Sen. Bernie Sanders won the 2020 Iowa caucuses by 6,000 popular votes, propelled by the strength of his grassroots movement of volunteers and small-dollar donors. No other candidate received more delegates-as-real-people than Bernie.
The Sanders campaign’s work to turn out the working-class and make the caucuses more transparent, inclusive and democratic for everybody paid off. Turning out new and irregular Black, Arab and Hispanic voters to urban precincts and satellite caucuses was enough to push Sanders over the edge on every victory metric that mattered. The true results of the state delegate equivalents we may never know.
But it was the profound symbolism of direct democracy on display — portrayed in photos and videos of Iowa’s multiracial working-class, caucusing inside of their own community institutions — that best captured the participatory spirit of Iowa caucuses renewed by political revolution.
Third-shift meatpacking workers from Ethiopia met in union halls. Muslims caucused in the mosques they pray in. Latinos attended la fiesta de negocios inside parish basements. Students voted for the first time at college libraries and dormitories.
At its best, the 2020 Iowa caucuses were a vision manifest of what a rebuilt and robust civil society could look like.
Unfortunately, there was no immediate headline victory for either the caucuses or the winning campaign. Instead, the media momentum meant for both was inexplicably marred by:
• Unexplainable and indefensible delays in the Iowa Democratic Party’s reporting of caucus precinct data
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• IDP’s limited release of partial results, followed by a DNC recount at the last minute, further obfuscating the truth
• The tanking of the gold-standard Iowa Poll just three days before the first-in-the-nation contest
• Openly biased moderating at the last national debate in Iowa in January
• The DNC’s last-minute rule change allowing self-funding billionaire Michael Bloomberg to qualify for future presidential debates
Serious discussion about the gravity of these issues and their causes ranged from accusations that the mainstream media and the Democratic Party are grossly incompetent at best, to blatantly cheating to try and rig the system at worst.
Deliberate electioneering or not, there is no question that each and every one of these incidents acted as a roadblock or headwind against Bernie Sanders and his insurgent, outsider campaign at the exact same time establishment Democrats began to vocally and publicly fear his ascendancy the most.
That’s why the real issue here isn’t the Iowa caucuses at all. Yes, the delegate allocation system needs to be simplified. And yes, the satellite caucus model pioneered this year to empower underrepresented and differently-abled people must be expanded in 2024 to make participation as widespread and as easy as a typical primary election, with ranked choice voting.
The real problem isn’t the caucus process — it’s the opaque and undemocratic nature of the Democratic National Committee and the Iowa Democratic Party.
Although the Sanders campaign’s victorious showing in Iowa proved Bernie’s movement is strong enough to win the party nomination and the White House, it is equally clear that he will be fought tooth-and-nail every step of the way by the liberal establishment.
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Progressive populists don’t have to wait until a democratic socialist is sitting in the Oval Office to fight back. We should renew the project of purging the Democratic Party of its most backward, reactionary and counterrevolutionary elements right now, starting by publicly calling for the resignations of DNC chairman Tom Perez and IDP chairman Troy Price.
Both men are Obama/Clinton loyalists who have dogged the Sanders reform movement since 2016 in Iowa and across the country. It’s time for them and their entire teams to go.
David Goodner of Iowa City is a union organizer and Catholic Worker who served as a Sanders precinct captain in Iowa City’s 1st precinct. Follow him on Twitter at @davidgoodner.