NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

Let’s think + act beyond presidential politics to build a progressive agenda for America

Edi­tor’s Note: We are pleased today to wel­come our friend Shasti Con­rad to the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate to share her thoughts on chart­ing a path for­ward in the wake of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s 2020 nom­i­nat­ing sea­son. Shasti is the first woman of col­or to serve as the Chair of the Mar­tin Luther King Junior Coun­ty Democ­rats. She has worked for three Nobel Lau­re­ates and for Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders over the last four pres­i­den­tial cam­paign cycles. Most recent­ly, she was the Nation­al Direc­tor of Sur­ro­gates for the Bernie 2020 cam­paign.

In the after­math of Bernie Sanders sus­pend­ing his sec­ond pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the crush of autop­sy reports has been over­whelm­ing. What went wrong? What does it mean for the pro­gres­sive move­ment? Where do we go from here?

I’ve been sur­prised and at times deeply dis­ap­point­ed by many of the twists and turns this time around. I did not expect to be where we are now, and I don’t think any can­di­date or seri­ous pun­dit pre­dict­ed the road we trav­eled to get here.

I can­not say with absolute cer­tain­ty where we are head­ed.

Still, as some­one whose first polit­i­cal job was with Vice Pres­i­dent Biden, fol­lowed by a West Wing role in the Oba­ma White House and two pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns with Bernie Sanders, when I think about the future, I bring all these expe­ri­ences to bear.

Through­out the cur­rent cycle, poll after poll has shown broad and often over­whelm­ing sup­port for the poli­cies and ideas Bernie cham­pi­oned: A Green New Deal. Can­celling stu­dent debt. Health­care as a right for all. Once writ­ten off as pipe dreams, these are ideals near­ly all of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls embraced in part, if not entire­ly, and that Democ­rats in local and state pri­maries across the coun­try, in red states and blue, hold cen­tral to their cam­paigns.

The par­ty has moved to the left, and so many jus­ti­fi­ably cred­it Sen­a­tor Sanders and mil­lions of orga­niz­ers across the coun­try for the change.

This year should have been the year the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty nom­i­nat­ed a bold pro­gres­sive leader to be the next Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.

But here we are. In the mid­dle of a pan­dem­ic, try­ing to get young peo­ple, women, and peo­ple of col­or to ral­ly around Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden.

If any­thing, the pan­dem­ic is show­ing us how pro­gres­sive poli­cies are need­ed in times of crises and hard­ship. Wouldn’t you feel bet­ter know­ing that your health­care wasn’t tied to employ­ment and that we had a sol­id safe­ty net in place to get us through these times? As a mil­len­ni­al, what a dif­fer­ence life would be with­out stu­dent debt hang­ing over­head and block­ing any chance of build­ing a nest egg to pre­pare for uncer­tain peri­ods like this. After recent stim­u­lus checks, Uni­ver­sal Basic Income does not seem quite so out­landish an idea any­more, does it?

And some­how “they” found a way to send that mon­ey pret­ty quick­ly, espe­cial­ly once the Nar­­cis­­sist-in-Chief could put his name on those checks.

Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans – a major­i­ty in most cas­es – agree with us that pro­gres­sive poli­cies make sense. NPI’s own research has demon­strat­ed this.

More Amer­i­cans today embrace pro­gres­sive poli­cies as the best path to a more per­fect union. Still, the result of our cam­paign and of pro­gres­sive cam­paigns of the past sug­gest oth­er­wise. I believe that on the ques­tion of why pro­gres­sives have not had greater elec­toral suc­cess is not a ques­tion of pol­i­cy, but on how we orga­nize and grow. It is the inter­nal dynam­ics of how we all move togeth­er that we have to work through before we can win the high­est office in the land.

I have also seen how the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment often views pro­gres­sives as the kids who will even­tu­al­ly learn that the world sim­ply does not work the way they hoped it would. There is a sense of want­i­ng to tamp down the hope­ful­ness and ide­al­ism that is at the core of poli­cies that aim to cre­ate a bet­ter world for the most mar­gin­al­ized. At one time, those of us work­ing for Oba­ma were con­sid­ered the upstart pro­gres­sives who were too young to ‘get it’ and would nev­er win.

But now those kids have grown up and are in a posi­tion to be the lead­ers shap­ing the agen­da. We can hold on to the hope and ide­al­ism Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma instilled in us, or we can react to set­backs by with­draw­ing from activism.

We must do what we can to stay cen­tral to the dis­cus­sion and push the agen­da.

