After decades of challenging the Democratic Party from within and without, professor and progressive activist Cornel West announced on Monday that he is running for president in 2024 as the candidate of the independent progressive People’s Party.
In a video statement, West declared, “I am running for truth and justice as a presidential candidate for the People’s Party to reintroduce America to the best of itself—fighting to end poverty, mass incarceration, ending wars and ecological collapse, guaranteeing housing, health care, education, and living wages for all!”
One of the nation’s most prominent thinkers, West—who has taught at Yale, Princeton, and Harvard and written best-selling books such as Race Matters and Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America—has long been engaged in politics as a high-profile supporter of progressive candidates. For many years a co-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America, he was one of the earliest and most ardent supporters of the 2016 and 2020 bids by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. When Barack Obama served in the White House from 2009 to 2017, West was a frequent critic of the Democratic president’s policy compromises.
In 2000, West was a senior adviser to the campaign of former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley. When Bradley lost the Democratic nod to Al Gore, however, West hit the road as a top supporter of Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The decision to support Nader earned West rebukes from many allies, who, though they respected his academic accomplishments and social and racial justice advocacy, warned that the professor’s support for a third-party candidate threatened to tip the election to the eventual winner, Republican George W. Bush.
West is likely to face considerably more criticism for deciding to challenge a sitting Democratic president, Joe Biden, in a race that could see the Republican ticket led by former President Donald Trump. But West says running for president in 2024 represents a continuation of “what I have been doing all of my life.”
“Not talking about hating anybody,” West explained. “We’re talking about loving. We’re talking about affirming. We’re talking about empowering those who have been pushed to the margins because neither political party wants to tell the truth about Wall Street, about Ukraine, about the Pentagon, about Big Tech.”
The campaign’s launch video featured a clip of the Union Theological Seminary professor appearing last year on Real Time with Bill Maher, where he complained about “neofascists like Brother Trump or milquetoast neoliberals like Brother Biden.”
The People’s Party program, which is outlined on a website that now features an image of West and the line, “We’re building a major new independent party that will guarantee health care, housing, quality education, and peace to all,” expresses support for a progressive agenda that promises to create a “Medicare for All” health care system, address climate change, “guarantee quality education, housing, paid leave, and a living wage to all,” end corporate lobbying, and “bring our troops home and invest those trillions of war dollars into American communities.”
That message parallels much of the platform that Sanders advanced in his 2020 race against the more moderate Biden, and several former Sanders backers have been associated with the new party. But Sanders, like most leading progressives in the House and Senate, has made it clear that he’s backing Biden in 2024. “The last thing this country needs is a Donald Trump or some other right-wing demagogue who is going to try to undermine American democracy or take away a woman’s right to choose, or not address the crisis of gun violence, or racism, sexism or homophobia,” Sanders said in April. “So, I’m in to do what I can to make sure that the president is reelected.”
West’s decision to run drew positive reviews from some progressives, such as former Ohio state senator and longtime Sanders ally Nina Turner, who tweeted, “Elevate this thing Dr. West.” But it also inspired blowback from others, such as longtime Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who asked, “WTF?! Does Cornel West really want to help the GOP nominee win—the way Ralph Nader helped G.W. Bush defeat Al Gore in 2000?”
“Ego trips can come at a heavy price, Cornel,” added Tribe. “Please stop this foolishness, before you really hurt the things you care to help.”
Others expressed sympathy for a third-party run, but suggested that West should forgo a People’s Party bid and, instead, campaign on the ticket of the Green Party—which has secured many state ballot lines across the country and has an established network of backers.
West appears to have anticipated the skepticism and second-guessing.
“Do we have what it takes?” he asked at the close of his video. “We shall see. But some of us are going to go down fighting, go down swinging—with style and a smile—accenting the best in you and trying to tease out the best in me.”
There is sure to be a robust discussion about whether a third-party run is going to bring out the best in West, or our politics. But West’s intellect, and his bluntness, will make him a significant figure in the 2024 race. He is an exceptional communicator who will be invited to make his case on more platforms than third-party candidates are usually afforded. That will add an unexpected twist to a contest that, until Monday, seemed to be headed toward a predictable repeat of the 2020 race between Biden and Trump. Even if West’s bid suffers the fate of past third-party campaigns, it will shake up the 2024 competition and, very possibly, confirm something West asserted as he announced his run: “Democracy creates disruption. It creates an eruption. It creates an interruption.”