It’s been roughly a week since a number of DSA-backed progressives won big in local Pennsylvania races, some of them unseating democratic incumbents. Sara Innamorato, Summer Lee, Kristin Seale, and Elizabeth Fiedler.
In her primary race, Summer Lee, endorsed by both the local DSA chapter and Our Revolution, defeated incumbent Paul Costa thanks to her socialist message and local progressives – many of them DSA members – were energized enough by that message to canvas for her with dedication that her opponent termed “aggressive” during his concession remarks. Where Costa saw aggressive campaigning, Lee saw young progressives who have seldom had someone speak directly and authentically to their concerns at a local level. She geared her campaign toward getting out young voters, not through the usual gimmicks (no ads featured Lee looking down at her phone and texting establishment bromides to some nonexistent millennial as far as I can tell), but by addressing their material conditions in ways the establishment will never be able to. By advocating, without having to be pushed and prodded into doing so, for Free College, Free Healthcare, $15 minimum-wage and other things that people actually care about.
An organizer for the local DSA chapter is credited with broaching the subject of running with Lee, cementing her win as a victory that can’t cynically be hijacked by the establishment as they have tried to in previous races. In addition to striking another blow to the false narrative still being pushed by the establishment that the majority of democratic voters are closer to the center politically, her win and the wins of the three other women shows what progress actually looks like for fairly young grassroots organizations priding themselves on refusing corporate backing.
Yesterday, Politico published a hit-piece on Nina Turner and her organization Our Revolution. The still young organization isn’t without its growing pains, but it is pretty dishonest to zero in on board-room disagreements between its officials and on its unmet fundraising goals as some sort of sign that the organization is in disarray while the DNC is famously experiencing one of its lowest dips in funding and reports of its dysfunction haven’t stopped surfacing since the 2015 primaries. The author wrote almost the exact same article in 2016 and it was an equally shoddy attempt at a hit-piece even then.
Among the many things pointed to in this new article as reasons the organization is failing is an observation that OR hasn’t backed any candidates who went on to win in a major race. This isn’t the first time this particular jab has been thrown at OR (and at DSA) and, each time, it betrays a willful misunderstanding of the nature of both of these organizations and what they set out to do each time they endorse a candidate.
Some months ago, Nina Turner went on one of the panel shows and voiced a reasonable concern that the current “blue wave” was happening at great cost to the democratic party actually sticking to values it purports to stand for and she was raked over the coals for it by the usual suspects. OR was once again lambasted for refusing to endorse candidates like Ralph Northam and Doug Jones in their respective races. The point is brought up again in the Politico piece as an apparent negative against OR. The idea behind this criticism seems to be that political organizing at any level should have winning as its highest priority while relegating advocacy for things you actually believe in, the things that set you apart from status quo organizations and their preferred candidates, to the backburner.
If the blue wave wants to keep laying welcome mats for conservatives like Conor Lamb, then its weird and creepy that they have collective meltdowns on the constant over who Sanders and Turner and OR is refusing to endorse this week or that. Orgs like OR and DSA organize around progressive policies first, politicians second. When a politician comes along who genuinely meets criteria dictated by those policies, an endorsement is proffered. Winning isn’t an end-goal so much as spreading awareness for policies that, at best, the establishment only pays lip service to when convenient. Thanks to the actions of establishment orgs like the DCCC (tampering in local races, giving candidates without expensive rolodexes the cold shoulder), the blue wave continues to prove that it has a profound disrespect of grassroots organizing for actual policies and would rather orgs like OR fall in line or just go away.
So what exactly does progress look like for grassroots organizations like OR and DSA and why is it the height of idiocy to write their obits twice in the rough span of two years? Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and a handful of presidential hopefuls being groomed by the establishment have come out in recent months in favor of policies that were only being discussed seriously in 2016 by progressives like Bernie Sanders and Nina Turner. Did Harris’s decision to back M4A or Gillibrand’s decision to back a jobs guarantee just fall out of the sky or did it come from pressure put on them by progressives and the candidates they support in state and local primaries?
Here’s a list of OR-backed candidates who recently won nationwide primaries that apparently don’t matter because left-punchers are still happy to pretend when it suits them or when they can’t neatly claim the victories as theirs that local races don’t matter.