Politics / October 4, 2023

Progressive Democrats in Congress Have Had Our Backs. Now We Need to Have Theirs.

One of our biggest jobs in 2024 is to protect our progressive champions from the array of right-wing forces trying to remove them from office.

Alexandra Rojas
Reps. Ilhan Omar and Summer Lee at the State of the Union on February 7, 2023.

Representatives Ilhan Omar and Summer Lee at the State of the Union address on February 7, 2023.

(Francis Chung / Politico via AP)

The progressive movement doesn’t operate in a vacuum. When one part fails, the rest of us suffer too. After three cycles in which our movement helped elect the most progressive members of Congress we’ve seen in a lifetime, the success and power we are building together is now under threat like never before.

In 2024—just as in 2020—we are facing the prospect of a Republican president and Congress intent on spreading white nationalist fascism. It is paramount that Democrats take back the House, keep the Senate, and remain in the White House if progressives are to hope to accomplish anything in the next four years. But it’s not only Republicans we need to worry about. That’s because the forces opposing progressive change aren’t content with maintaining control of just one party. They want the Democratic Party in their pocket too.

The same right-wing forces we overcame to elect a new group of working-class lawmakers of color are back, doubling down, pouring millions of dollars into electing corporate Democrats that they can once again depend on to do the bidding of the billionaire class. In fact, these are the same right-wing forces threatening Democrats’ chances of regaining a congressional majority and bankrolling right-wing Supreme Court justices and their attacks on reproductive freedom, student debt forgiveness, and affirmative action—as well as Republican politicians (and conservative Democrats like Henry Cuellar and Josh Gottheimer).

Any movement funded by GOP megadonors like Paul Singer, Bernie Marcus, and Harlan Crow must be a movement the entire Democratic Party should oppose, right? Well, those are just some of the GOP billionaires funneling millions of dollars to right-wing groups like AIPAC and their handpicked challengers to progressive members of color. Though AIPAC may try to obscure its deep ties to Republican donor networks, it is explicit in its targeting of progressive Black members of Congress—all while it has endorsed over 100 insurrectionist-aligned Republicans who voted to overturn President Biden’s election on January 6, 2021. AIPAC and its GOP allies are preparing to spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat our movement and the infrastructure we have built over the last five years.

There have been countless think pieces over the past few cycles attempting to measure the success of the progressive electoral movement—in election victories, bill passages and failures, votes, and party platform progress. No matter what you believe defines “success” for the progressive movement, a small group of representatives in Congress has frequently been tasked with being the vehicle for those victories. And no matter how successful you think they have been in their short time in Washington, protecting their seats in Congress is the only means of continuing to give everyday people a voice in Washington to organize around.

The truth is, through the election of this new generation of leadership, we have completely reset what we expect from our leaders—how far and how big they are willing to go to build the future we know we deserve.

When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined young climate activists from the Sunrise Movement on her first day in Washington, we laid the groundwork for the fight for a Green New Deal that has become a galvanizing call for young people across the country to organize around saving our planet. When Representative Cori Bush slept on the steps of the Capitol for a week demanding that President Biden extend the eviction moratorium—until he did—she showed us what members of Congress can do with the power they have in this moment to fight for the most vulnerable amongst us. When Representative Rashida Tlaib stands up on the floor of the House as the first Palestinian woman ever elected to Congress, she not only gives a voice to the millions of Palestinians who are treated as second-class citizens in their own country but challenges the entire US foreign policy establishment consensus that has reigned on the Hill for decades.

While they have opened a new doorway to show us what’s possible, a group of fewer than 10 members of Congress cannot transform our political system alone. It’s the renewed labor movement, led by workers—from the UAW and Teamsters to Starbucks and Amazon—refusing to let CEOs exploit working families. It’s groups like the Sunrise Movement, the Democratic Socialists of America, and the Working Families Party mobilizing their memberships to help organize communities and elect progressives up and down the ballot nationwide. It’s everyday people holding elected leaders accountable on climate change, economic and racial justice, abortion rights, foreign policy, gun violence, disability justice, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration reform, and countless other crises facing poor and working families every day. Everyone in this movement has a part to play.

As the organization that has led the work of getting progressives into Congress through primary challenges, we know that one of the most important progressive fights of this campaign cycle is protecting the incumbents we all worked so hard to elect. The right is banking on our underestimating their deep pockets and power. We cannot blink. We must be unflinching about what we are facing and put serious and substantial resources behind protecting the progress we have built.

Leaders like Summer Lee, Jamaal Bowman, and Ilhan Omar have been on the front lines of the fight for workers’ rights, racial justice, a just foreign policy, action on climate change, reproductive freedom, housing justice, student debt cancellation, and so much more. Their voices in Congress are invaluable as megaphones for our people-powered movement. That’s why AIPAC is directly targeting them—because they’re fighting for everything the GOP opposes.

We understand that our fight is a long-term fight, and are actively working to expand and strengthen an organized congressional bloc on the left that can come together to take courageous votes, stand up for marginalized people at home and abroad, and actually have the power to dictate legislation for our party. Expanding our ranks to 20 or 30 members of unwavering progressives in Congress is possible if we protect the infrastructure we have already built.

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Now is the time for the whole of our movement—from the grassroots organizations that helped elect these leaders to the voters and volunteers on the ground—to come out in full support of these members of Congress under attack from the right. It is especially time for Democratic leadership and all Democratic caucuses—who mostly stood on the sidelines as AIPAC and its allies went to war against progressives in 2022—to stop abdicating their role in Congress and protect the fiercest defenders of poor and working families in Washington. Otherwise, they are allowing a small group of Republican donors to dictate our party’s membership and agenda in Congress.

Working-class candidates who refuse to take corporate PAC dollars are no competition for the right-wing corporate super PACs that exemplify our elections post–Citizens United. It takes a movement to elect leaders like these, and it is going to take a movement to keep them in office. Now is the time to invest in the future of our progressive movement by protecting its most frontline candidates.

When, at the end of this cycle, our most crucial progressive voters, supporters, and the press ask us “What happened?,” we should be able to tell them we worked together to protect each other and what we’ve built together over the last five years. The alternative is a new class of right-wing-funded corporate Democrats representing the bluest corners of our country. And we already have enough of those.

Alexandra Rojas

Alexandra Rojas is the executive director of Justice Democrats, the organization that recruited and elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, and Summer Lee.

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