Let’s play a game: “Where have I heard that before?” Here’s how it works, I’ll make a series of statements, things of the kind that might appear in a New York Times article, statements like “geriatric left-wing socialist runs a quixotic political campaign and captivates a generation of hopelessly idealistic millennials,” and you tell me where you’ve heard it before. Make sense? Good. Alright, here we go:

• “Geriatric left-wing socialist holds rallies attended by thousands of rabid social justice warriors in their 20s.”

• “Geriatric left-wing socialist has been an outsider in government for decades raving into the wilderness about things nobody wants to talk about like economic justice and not unnecessarily dropping bombs on foreign countries. He divides his party with unpopular and extreme policies that only a veteran of the Bolshevik revolution would consider palatable. That, and he looks homeless. He should drop out of the race before he damages his party more.”

• “Geriatric left-wing socialist stands no chance of winning.”

If you said, “That reminds me of Bernie Sanders!” to any of the above statements, you would be correct. Amazingly, strikingly similar things were also said about Jeremy Corbyn’s recent campaign to become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Both candidates went on to defy the insistent media narrative that they were unelectable fringe candidates who would only appeal to college students and then performed stunningly well in nationwide campaigns, leaving the corporate media grasping at straws as to what exactly happened and how their pundits could be so wrong.

The surprising thing is that they continue to take themselves seriously in spite of all that has transpired in the last year and a half, from claiming that Brexit was never going to happen to claiming that Donald Trump becoming president was about as likely as a giant meteor falling out of the sky to obliterate all life on earth (an alternative many people seemed to find preferable, considering all of the “Giant Meteor 2016” stickers and yard signs that could be spotted across the country last year).

The talking heads of the major media news outlets fail to recognize that they no longer have a monopoly on the public imagination, and that the political establishment has been failing people who are not in the top 20 percent of income earners for the last several decades, who have hence sought alternatives to the typical candidates coughed up by the establishment. This tidal wave of populism has either gone to the left and galvanized candidates who support a return to the post-war welfare-state policies that gave rise to the great middle classes of the countries that emerged victorious from that conflict (e.g. Sanders and Corbyn), or it has veered hard right and gone to candidates and policies that represent a return to a brand of ethnonationalism that has characterized some of the most despotic governments in history, both before the war and since (Trump and Brexit). At this point, the confidence with which the mainstream media punditry make their declarations of which candidates are most likely to succeed in upcoming elections is almost laughable, and yet many people continue to listen to them.

I happened to have had the opportunity to work on both the Bernie Sanders primary campaign and now on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party campaign. An organization called Momentum invited me and three other former organizers from the Sanders campaign over to England to deliver a series of trainings on what was most effective while going door-to-door during our campaign in the states. 

None of that is really rocket science, but what is challenging is convincing would-be volunteers that going door-to-door and actually having conversations with people in their physical presence can have an impact on elections. It is easy to get demoralized with the constant onslaught of negative media, and lots of people feel that if anything can challenge the corporate media narrative, posting on Facebook and twitter can. They’re not wrong, but time and time again, academics who actually study these sorts of things have discovered that talking to people in person is the best way to convince them to your position on a candidate or issue. If we were going to have a chance to defeat the hopeless narrative on the television and in the major press, we were going to have to be pounding the pavement in unprecedented numbers. Somewhat miraculously even to me, it worked.

I travelled from London to Scotland to Wales to the shores of the English Channel and delivered talks to groups ranging from a dozen to well over 100. All told, over 2,000 people attended one of the trainings given by a Sanders campaigner in the UK. My main message was, “Whatever you take away from this training, get out there and knock doors; you can make a difference.” It did, especially given the UK parliamentary system’s quirks, where Members of Parliament are elected by constituencies of around 70,000 people, and a swing of just a few dozen votes can make all the difference in some of the closer races. 

During the last few days of the campaign it was a thrill to see people taking our words to heart and getting out on the streets. In the key races, there were hundreds of people literally canvassing whole constituencies (districts). In some areas of London, you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing a group of red-clad activists huddled around a clipboard. It was the kind of volunteer turnout that we could only dream of during the Sanders campaign, and it changed the outcome of the election. 

Labour was expected to lose, and lose badly. While they didn’t get the majority of Parliamentary seats, they did gain a significant number, and kept the conservative party from getting a majority, which is being heralded as a major victory. That election contains a real lesson for the Democratic party of America: When you have an inspirational candidate capable of motivating volunteers en masse, you can win despite the odds. What remains to be seen is if Democrats will heed the call in time and embrace a strong populist economic agenda “for the many, not the few” in time for 2018. So far it’s been a battle, but Labour’s success in the UK gives progressives in America a great deal of material to use to make their case in the coming primaries.