Inspired by presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and fueled by an idealistic generation frustrated by the wealth amassed by large corporations, today’s version of left-wing politics is an aggressive, uncompromising, in-your-face movement that will get its first taste of electoral success or failure in the next month’s primary.
Saying you are “progressive” is not good enough. Ask gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar, who was booed and hissed out of April’s Progressive Caucus meeting when he attempted to give his stump speech.
The new rules are that only Progressive Caucus-endorsed candidates can address the full caucus. Say what you will, selfmade millionaires don’t walk the walk like the charismatic Abdul El-Sayed, their gubernatorial pick.
El-Sayed is not taking corporate contributions for his campaign. Thanedar isn’t either, but there’s a broader point. They believe the Indian-born chemist is adopting a liberal agenda for political expediency instead of truly believing in its virtues.
“As the reaction clearly showed, the progressive caucus sees right through this pandering and realizes he’s not a progressive candidate,” Caucus Sergeant-At- Arms Stephen Monti said at the time.
To Monti and other members’ frustration, Thanedar wasn’t alone. They felt political candidates were shanghaiing the term as a ladder step to political office without truly believing in it.
So the caucus’ 31-member executive committee — seeing the term diluted into an “overused buzzword” — devoted many hours to creating the following definition, said Caucus Chairwiman Kelly Collison.
“We define progressives as a group of people aspiring for freedom, equity and justice. A progressive stands by the oppressed, marginalized and less privileged until the scale is evened. A progressive implements those ideals by: promoting economic justice, ending capital control of our economic and political system and agitating for workers’ owned and operated businesses, forming a truly democratic government that derives its own legitimacy from the active consent of all governed, advocating for reparations for victims of our nation’s original sins; slavery, colonization, manifest destiny, racism and greed, and striving for justice for people of all races, beliefs, gender identities and sexual orientation. We believe a progressive crafts policy based on science, fact-finding and careful assessment of context.”
The caucus also is putting its stamp on individual legislative candidates in Democratic primaries who best fit this definition. Collison, herself, was endorsed in the 68 th House District. Chris Smith in the 8 th Congressional District. Steve Friday in the 7 th Congressional District. Alec Findley in the 67 th . Penelope Tsernoglou in the 69 th House District.
In total, five congressional candidates, three state Senate candidates and 14 state House candidates have been supported by the caucus.
Unlike established entities, the Progressive Caucus doesn’t let political realities play a role in their endorsements. The odds Mark Bignell will win a state Senate seat in a mid-Michigan district with Gratiot, Montcalm and Clare counties is remote. Try as he might, Robert Van Kirk isn’t going to defeat state Rep. Tommy Brann in Kent County’s bright red 77 th House District.
Like the Tea Party movement of 2010, the charm of its grassroots purity speaks to a political naivete that’s likely setting members up for disappointment in August or November. The group got a taste of the pitfalls of politics in April when political consultant Joe DiSano flagged them for initially endorsing predominately white men.
DiSano was agitated that Collison, originally a Sanders supporter, jumped the Democratic ship in 2016 and told the Detroit newspapers that she was supporting the Green Party’s Jill Stein for president. Since DiSano’s #FakeProgressive media campaign, the Progressive Caucus has widened its net and endorsed four female candidates (three African American) in metro Detroit.
Nearly all of the 23 endorsed candidates are not favorites to win their seats, but their presence on the ballot accomplishes something else. As the Tea Party made the Republican Party more conservative in Michigan, progressives are using social media and an expanding network of youthful supporters to make more mainstream such concepts as a single-payer health care system, free community college or tougher gun control laws.
The Caucus hasn’t gone as far as Represent.Us, a national group that is protesting outside the businesses of Michigan Chamber of Commerce board members for supporting legal action against the redistricting reform ballot proposal, Voters Not Politicians.
However, it’s clear the political enthusiasm is on their side in 2018. Progressive attorney general candidate Dana Nessel is slated to win the party’s nomination after an overwhelming showing at the April caucus. VNP collected its signatures without paying for circulators.
(Kyle Melinn, is news editor of the capital newsletter MIRS, is at firstname.lastname@example.org.)