by Kyle Gardner

Mercifully, the primary season has come to an end. It’s been a wild ride to put it mildly, but the presence and energy of Bernie Sanders has breathed needed life into the process. And he’s not done yet; building a new political movement doesn’t reach artificial ends just because a blustering political party establishment says it ought to.

The fact that Sanders went from near national obscurity 15 months ago to winning 22 state primary contests and generating huge amounts of enthusiasm on the campaign trail by June is a testament to both his own energy as well as some level of yearning among interested people that our deeply rooted “business as usual” system isn’t cutting it.

According to The Guardian, in almost every state – even in those he lost – Sanders won vast majorities of voters under 30, and also received the most votes from people under 45. Perhaps what’s even more remarkable, Sanders accomplished this feat without the help of Super PACs, corporations, Wall Street and billionaires who’ve filled the Clinton-Machine campaign coffers. Moreover, Sanders speaks truth to power without the focus-group-inspired pandering that produces hollow platitudes and meaningless sound bites.

Sanders will arrive at the Democratic National Convention in July with the largest insurgent delegation in modern history, a sign, hopefully, that a slumbering citizenry may be awakening. Sanders has inspired millions to get involved in politics and fight the most important and basic of all democratic battles on which so much depends: the reclaiming of economic and political processes from the moneyed interests that dominate the US – and global – systems.

Sanders’ refusal to quietly disappear isn’t arrogant or cocky; it’s an acknowledgement that the systemic issues that dominate U.S. society to the detriment of the common good must remain in the public eye, assuming the media are willing to provide some semblance of coverage.

It’s pathetic how some are claiming that Sanders’ continuing campaign somehow hurts Hillary Clinton’s ability to defeat Donald Trump in November. Clinton needs no assistance in looking bad – she is the living embodiment of the establishment and has baggage that is a turnoff to millions of independent-minded voters. Moreover, if the vast majority of likely voters don’t already find The Donald completely revolting and dangerous, that’s no fault of Sanders.

Even stranger is how some are demanding that Sanders now do his utmost to “unify the Democratic Party.” Quick reminder: Sanders is an independent, who tends to side with the Democratic Party on many issues, but he’s no mainstream member of the party, having directly challenged the fundamental ways in which the party operates.

If the Democratic Party operators blithely assume that Sanders’ supporters will simply cast their lot with Clinton because they have no other place to go, the party doesn’t deserve their support. We’re at a juncture where the continuing folly of the Democratic Party with its rabid pandering to corporate interests should mean independent-minded voters finally say “So long, we’re going forward in a different direction.”

Nurturing a more truly democratic system is an uphill battle and faces plenty of opposition from a variety of forces that constantly seek to concentrate power in fewer hands and use it to perpetuate ends that undercut the common good. Sanders is the first candidate in a long time who has forcefully articulated this fundamental reality and sharply identified the causal mechanisms. The ideas that Sanders has injected into the 2016 campaign are hardly radical; they counter the very forms by which the political and economic power of the U.S. has been and continues to be ordered.

Where do we go from here? Can the momentum generated by Sanders be sustained? A resurgence of progressivism certainly looks promising at this point, much more so than in previous decades. Sanders’ continued energy is critical for citizen engagement and empowerment. Passivity perpetuates the status quo; complicity feeds directly into the maintenance of the systemic features that have ushered in the present circumstances. Some degree of political agitation is essential if real change is going to emerge.

In the ideal, Sanders has facilitated the emergence of a viable, independent progressive party, a sustainable alternative to our morally defunct and intellectually vapid two-party system. Third party success in the U.S. is problematic, as history shows, and the creation of a new Progressive Party is going to be a bit messy if the 2016 campaign is any indication.

It’s an uphill climb and only time will tell, but the struggle continues, as Sanders has proclaimed, and, rightly so. The anti-progressive forces have been brutally effective over the past decades, but many of their core ideas and policies have been exposed as illegitimate. Sanders’ vigor, honesty, and uplifting campaign is a signal of what might be possible going forward.

Kyle Gardner is a sometime contributor to environmental/wildlife blogs and is the author of Medicine Rock Reflections, (2007), and Momentary Threshold (2012). He received a PhD from CSU in political science/public administration and has variously worked in the public sector for nearly 20 years.