Already, a split has emerged in the way progressive leaders and protesters approach systemic racism and police reform, raising broader questions about whether elected officials are in sync with what is happening on the ground. While some activists have embraced the protesters’ rallying cry to “defund the police,” many progressive leaders, including Mr. Sanders, are calibrating their approach.
Unlike during the primary season, when he often took the most leftward position, Mr. Sanders has disagreed with protesters’ demands to eliminate funding for police departments, staking out a careful position on police reform.
“Anyone who thinks that we should abolish all police departments in America, I don’t agree,” Mr. Sanders told The New Yorker. In keeping with his stance when he was mayor of Burlington, Vt., he supported paying police officers more.
At the same time, progressive organizations like the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led liberal environmental group that endorsed Mr. Sanders in the primary, have aggressively pushed to defund the police, adopting the policy as one of their own. When Mr. Biden released a statement last week that took a more cautious position on police overhaul, the Sunrise Movement denounced his stance on Twitter. “@JoeBiden you’re hurting any chance you have at defeating Trump by taking these centrist stances,” the group said. “We need someone fighting with us to create bold change, not someone to maintain the status-quo #DefundPolice.”
But while most progressives might not have seen this revolution coming, they are catching up.
Rahna Epting, the executive director of the progressive group MoveOn, said the protests were a time for national groups like hers to listen to the grass roots. “In terms of what we do, we see the people on the streets right now, this is completely organic,” she said. “This is beyond any one organization or institution.”
She added: “We’re recognizing the moment is not ours, it’s the people’s, and we need to flank the people right now.”
The protests are not directly connected to partisan politics, even though there are some similarities between their broad demands and the revolutionary sentiment embodied by Mr. Sanders’s campaign. But if there is overlap, it is not yet clear whether the energy on the ground, particularly among young progressives who supported Mr. Sanders but remain dissatisfied with Mr. Biden, will translate to enthusiasm at the ballot box in November.