Illini for Bernie rebrands following election cycle

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Karolina Marczewski

Senator Bernie Sanders hosts a rally at the ARC last March during his run for office.

By Michael Semaca, Staff Writer

On Mar. 11, 2016, Richard Daniels wasn’t expecting that he and the rest of Illini for Bernie Sanders, an RSO dedicated to helping Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders win the presidency, were about to get a huge helping hand in their “get out the vote” efforts.

It was early in the morning when they received a message from an unexpected source: Sen. Sanders himself, a mere four days before the Illinois Democratic primary.

“I got a message on our leadership group on Facebook: ‘Bernie’s coming to campus. Like, tomorrow,’” Daniels said, senior in FAA. “And everyone was like ‘Jesus Christ, what do we do?’”

Illini for Bernie snapped into action, coordinating with Sanders’ campaign office in Urbana to get the event set up. Thousands of supporters lined up, some arriving as early as 5:30 a.m., to see Sanders speak at the ARC. The RSO’s then-president, Matt Pasquini, even had the opportunity to speak at the rally.

While the rally had a massive turnout, Sanders was defeated by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Illinois Democratic primary the following Tuesday.

As Clinton won state after state, it became clear that Sanders would not be the Democratic nominee for president. Instead of completely disbanding, Daniels, Pasquini and the rest of Illini for Bernie decided the RSO would re-brand as Illini Progressives after the election.

Now, as the president of Illini Progressives, Daniels said the group wanted to continue promoting the ideals Sanders campaigned on and to harness the energy the campus showed at the rally.

“What we’re doing is building off of what Bernie did for young people,” Daniels said. “I think that excitement needs to be tapped into more by a group that reflects his values and his vision.”

To achieve this goal, Daniels said that the RSO will be actively working to bring individuals to the University, such as progressive authors, politicians and internationally known speakers. They also plan to bring progressive groups around the University together to fight for common causes.

“We’re going to be providing a platform for a dialogue among progressive groups and students, faculty members and community members around the CU area for organization of events that are progressive in nature,” he said.

Daniels acknowledged that it will be an uphill battle for progressives like him after the Democratic party’s devastating losses in November’s election. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and Donald Trump in the White House, Democrats have little federal power. He said the electoral losses were a result of the Democrats abandoning their leftist roots.

“For years, they’d been moving more and more to the right,” he said. “They’ve become more moderate, more conservative, more bought off by corporations and weaker. They don’t actually have progressive principles or traditional Democratic principles. All that kind of backfired in this election cycle.”

Similarly, more and more Democrats think the party needs to move toward a more liberal position in order to regain control of the federal government, including some members of Illini Democrats.

Alexandra Kupryjanczuk, vice-president of Illini Democrats and senior in AHS, agreed with this notion.

“This election, and the campaign season as a whole, showed that people really want something different, and they want something a little more extreme,” she said. “They don’t want the same middle ground anymore.”

Illini Democrats President Spencer Haydary agreed, saying he sees the Democratic party moving toward a more populist platform in the future. Haydary, a senior in LAS, said the election was a wake-up call to the party and will force it to re-examine its message to the people.

Haydary said the Illini Democrats are prepared to work with Illini Progressives and other liberal student organizations to achieve their shared goals.

“We anticipate working together a lot because we’re the two most liberal organizations on campus, at least in terms of Democratic politics,” Haydary said. “There’s going to be a lot of overlap and room for coordination.”

Daniels said he’d welcome a partnership with the Illini Democrats. He encouraged all progressives and Democrats to attend the Illini Progressives’ first meeting Thursday evening.

“Come on out and let us know what you’re feeling,” he said. “You’ll be able to help us build for the next election cycle, and we’ll get back on our feet. We can work through it.”

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