The great civil rights activist Bayard Rustin always emphasized the need for strategy in fighting for social change. Ava Duvernay’s wonderful Martin Luther King Jr movie “Selma” has Bayard Rustin constantly emphasizing to his fellow activists the necessity of thinking about tactics. Rustin believed that to fight for social change, you have to see it as a chess game where you plan several moves in advance for any possible contingency. What are our plans if situation A happens? How do we plan if we have a setback? If we win a victory, how do we plan for the eventual conservative backlash?
Many progressives are putting a lot of hope in 2020. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, and many of the Democratic candidates are proposing ambitious plans. I think 2020 has the potential to be a progressive wave year like 1932 or 1964, when FDR and LBJ were elected with huge majorities in both houses of Congress. To be able to enact any ambitious progressive program, Democrats are going to need to win the Presidency and both houses of Congress. We’ll also need to do several things to make progressive change possible.
One thing we need to do is find someone to challenge Mitch McConnell in his reelection bid in 2020. I think McConnell has been a terrible influence on both the Republican Party and in this hyper-partisan climate where his obstructionist tactics have destroyed the ability of Congress to function in a healthy way. Any Democratic President will be forced to abandon ambitious plans if the Democrats don’t get 60 Senators and they face McConnell’s obstructionist tactics. After seeing how well Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke did in Georgia and Texas, I think a viable Democrat could really compete against McConnell. Emphasize McConnell’s record of cutting social programs that help the poor and middle class (especially McConnell’s eagerness to cut Social Security and Medicare), show how McConnell’s tax cuts only help the wealthy and hurt everyone else. Put McConnell’s record in stark relief to the Kentucky voters. Kentucky was one of the states that had massive teachers’ strikes. I think McConnell is more vulnerable than people realize.
Another thing that we need to do is reach out to the working class white neighborhoods that went for Trump in 2016. I know many progressives think that these communities are a lost cause or that we have to compromises our fight to defend minority communities in order to appeal to these white communities. I don’t buy that. If we look at history, liberals like Eleanor Roosevelt, Bobby Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, and Paul Wellstone appealed to both working class white communities and minority communities. These liberals constantly spoke out against racism and they fought for minority communities. But they also fought to protect working class white communities from the worst effects of the free market system.
Make the argument in Red states that progressive policies will do more to help them than conservative policies will. This is especially important in order to get our majorities in the House and the Senate. We’ll need to emphasize how our health care policies will help fight the opioid crisis afflicting those areas. We need to emphasize job retraining programs in areas where their jobs have been outsourced. We need to show them concrete ways in which the federal government is their friend and not their enemy. To do this, we’ll need to break the Fox bubble. This won’t be easy. Any Democrat, moderate or progressive, will be tarred and feathered by the right wing media. But we have to make the effort.
If we win the presidency and large majorities in both houses of Congress, we have to pass as much legislation as we can in a two year window. Both Clinton and Obama had the most legislative success in their first two years of office, before they both lost their congressional majorities in the midterms. Along with passing climate change legislation, health care legislation, legislation to tackle economic inequality, we should also pass legislation specifically to help Midwest and rural communities to undercut Republican appeals to demagoguery against immigrants.
If we get 60 Democratic Senators, we should go for Medicare-for-all. If we don’t get 60 Senators, we should work to improve Obamacare: lower the age to qualify for Medicare to 55, create a public option, and work on the flaws of Obamacare. Expect a huge fight from McConnell and the Republicans.
Tackle immigration reform. Even if Democrats do not win 60 Senators, there are several Republican Senators who are open to a bipartisan deal on immigration. The problem has always been the House of Representatives, specifically the Freedom Caucus. If the Democrats win the House and win 60 Senators, they can have an immigration bill with both border enforcement and a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million illegal immigrants. If we win the House but less than 60 Senators, then we’ll need to work with Republicans for a less ambitious bill. I think immigration reform may actually have the most potential for bipartisan support.
Senator Elizabeth Warren joins Chris Hayes for a town hall in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to talk about issues that are key in the Industrial Midwest.
On March 8, 2019 Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to supporters on day two of his three-day trip to Iowa.
Senator Kamala Harris held an MSNBC town hall from Spartanburg on Tuesday, May 28 and the following day she held events in Anderson and throughout Greenville.