Former Sanders supporters rally for local progressive candidates
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is long over, but members of the student group Progressive Student Alliance, formerly known as Coogs for Bernie, continue to aid and support his political revolution.
“From the beginning, as Coogs for Bernie, we always had this idea that getting Bernie elected wasn’t the end goal,” PSA President Gabriel Silva said. “It was just one of the battles we had to fight.”
Silva said that while Sanders’ loss was disappointing, it wasn’t the end of the Vermont senator movement in Houston. Houston Area Progressives, Silva said, became a community when volunteers and campaign staff from Sanders’ Houston effort decided to come together despite a fruitless presidential bid.
“He’s like the flag-bearer of today,” Silva said of Sanders. “As long as he’s in government and he’s making any kind of efforts toward these progressive issues then of course we’re going to continue to support him.”
‘Still work to be done’
In the past few months, the organization has prioritized registering voters above all else.
Silva said PSA has registered around 200 voters in the last few weeks and more than 500 since Coogs for Bernie was first established.
“It’s a known fact that the more people you have registered and the more people you have turn out, the more progressive the outcomes tend to be,” Silva said. “The more people we can register, for whatever reason they’re registering, the better chance we have of turning Texas blue.”
According to a Houston Chronicle article, which features PSA officer Emily Garcia-Briones, volunteers in Harris County registered a record number of voters this year. There are now more than 2.2 million registered voters in Harris County, representing the highest increase in voter registration in the last 16 years.
“The reason we’re in this state is because people don’t vote,” Garcia-Briones, a human nutrition and foods junior, said. “Here in Texas, the voter turnout is abysmal, which is what causes our representatives to not really to represent us.”
For now, the organization has shifted focus away from the presidential election and chose not to endorse any of the remaining candidates. PSA has instead decided to support and endorse local progressive candidates such as Kim Ogg for district attorney and Ed Gonzales for sheriff.
“We’ve just kind of picked up where he left off with his campaign,” Garcia-Briones said. “We had our disappointment, but we had to realize that there’s still work to be done. There’s still local elections.”
Continuing the revolution
Silva said the organization’s decision to stay out of the presidential election is largely because it does not want to further divide the progressive movement. Additionally, PSA has more potential to have a real, visible impact when it comes to local issues.
“Even taking a position on the presidential election would be like assuming we could change the water level of the ocean by putting in a drop of water,” Silva said. “It helps keep people involved in a group when they can actually see the change that we’re trying to make happen.”
Going forward, Silva said that a regrouping of the Sanders camp is likely. PSA and the progressive movement in general will focus on growing and becoming more interconnected. The organization plans to reach out and work with Houston Area Progressives and The Houston Free Thinkers, among others.
“These groups will be working with other statewide groups,” Silva said. “Basically, it’s going to be a system of grass roots organizing from bottom to top.”
Next year, Silva said the group plans to travel to Austin with other Houston-area progressive groups to testify before the legislators.
PSA is becoming an officially registered student organization this week. Silva said this will allow the organization to receive funding and host events, which will hopefully lead to an increase in membership and, ultimately, a larger impact on the University’s political engagement.
“Although Bernie isn’t the nominee of the Democratic Party, our drive hasn’t decreased in the slightest,” Biology junior Jillian Gauthier said. “Our shared views on Bernie Sanders brought us together, but Bernie’s revolution was never just about Bernie.”