I believe that the roadmap ahead for pro­gres­sives must be tiered and viewed in terms of prag­mat­ic action and philo­soph­i­cal long-term solu­tions.

Tier 1: Imme­di­ate actions for 2020 cam­paign cycle

First, pro­gres­sive activists need to work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly togeth­er to ensure that we get enough del­e­gates to ensure as pro­gres­sive a plat­form as pos­si­ble, both nation­al­ly and with­in every state’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.

Sec­ond, we need to ral­ly around Eliz­a­beth War­ren for Vice Pres­i­dent. We need a pro­gres­sive vice pres­i­dent and War­ren is best posi­tioned to be that per­son. This will require sup­port­ers of oth­er can­di­dates to put their per­son­al alle­giances aside, ral­ly around the pro­gres­sive plat­form, and make it clear that we will not sim­ply go along with a neolib­er­al agen­da that leaves out the most mar­gin­al­ized.

I know that many pro­gres­sive vot­ers would pre­fer a dif­fer­ent result. If you got trolled on Twit­ter by some­one from a dif­fer­ent cam­paign, I under­stand. It was painful to work as pos­i­tive­ly as pos­si­ble for a can­di­date and be reduced to a prob­lem­at­ic label. But we need to set those feel­ings aside and ral­ly for the pro­gres­sive who has the best shot at work­ing with­in the sys­tem to unrig it.

War­ren fought her way through resis­tance dur­ing the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion and she is our best shot at get­ting some­one who will stand up for the pro­gres­sive plat­form with­in a Biden Admin­is­tra­tion. Biden has com­mit­ted to a female run­ning mate and the oth­er prob­a­ble choic­es are unlike­ly to ful­ly sup­port pro­gres­sive poli­cies. We will not get all that we want, but we will have a bet­ter chance at get­ting some.

Third, we must move past the divides of the past and think of our­selves as the forty mil­lion-plus Amer­i­cans who have rec­og­nized that the cur­rent sys­tem does not work for the dis­ad­van­taged. Not me, us. And it is a big us.

I gen­uine­ly believe that we are the major­i­ty, but our abil­i­ty to work togeth­er and play the game so that we win has left a lot to be desired.

Peo­ple who are com­fort­able can and do treat pol­i­tics as a game, and we must fight some of this on their terms in order to make progress.

Last­ly, do not take your ball and go home. Every time we give into despair about the bat­tles we’ve lost and walk away, we lose ground. This work has nev­er been easy. Ask any­one who has ever had to fight for their rights. Many peo­ple who start­ed the work to end slav­ery, women’s suf­frage, and the civ­il rights move­ment didn’t live long enough to reap the ben­e­fits from vic­to­ry, but still they fought. This work is long and ardu­ous. But we have to stay engaged to cre­ate change.

Tier 2: Longer Term Adjust­ments Need­ed

Reframe to win

As 2020 wore on, I real­ized that many Democ­ratic vot­ers and par­ty lead­ers did not want a polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion or swift, bold change. They want­ed a return to nor­mal­cy, of life before Trump. A life where they gen­er­al­ly trust­ed their gov­ern­ment and, per­haps, did not have to pay atten­tion. They could rest in the com­fort of their sin­­gle-fam­i­­ly homes and jobs that cov­ered them just enough to not be in pover­ty.

The Bernie Sanders cam­paign fol­lowed a mod­el of many oth­er rev­o­lu­tion­ary lead­ers by try­ing to cre­ate class sol­i­dar­i­ty amongst the 99%.

If we could all see how the bil­lion­aires were so deeply cor­rupt, and this cor­rup­tion affect­ed every­one else’s lives, per­haps we could tru­ly fight to make the gov­ern­ment more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the rest of Amer­i­ca and lev­el the field against pri­vate inter­ests. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, human psy­chol­o­gy does not work like that.

We are aspi­ra­tional by nature, and we want to believe that we belong with the class that is right ahead of ours… the myth of upward mobil­i­ty. If you have a house with two bed­rooms and one car, you like­ly think you are just around the cor­ner from your friend who has a house with three bed­rooms and two cars.

You are sure he’s very nice, but can’t pos­si­bly be bet­ter than you, and if you just get your lucky break then you too can have what they have.

Van Jones said at one point that peo­ple in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment (and many Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers) want to get back to “nor­mal,” while pro­gres­sives look at that “nor­mal” – the way things have been – as a key part of the prob­lem.

Addi­tion­al­ly, we should rethink the lan­guage we use in describ­ing our move­ment. For many Amer­i­cans, the word rev­o­lu­tion evokes fear and destruc­tion.

