Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Progressivism is back!

2018 was a turning point for Democrats as we saw a lot of new faces take to the campaign trail.  Rachel Lears follows four women candidates from different corners of the country, who tried to knock out incumbent Democrats who they felt no longer represented their districts.  Alexadria Ocasio-Cortez emerged victorious, where as Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin and Amy Vilela all found out the harsh reality of politics when going up against entrenched incumbents.

The main reason AOC succeeded is that she had a lot less territory to canvas and a lazy incumbent who only pitched up at the end of the campaign to attend a debate and a couple of rallies.  Joe Crowley was the epitome of crony politics in the Bronx borough, whose views no longer matched the demographics of the district.  The most difficult thing for AOC was to get her name on the ballot.

It's too bad Lears didn't follow Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib, who did win House seats, but it was pretty hard to say back in 2017, when Lears started her journey, how all these House races would shake out.  Momentum built after the primaries for a historic victory in November, but Lears ends her documentary with AOC's stunning primary victory.

Unlike the other women in the documentary, Alexandria began receiving national media attention early on in her campaign.  The young Bronx bartender was perfect for prime time news, but the other women were far more compelling.  They all had personal reasons for waging campaign battles.  Vilela lost her daughter to a callous hospital, which refused to diagnose her deep vein thrombosis in time, resulting in the 22-year-old's untimely death.  Cori Bush was a nurse in Ferguson at the height of the riots in 2014 and felt that the incumbent US representative from that region, William Lacy Clay, hadn't done enough to address the issue of police brutality.  Paula Jean Swearengin is a coal miner's daughter, who had lost her father and other relatives and friends to lung cancer, and was determined to take on Big Coal.

They all had a significant financial handicap. None more so than Amy Vilela, who had to sell her home to finance her campaign.  She struggled with donations throughout, running a shoestring campaign with hand-painted signs and volunteers getting involved in the process for the first time.  If the news media had picked up her story earlier, she might have gotten some badly needed free advertising, but Amy remained under the radar throughout her campaign, coming in a distant third with only 9 per cent of the vote.

The women were all recruited by the Justice Democrats to run in their Congressional districts.  The progressive political action committee provided logistical and some financial support, but these women were mostly on their own.  For such a young PAC, founded in 2017, it did astonishingly well in the 2018 general election. 26 of the 79 candidates it endorsed won primary elections in 2018, and seven women won House seats in November.  A very strong base to build on.

It is great to see progressivism at the grass roots level again.  These are women and men not afraid to challenge the establishment by taking to the streets and going door to door to make their voices heard.  Now that Vilela, Bush and Swearengin have finally gotten the attention they deserve, they will probably run again for office in 2020.  With all the attention being placed on the presidential election, it is vitally important that the House and Senate races not be forgotten.  Republicans will mobilize much more strongly this time around, and with more voters coming out in presidential election years the stakes are much higher.

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