August 2020: Where do progressives stand now?

Tompkins County Progressives formed in 2015 during the Presidential primary. Its founders were all enthusiastic supporters of the Independent Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders. We taught ourselves how to run his local campaign effort and helped him gather 42% of the vote in New York State. No one expected him to do so well, including Bernie himself. He did not win, but he changed the entire political conversation. Ideas that were considered crazy up until very recently, became normal.

Why shouldn’t everyone have healthcare? Why should we pay more for our inadequate system than every other nation pays for their systems, almost all of which product better outcomes than ours? Why isn’t public college free, like public high school? Why do CEOs earn so much more money that the rest of us? Why hasn’t the minimum wage gone up at all in decades? Why weren’t we paying attention to climate change?

Fast forward to 2019. Bernie decided to run again, and we were all seasoned campaigners and social media warriors. Bernie had so many small donors, across the whole country, that the New York times had to create two graphs to show national support: one with Bernie included (blue everywhere) and one without Bernie (so you could see where Pete and Amy and Liz and Joe had pockets of support). He raised more money than anyone, without taking any money from corporations or millionaires or super PACS. He won (in popular vote) the first three contests, and dominated the field by far among young people and Latinx voters. Progressives were ecstatic. A better world was possible!

And then, he lost one primary that everyone knew he would lose. Biden won it, even though he had come in 4th or 5th in the first 3 contests. It should not have ended Bernie’s campaign, but it did, because one loss in a southern red state was enough for the DNC and the media to run with their preferred narrative: Bernie’s toast! He’s not *really* that popular. No one *really* wants Medicare for All or a Green New Deal. They just want to go back to the good old days, like 2008, when everyone was happy. Or at least, all the people who mattered were happy.

So Bernie lost again, and he will never be our President, but the story doesn’t end there. Because even though Bernie did not win, progressives still dominated all across the country. AOC and Ilhan Omar and Rashida Talib won big wins over moderate primary challengers, and new progressives like Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush knocked off additional entrenched Democrats. Charles Booker almost beat an establishment pick who spent roughly 50X as much money as he did. BLM took to the streets to demand justice and respect. COVID struck and proved to anyone with any sense that our healthcare system is a disaster, and that tweaks like “Medicare for All who want it” are ridiculous so long as healthcare is tied to employment.

Locally, the members of Tompkins County Progressives have (more or less) processed their disappointment and grief. They have joined marches in support of BLM. They have worked for other local progressive candidates. TCP’s umbrella organization, the New York Progressive Action Network, sued the state of New York to preserve our primary, so that Bernie delegates could still be elected and attend the convention. Joe Biden is now the official Democratic Party nominee for President, and we have no choice but to follow Bernie in his vital mission of holding Biden’s feet to the fire.

We must organize like we’ve never organized before. We must march, we must call our representatives, we must strike, we must elect progressives all over the country, we must flip the Senate. With the Senate in Democratic control, Bernie would become chair of the Appropriations Committee, allowing him to, for example, refuse to bring a defense bill to the floor for a vote if he didn’t like what was in it. We can still achieve Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, although it won’t be easy. We can not rest and we can not despair.

Giving up is not an option. That is one of the most important lessons we have learned from Bernie. We are fighting the righteous fight for the 99% and for the planet, it is an honor to fight within that movement. This fight gives strength and power and energy. We stand in solidarity, and hope you will join us.

— Emily Adams, TCP chair