It’s Not Enough To Elect Progressives—Movements Must Have a Role in Governing

Candidates must treat us not as voters to be won but as partners.

Lizeth Chacon February 22, 2019

The Democratic donkey is starting to amble leftward. But is it all just talk? (Design by Matt Whitt)

This piece is in response to Lots of Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­dates Talk a Good Talk. Look at Their Records Instead.” and Why We Should Believe Cam­paign Promis­es.”

Co-governance means that elected officials are working with our communities—not corporate lobbyists—to draft policies and to move them forward together.

The 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, for many of us, will be the fight of our life­time. We need a pres­i­dent who will take bold action on the issues shap­ing the lives of peo­ple in the mul­tira­cial work­ing class.

That means build­ing an econ­o­my that works for and is owned by the 99%, not the bil­lion­aire class; fight­ing for our immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties; ensur­ing every­one has guar­an­teed access to health­care, hous­ing and edu­ca­tion with no cor­po­rate prof­i­teers; and fac­ing the cli­mate cri­sis head on through a just Green New Deal.

Many of the can­di­dates seek­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion are tak­ing more pro­gres­sive stances on these issues. This shift began from the bot­tom, from a people’s move­ment demand­ing our elect­ed lead­ers take bold posi­tions.

But while these politi­cians’ words might sound right, we can’t afford to fall for sound bites. So, whom do we trust?

Rather than look to a sav­ior, it’s time to reimag­ine the rela­tion­ship between politi­cians and com­mu­ni­ties. Elect­ed offi­cials need to treat us not as votes to be won but as part­ners in gov­er­nance, begin­ning on — or long before — the cam­paign trail.

Whom can­di­dates sur­round them­selves with and lis­ten to is cru­cial. Pro­gres­sives should look at the struc­ture of can­di­dates’ cam­paigns: Who is fund­ing them? Who are their advi­sors? Are they invest­ing in real con­ver­sa­tions with voters?

We must insist on rep­re­sen­ta­tives who will share gov­ern­ing pow­er. Co-gov­er­nance means that elect­ed offi­cials are active­ly work­ing with our com­mu­ni­ties — not cor­po­rate lob­by­ists — to draft poli­cies and to move them for­ward togeth­er. It’s about find­ing inno­v­a­tive ways to ensure that the peo­ple who are most harmed by struc­tur­al racism and our prof­it-first eco­nom­ic sys­tem are part of co-cre­at­ing the solutions.

Last year, com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing group Col­orado People’s Action (CPA), which I serve as exec­u­tive direc­tor, endorsed Jason Crow for Colorado’s 6th Dis­trict, which cov­ers the east­ern part of the Den­ver metro area. He met with a group of our core lead­ers month­ly dur­ing the cam­paign to dis­cuss issues affect­ing our com­mu­ni­ty. Through­out those con­ver­sa­tions, we saw him sig­nif­i­cant­ly strength­en his posi­tion in sup­port of immi­grant rights.

Now that he’s in the House, we have a com­mit­ment to quar­ter­ly meet­ings through­out his term to work togeth­er on pol­i­cy ideas and bring for­ward com­mu­ni­ty per­spec­tives. If he for­gets” his promis­es, we are ready to hold him account­able through fur­ther meet­ings, peti­tions, actions and, if nec­es­sary, the 2020 primary.

In Wis­con­sin, too, we have one of our own” in office: new­ly elect­ed Lt. Gov. Man­dela Barnes brings expe­ri­ence as a com­mu­ni­ty and faith-based orga­niz­er with Cit­i­zen Action of Wis­con­sin, which, like CPA, is affil­i­at­ed with the nation­al People’s Action network.

The most trust­wor­thy can­di­dates are those with a his­to­ry of work­ing for jus­tice before they even thought about run­ning for office, so train­ing our community’s strongest lead­ers to become can­di­dates is a must. Since 2015, People’s Action has trained near­ly 700 peo­ple on how to man­age cam­paigns and run for office.

There are chal­lenges in scal­ing up grass­roots peo­ple pow­er to the nation­al lev­el, but the increased ener­gy and atten­tion around pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns is also an oppor­tu­ni­ty. At People’s Action, we’ll be look­ing at who has a his­to­ry of lis­ten­ing to and work­ing with the peo­ple on the front lines — and who just wants a pho­to op. We’ll weigh not only what the can­di­dates say about race, class and gen­der, but what that looks like in their cam­paigns and in their lives.

We’ll want to hear their bold ideas, and they should ask about ours. People’s Action and its mem­ber orga­ni­za­tions are co-spon­sor­ing People’s Pres­i­den­tial Forums in Iowa, New Hamp­shire and Neva­da, in which pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates are invit­ed to engage onstage in real con­ver­sa­tions with every­day peo­ple rather than just deliv­er a stump speech.

Whichev­er can­di­date we sup­port — and whichev­er one wins — our fight for a coun­try that works for its peo­ple will only hap­pen when vot­ers and orga­ni­za­tions stop focus­ing only on elec­tion seasons.

Our work must be about build­ing long-term, mul­tira­cial, peo­ple-pow­ered move­ments around a shared agen­da for racial jus­tice and a people’s econ­o­my. We must build per­ma­nent orga­ni­za­tions that will push bold ideas and raise strong lead­ers. Only those move­ments have the pow­er to stand against bil­lion­aires and wealthy cor­po­ra­tions and pro­duce tan­gi­ble change in our country.

And they pro­duce the lead­ers — and the can­di­dates — we can trust.

Lizeth Cha­con is the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Col­orado People’s Action and board pres­i­dent of People’s Action.
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