Democrats cast ballots in five critical primary elections on Tuesday. And though Missouri may be headed for a recount, for now, it looks like Bernie Sanders lost all five states. He was defeated in a rout in Florida, lost badly in North Carolina and Ohio, and came up just short in Illinois.
For a time, it seemed as though Sanders might be able to fight Hillary Clinton to a draw. And while the election is still far from over, the window for Sanders to actually win the primary outright is growing smaller and smaller.
So with a triangulating neoliberal as the likely Democratic nominee, and a crypto-fascist as the Republican one, where are Sanders supporters to turn?
One answer came from a much lower-profile race in Cook County, Illinois. The incumbent state's attorney, Anita Alvarez, was obliterated by challenger Kim Foxx by nearly 30 percentage points. Alvarez became infamous for failing to file charges for 400 days against the Chicago police officer who gunned down Laquan McDonald, a black Chicago teenager, and only after a journalist forced the release of damning dashcam footage. This was only one of 68 other instances Alvarez had declined to file charges against police for killing people.
Timothy McGinty, the prosecutor who did not indict the policeman who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, also went down to defeat.
Activist pressure has already forced Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to fire the police superintendent in a desperate effort to keep his own position, but he is likely the next target. Even if he manages to cling to power for the rest of his term, his political career is likely over.
These results illustrate a key fact about American politics: The further down the political ladder you go, the easier it is to cause change. Five thousand committed activists can't swing a presidential primary, but they can completely overturn the politics of a medium-sized county. Most people don't even know who their state-level representatives are, and a great many of them run unopposed.
This suggests a clear path for Sanders and his supporters to take. Once the primary is settled one way or the other, and he's leveraged his delegate haul to push the party platform in a good direction, he can turn down-ballot. He can direct his astonishingly voluminous money spigot toward lower-profile Democrats and leftists who need just a little cash to be able to compete. National politics gets the vast bulk of public and media attention, but Sanders could turn that to his movement's advantage by leveraging his sudden high profile.
That means national-level races to help take the Senate and at least contest the House, but it also means literally thousands of state and local races that should be fought wherever possible. Prosecutors are virtually never challenged, and it is a certainty that Alvarez and McGinty aren't the only ones who deserve to be toppled.
Sanders could start with this simple phone app listing all of the nearly 520,000 elected offices in the United States, plus all the legal and technical hurdles for contesting each one. Making it simple to figure out the convoluted and redundant structure of American politics would probably go no small distance towards making it easier for people to enter politics.
Above all, the general point is that leftists should continue to participate in politics writ large. My great fear is that Sanders supporters (who are disproportionately young or new to politics), having tasted the hope of defeating Clinton, will now abandon politics and political organizing in disappointment. But it was never going to be as easy as simply knocking off the Democratic favorite in a primary. There were 100 more hurdles between President Sanders and a decent social democratic America. As Tony Benn once said, "There is no destination called justice or democracy and if you catch a train driven by the right man you'll get there."
So as I've argued before, don't listen to the Democratic partisans urging abject fealty to the party. It is a vehicle for good policy, not a church. It should be supported insofar as it is tactically useful. But don't despair, and keep on voting for somebody.