Why is Sanders Holding a Rally In Cambridge This Sunday?

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By Eli Gerzon

Senator Bernie Sanders will headline a rally in Cambridge this Sunday, August 21st at 1pm, alongside Teamsters president Sean O’Brien and Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson. The rally is being held at the Cambridge Common, with doors opening at 12pm. You can RSVP for the rally here.

The rally will also feature speakers from the Starbucks workers strike, a Massachusetts Nurses Association member from the St Vincent Hospital strike, and possibly also the recent MIT graduate student unionization campaign.

The rally follows a similar rally by Sanders, O’Brien, and Nelson earlier this summer in Chicago. All three will also be in Philadelphia on Saturday before the Boston event. 

The event was announced last weekend and on Tuesday Senator Sanders tweeted a Dunkin’ Donuts themed poster by Tyler Evans, with the message:
“Workers in this country are organizing against outrageous levels of corporate greed. We will only succeed by standing together. That’s why this weekend, I’ll be in Philadelphia and Boston to rally with @Teamsters Pres. Sean O’Brien and @afa_cwa Pres. Sara Nelson. Join us there.”

The bottom of the flier reads: “America Runs on Solidarity.” 

The event sparks questions about the purpose of the rally series, which are often held to drive specific actions, especially driving voter turnout. In 2016 Bernie Sanders held a rally at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and the crowd was too large to fit inside the massive building: his staff estimated 20,000 people showed up. A few days before the 2020 presidential primary in Massachusetts, Bernie held a rally on Boston Common attracting a packed crowd of 13,000 people outside in the winter.

According to Taylor Garland, Communications Director for the AFA, the purpose of the rally is to drive Bernie supporters towards engagement with the labor movement, highlighting that the electoral arena is not the only way to push societal change, and encouraging supporters to engage with their unions or to form new unions.

O’Brien and Nelson are two of the most progressive and militant labor leaders in the United States, especially among presidents of national unions. Nelson gained prominence in 2019 by calling for a general strike to end the government shutdown, and continues to be a favorite labor leader of the left-wing of the labor movement. O’Brien, recently elected as part of a reform slate, has promised to take the Teamsters in a militant direction, and recently kicked off contract campaigns for the Teamsters-UPS contract, the largest collective bargaining agreement in the United States. 

Nelson and O’Brien’s close engagement with Sanders is a welcome sign of the growing relationship between the political left and the labor movement. Despite the growing popularity of Sanders from 2016 to 2020, his 2020 campaign failed to win substantially more labor endorsements in 2020 than it had in 2016; among national unions endorsing Sanders in 2016, ATU, CWA, and ILWU all failed to endorse Sanders in 2020. 

The event comes amid a surge of bottom-up labor organizing which has spread across the country, largely led by worker-leaders radicalized through Sanders’ two campaigns. That’s especially true in Massachusetts with the first Trader Joe’s unionizing in Hadley, MA in late July and the longest Starbucks strike in history still going at 874 Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline near Boston University. Many politicians have visited the Comm Ave. picket line to show their support including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, and Boston DSA members Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara and State Representative Erika Uyterhoeven.

On Thursday Sara Nelson announced on Twitter that she will also visit the 874 store at 10:30am on Sunday to support their historic strike. Will Bernie Sanders or Sean O’Brien visit as well? Regardless, all three headlined speakers seem to support the type of militant rank and file organizing happening at Starbucks and the #HotLaborSummer which continues to sweep the nation.

Eli Gerzon is a freelance writer, social media consultant, gardener, and Tarot card reader. They are an active member of Boston DSA and Jewish Voice for Peace – Boston. 

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