Progressive Democrats handed Biden his victory. They shouldn’t let him forget it

The left flank of the Democratic Party has reason to feel confident after this result

<p>People gathered in Washington DC’s Black Lives Matter Plaza celebrate the presidential election result</p>

People gathered in Washington DC’s Black Lives Matter Plaza celebrate the presidential election result

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With the election newly called for Joe Biden, Democrats are already facing the challenge of how to manage a diverse constellation of interests and priorities. In a tense “family meeting” led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday, moderate Democratic lawmakers fretted that the progressive agenda potentially cost them six House seats and control of the Senate.

Progressive activists were quick to let House Democrats know their suspicion was mutual. “There are folks running around on TV blaming progressives for Dem underperformance,” Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Friday morning. “Almost all of them had awful execution on digital. DURING A PANDEMIC.”

The left flank of the Democratic Party has reason to feel confident. A winning coalition of Bernie Sanders progressives, minority voters, youth activists and centrist Democrats proved so effective that the Biden campaign expanded the party’s political map into Republican strongholds like Arizona and, potentially, Georgia. The return of the “Blue Wall” is similarly a huge achievement.

From Detroit to Philadelphia to Atlanta, the key margins that enabled Biden’s historic wins came squarely from Black voters – Black women in particular, who supported Biden by a 9-to-1 margin. These are the same voters who pulled Biden to the left on everything from his own involvement in the 1994 Crime Bill to the need for comprehensive policing reform.

Also key to Biden’s wins were the tens of millions of Americans made jobless and near bankrupt by the Covid-19 pandemic and Donald Trump’s catastrophic mismanagement of the linked economic recession. Groups like Extend PUA have been meeting with Democratic and Republican senators for months in an effort to save Trump’s abandoned coronavirus stimulus negotiations. They see a Biden administration as the best hope for pushing a meaningful relief package through a gridlocked Senate.

“We’re in an incredibly dangerous spot. Unemployed and underemployed workers across America have been without real help for months now,” says Extend PUA co-founder Stephanie Freed. “They are losing everything and, increasingly, they are losing hope. We need action from our leadership that hears us and we need it now. That means robust, retroactive, and long-term comprehensive relief that includes extended and expanded enhanced unemployment insurance and pandemic unemployment assistance, as well as healthcare and rent relief.”

New York Assemblymember and rising political star Yuh-Line Niou agrees. “Covid has shined a light on how our systems operate to the benefit of particular communities and hurt others. By design!” she says. “We should look to recovery and we will see that we have some New Deal things we need to do. Invest in our infrastructure. Invest in our people. Forgive rent and pause mortgages.”

Niou doesn’t want to see Democrats sit back on a 2020 victory. “We win because we listen to our people and stand for our people and fight for them,” she says.

Biden also faces a sizable contingent of “Green New Deal” Democrats brought out by the ongoing work of Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive lawmakers to secure a generational piece of climate change legislation. They’ll likely face pushback from moderate Democrats chastened by unexpectedly tight races, but movement leaders aren’t backing down on what they view as America’s existential policy question.

“In the next few weeks, every unpopular Dem who lost will try to blame… young voters,” the youth-led Sunrise Movement tweeted on Friday afternoon. “They’ll blame our protests. They’ll blame our demands. They should be thanking us.”

John Bailey, a progressive activist who canvassed West Virginia on behalf of climate change organisations, says conservation must be on the Democratic legislative agenda: “I’d like to see a much heavier emphasis on the protection of natural resources, and an overhaul of land usage focused on preserving and replenishing forests around the country.”

With Joe Biden now the president-elect and speaker Pelosi returning to a Democratic house, progressive activists are no longer phrasing their policy priorities in the form of a question. Empowered by the stunning act of turning Trump out of the White House, the activist base of the Democratic Party expects to speak on equal terms with the stalwart establishment figures who sought to minimise progressive causes in Biden’s campaign rhetoric.

If Democrats can maintain their coalition’s passion for change – perhaps by selecting more representative party leaders in Congress – they stand well positioned to make state and federal gains in 2021 and 2022. But should that coalition slip back into apathy and fragmentation, Democrats face a challenging four years against concerted GOP opposition.

Joe Biden’s Democrats won the election. It’s time for the tough work of governing.

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