Rev­o­lu­tions are rarely peace­ful, and pow­er is almost nev­er giv­en eas­i­ly to those demand­ing it. In fact, when you are accus­tomed to priv­i­lege, even equal­i­ty can feel like oppres­sion. I recent­ly fin­ished watch­ing the series, “The Amer­i­cans,” which fol­lows KGB spies in Amer­i­ca dur­ing the 1980s.

As a 1980s baby, I did not have the same cul­tur­al touch­points as folks who lived through the Cold War and who remem­ber the sto­ries of Russia’s bread­lines.

The brouha­ha over Bernie’s state­ment about Cuba seemed strange to me, because I am not con­nect­ed to those sto­ries of rev­o­lu­tion in Cuba.

But for oth­er gen­er­a­tions, and com­mu­ni­ties like Cuban-Amer­i­­cans in Flori­da, rev­o­lu­tions are not beau­ti­ful, fun ideas. They are ter­ri­fy­ing bat­tles over ide­ol­o­gy that leave a lot of destruc­tion behind. I under­stand bet­ter, now, how the gen­er­a­tions before mine would balk at a rev­o­lu­tion.

I think the bet­ter term to lead with is trans­for­ma­tion.

I believe that we can trans­form this coun­try into one that is about mutu­al sup­port, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and inno­va­tion. One where we look out for one anoth­er.

One that is free from cap­i­tal­is­tic greed and abuse.

We often look for heroes, there­fore since the indus­tri­al era, we have looked at busi­ness­men (and I do mean men) as the keys to soci­ety work­ing.

Carnegie, Rock­e­feller, Gates: we are so blessed to have them. They are smarter than us, they work hard­er than us, they deserve their mon­ey.

Then they throw some of their earn­ings they make from our labor to good caus­es, and we lift them up as the epit­o­me of Amer­i­can Great­ness.

Lis­ten­ing to com­men­ta­tors on CNN and MSNBC peri­od­i­cal­ly bemoan­ing why there would be any need to hate bil­lion­aires is all you real­ly need to know about our addic­tion to want­i­ng to keep them on their pedestals.

In a post-COVID-19 era, we have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to uplift those who choose to help oth­ers, such as front­line work­ers. In our nar­ra­tives, we can call them heroes, but we must also make sure that our poli­cies reflect the val­ue we place in them.

Grow­ing up, I was taught the creed: “The first go last, the last go first.” It does not mat­ter what you have, if there are peo­ple who have less than you, it is your job to fight for them. We do this work to use our priv­i­lege to help the most mar­gin­al­ized. Until that sen­ti­ment is more com­mon­ly felt by mid­dle income fam­i­lies, mak­ing them see their futures tied in with the poor, we’ll nev­er be able to have the lev­el of sol­i­dar­i­ty need­ed to wrest con­trol from the wealthy and pow­er­ful.

Uplift and ampli­fy women of col­or lead­ers

For the last four years, I have had to fight to be seen with­in the Bernie Sanders move­ment as a woman of col­or. Exter­nal­ly, I found myself white­washed by big media; inter­nal­ly, I was not always val­ued or lis­tened to.

The loud white men of the move­ment call­ing for puri­ty tests and send­ing snake emo­jis to Eliz­a­beth War­ren made it hard for con­sen­sus build­ing. An inabil­i­ty to com­pro­mise and work with peo­ple on the polit­i­cal spec­trum may give you the moral high ground, but it does not leave much room for the sus­tain­able changes that are need­ed to build a long-term move­ment for insti­tu­tion­al changes.

On the Bernie cam­paign, many of our strongest sur­ro­gates were women of col­or: State Sen­a­tor Nina Turn­er and Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Alexan­dria Oca­­sio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashi­da Tlaib and Prami­la Jaya­pal, to name a few.

Pramila Jayapal speaking at a Sanders campaign event

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jaya­pal speak­ing at a Bernie 2020 event (Pho­to: Ruairi Vaughan/NPI)

They were able to ener­gize the base and cred­i­bly speak to the impor­tance of the inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty of the pro­gres­sive move­ment.

Women of col­or have had to learn how to find the right mes­sag­ing to get done what needs to get done. They have had to open doors that have long been closed. Plat­form­ing and cen­ter­ing women of col­or needs to hap­pen for the pro­gres­sive move­ment to grow into the places it needs to suc­ceed.

Hav­ing observed how remark­able lead­ers oper­ate in rooms of pow­er, I sin­cere­ly believe that in Amer­i­ca, one’s race and gen­der inform how you learn to han­dle your­self. If you have always been in the major­i­ty group, you’re not chal­lenged as often to have to mod­er­ate your­self to make oth­ers feel com­fort­able.

