Representative Rashida Tlaib celebrated her landslide win in what was supposed to be a close Michigan primary Tuesday by declaring that—no matter what the doubters say—the insurgency seeking to transform the Democratic Party and America is real. And it’s not going away.
“Headlines said I was the most vulnerable member of the Squad,” she announced. “My community responded last night and said our Squad is big. It includes all who believe we must show up for each other and prioritize people over profits. It’s here to stay, and it’s only getting bigger.”
There was no hyperbole in that statement. The members of “the Squad,” young progressive women who shook up politics in 2018, are posting victories in their 2020 reelection runs. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who upset Representative Joe Crowley two years ago, won her June primary in New York with almost 73 percent of the vote. Tlaib, who narrowly prevailed in her 2018 primary and who media reports suggested was in a tight race this year, was winning 66 percent. Representative Ilhan Omar faces a primary challenge next week in Minnesota but looks to be running strong. And Representative Ayanna Pressley, who beat a Democratic incumbent in her 2018 Massachusetts primary, is by all accounts coasting to reelection this year.
Noting the size of Tlaib’s win, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “She didn’t ‘survive’—she *overwhelmed* at the polls. Throughout our first term, we’ve been told our advocacy is ‘too much’ to be re-elected.” Instead, voters supported Tlaib, who led the charge for impeaching President Trump, two to one. It didn’t stop with Tlaib. Activist supporters of Medicare for All and a Green New Deal—proposals that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has shied away from and that Democratic platform drafters left out of their 2020 document—weren’t just reelecting members of the Squad. They were nominating new members.
Tuesday’s results confirmed that 2020 is shaping up as an even bigger year than 2018 for insurgent progressives who argue that the party must extend its commitment to economic, social, and racial justice; saving the planet; and promoting peace. In Missouri, Cori Bush won a rematch primary with 20-year incumbent Representative William Lacy Clay, who has held the safely Democratic St. Louis–area seat since his father, Bill Clay, retired in 2001. Backed by Justice Democrats and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Bush campaigned as a nurse and a leader in the racial justice movements that emerged in Ferguson after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in 2014.
“They counted us out. They called me just the protester. They called me—I’m just the protester, I’m just the activist with no name, no title and no real money. That’s all they said that I was. But St. Louis showed up today,” Bush declared after the results came in. “It is historic that this year, of all the years, we are sending a Black working-class single mother who’s been fighting for Black lives since Ferguson all the way to the halls of Congress.”
As the primary election approached, Bush, who was hospitalized during the campaign as she battled Covid-19, was counted out by many pundits, with Clay securing endorsements from party leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Senator Kamala Harris, as well as groups such as the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Sierra Club Independent Action. Yet Bush prevailed by around 4,500 votes on a day when Missouri voters also approved a plan to expand Medicaid and renominated a pair of progressive reformers, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner and St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones. Nomiki Konst, a veteran activist who’s on the board of Matriarch—a national group Bush helped organize that assists working-class progressive women in getting elected—says Bush overcame enormous odds to secure a win with national implications.
Her victory follows progressive successes this year for Marie Newman, who beat socially conservative Democratic Representative Dan Lipinski in a March Illinois primary. And for Jamaal Bowman, who beat House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Eliot Engel in June in New York; those primaries also yielded victories for young progressives such as 33-year-old Mondaire Jones and 32-year-old Ritchie Torres in contests for retiring House veterans’ open seats. And for Kara Eastman in Nebraska, who took her primary in May. And, perhaps, for others such as Holyoke, Mass., Mayor Alex Morse, who is taking on House Committee on Ways and Means chair Richard Neal in a September 1 Democratic primary.
“It looks like we’re in the middle of something,” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a former cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “There’s a lot of ways to look at it, but I think it’s proof that Bernie was right. He may not have won, but his movement’s winning. And it’s going to keep on winning.”
Bush acknowledged the Sanders connection in her victory speech, telling the crowd, “Let me also thank somebody who stood with me that did not have to stand with me…. I gotta call out Senator Bernie Sanders.”
“So what do these victories say about the current moment?” asked the former 2020 Democratic presidential contender. “Don’t let anyone fool you. The truth is, despite the opposition of powerful special interests, we are transforming American politics. The political revolution is gaining more and more support.”
Bush’s and Tlaib’s wins also highlighted the work of Justice Democrats, a group that has endorsed and organized on behalf of insurgents who challenge Democrats with corporate ties. “This is a huge upset and another groundbreaking win for our movement against a corporate-backed political dynasty,” said its executive director, Alexandra Rojas, of the win by Bush, who had “organized a movement through pepper spray and rioting police in the streets of Ferguson. Her tenacity and unbreakable pursuit of justice is desperately needed in Congress today.”
That movement energy is not to be underestimated. At a time when Democrats in D.C. still wrestle with the question of how bold the party should be, Bush offers an answer. “Tonight, Missouri’s First [Congressional District] has decided that an incremental approach isn’t going to work any longer,” she declared at a victory party where she saluted movement politics by raising a clenched fist of solidarity in the air. “We decided that we the people have the answers and we will lead from the front lines.”