touted the success of his unlikely campaign, with considerable thanks to his supporters. He celebrated what he called, “the strongest and most progressive democratic platform in the history of the United States of America.” And he redoubled for the umpteenth time his belief that change happens from the bottom up, his clarion call to reassure anyone with reason to doubt his own grassroots ideology.
To that end he dedicated OR to helping down-ballot candidates who support progressive platforms. And, while acknowledging he will legally need to, as the Senator from Vermont, support OR from a distance, he promised “a new, very diverse board of strong progressive men and women from across the country” would be assembled to lead the organization forward.
For many supporters, concerns still linger about the role Our Revolution will play in the progressive movement’s future, but by the end of Wednesday night’s event, in at least in one room in Virginia, it appeared Sen. Sanders had reinforced a sense of unity and shared vision amongst his followers. After a rocky start, Our Revolution moves forward, albeit a work in progress.