You are allowed to be ful­ly who you are.

You are often or com­plete­ly allowed to state your thoughts and opin­ions with­out chal­lenge. You do not have to learn that you have to com­pro­mise to be heard.

As a woman of col­or, I have to eval­u­ate the social and pow­er dynam­ics in every major room I walk into. Even though I have learned to stay true to myself, I have had to devel­op the skills to lis­ten, to com­pro­mise and to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tive­ly to a diverse audi­ence that may not come from my back­ground.

For decades, the end­less work of adjust­ment has been exhaust­ing and has still too often kept me on the side­lines.

Now, as the cul­ture shifts, par­a­digms are start­ing to change. The skills to lis­ten, adapt mes­sag­ing to the spe­cif­ic moment and to work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly across diverse per­spec­tives has changed from a defen­sive skill into a major asset.

Being able to build a diverse coali­tion and work along­side peo­ple whose val­ues are sim­i­lar, but whose tac­tics might not be the same, will be essen­tial for pro­gres­sives to build leg­isla­tive major­i­ties and defend those leg­isla­tive majori­ties.

We are not always com­fort­able with mov­ing from being the under­dog to being the leader of the pack, but we will have to learn how to include those who we may not com­plete­ly agree with, in order to grow the move­ment. I believe par­tic­u­lar­ly that women of col­or under­stand how to nav­i­gate a long­shot sta­tus to being at the table, and they deserve more oppor­tu­ni­ties to do so. As Shirley Chisolm said, “If they won’t give you a seat at the table, bring a fold­ing chair!”

Cel­e­brate incre­men­tal vic­to­ries, keep fight­ing for trans­for­ma­tive change

Pro­gres­sive and Demo­c­ra­t­ic activists get too spun around the axle regard­ing pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics. Every four years, as if we were going all in on the Olympics, we put in every­thing we’ve got to win the big seat. Then, exhaust­ed, many of us lose faith, and wait to fall in love all over again in anoth­er four years.

Mean­while, the Repub­li­cans keep plow­ing through for the downbal­lot races.

As a result, they now con­trol the major­i­ty of state leg­is­la­tures, and they use their major­i­ty there and in the Sen­ate to pack as many friend­ly judges as they can into both the fed­er­al and state court sys­tems. So many of us get caught off guard every time we hear these sta­tis­tics, but it has been true for decades.

We need to have all hands on deck to work to defeat not just Don­ald Trump, but the Repub­li­can ide­ol­o­gy and chaos that helped to elect Don­ald Trump.

We need to win back the Sen­ate and we need to reclaim state leg­is­la­tures.

Note the dif­fer­ence between how Repub­li­can ver­sus Demo­c­ra­t­ic mem­bers of Con­gress, Repub­li­can ver­sus Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nors, and Repub­li­can ver­sus Demo­c­ra­t­ic state leg­is­la­tures regard the lives of those on the front­line of the present pan­dem­ic and look at who they finan­cial­ly sup­port.

There is no clear­er exam­ple of why we must fight for these seats of pow­er.

We need to be build­ing up pro­gres­sive lead­ers for the next gen­er­a­tion, help­ing them to get elect­ed to state leg­is­la­tures, city coun­cil seats, into state and Fed­er­al judge­ships and as coun­ty pros­e­cu­tors. “Not me, us” has to out­live any one leader.

I believe that there is a home for the forty mil­lion peo­ple who vot­ed for pro­gres­sive can­di­dates this cycle and for the major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans who want health­care to be avail­able to every­one as a human right, fed­er­al gun safe­ty leg­is­la­tion, a Green New Deal, and a gov­ern­ment that is built of, by and for the peo­ple. We just have to build it togeth­er, cel­e­brate the vic­to­ries, learn from the defeats to rise above and win next time, and keep fight­ing for tru­ly trans­for­ma­tion­al sys­temic change!

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2 Comments

  1. Shasti your sharp clear analy­sis of the real­i­ty is right on tar­get. Your plan for mov­ing for­ward would bring us back to san­i­ty. I think you are a lit­tle like alelieo here, say­ing “Real­ly, guys , the earth goes around the sun.” and years lat­er, when it no longer mat­ters, they’ll say ’ Well, by gum you were right. Sor­ry about that.’

    # by S. Slayton :: May 27th, 2020 at 4:33 PM
  2. I hope your think­ing becomes preva­lent. We can’t just crawl into our shells. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

    # by Tìm Việc Làm :: May 28th, 2020 at 1:59 AM