On October 8th, the Working Families Party released the People’s Charter, an advanced “Roadmap Out of Our Current State of Crisis,” endorsed by several leading progressive legislators and insurgent Congress candidates, including Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and other members of the “Squad,” as well as organizations such as the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project, the Service Employees International Union and MoveOn. Previously, the Green New Deal Network, an even broader coalition anchored by Indivisible, had the Flourish agenda Endorsed by 85 seated lawmakers and legions of trade unions, environmental, civil rights and civic action groups. These serve not only as political statements but also as political markers: if Biden wins as expected in the next month, progressives will not give him a pass but will try to push for bold reforms from the start.
The contrast to 2012 and the early days of the Obama administration is stark. Obama, who was brought into office in large part by citizen movement energy, was extremely popular with progressive activists. National organizations, the leaders of which were vying for positions in the administration, banded together to support his agenda. The Obama White House organized an external round table to coordinate grassroots support. Progressives stood by for the most part as Obama shook off his filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and watered down his agenda in an unsuccessful pursuit of support from mythical Republican Senate moderators. When Obama prematurely accepted the austerity measures and unemployment was still in double digits, the cries of progressive economists had little support.
Biden does not get this pass. He has signed the boldest progressive agenda of any Democratic candidate in recent history, but he has focused his campaign more on persecuting more moderate suburban voters and the ever-elusive disaffected Republicans than on mobilizing his own grassroots. His final argument Traits that go beyond the differences between red and blue states “to revive the spirit of bipartisanism in the country” promise to work across the aisle and promise that collaboration “is the choice I make as president will be back “. This can be written off as a routine voting stance, but it also reflects Biden’s history as a Senate centrist who prides himself on his ability to work with Republicans. And that’s a particularly bad sign for Republicans rediscover their horror of deficits and begin to scream about the need for austerity. While progressives – led by Bernie Sanders – have generally gone out of their way to eject Trump, most have serious doubts about Biden’s willingness to campaign for fundamental reform.
Progressives are in a far stronger position to fuel the debate than they were when the Obama administration began. There is broad consensus on elements of a bold reform agenda, much of which stems from the Sanders campaigns. Both the Thrive Agenda and the People’s Charter call for massive public investment to modernize our infrastructure, move to clean energy and create millions of jobs. Both would target public investment to low-income black and brown communities. Both cover general health care and basic employee provisions such as general child care, paid family and sick leave, and paid sick leave. Both stress the need to empower workers to organize and negotiate together. Both call for the strengthening of public institutions, from the postal service to public education. Both show bold responses to help the workers displaced by the pandemic.
Each has special features. The People’s Charter calls for the creation of public banks, the establishment of public ownership in companies that are being bailed out, and the purchase of oil and gas companies. Their first priority is to move funds from police, prisons and endless wars to schools, public housing and other services. The Thrive Agenda makes the fair treatment of sovereign Aborigines one of its eight pillars. Neither of these contain an alternative trade agenda that reflects the relative weakness of the industrial unions in the coalitions.
Progressives have greater strength in both the House and Senate than they did at the beginning of the Obama era. The Thrive Agenda is endorsed by 85 lawmakers and 10 Senators, including not only progressives like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley, but also the Democratic Senate Chairman Chuck Schumer. In the House of Representatives, the Progressive Caucus of Congress, led by Representatives Mark Pocan and Pramila Jayapal, has begun to act more coherently and exercise more power within the democratic caucus. It is backed by the election of several exciting new members who will re-energize the pursuit of a bolder agenda. The victories of Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush and Marie Newman over longtime Democratic incumbents send a message to powerful senior Democrats in safe Democratic seats that they must lead the new agenda, not resist.
All of these are the citizens who are on the move across the country. The Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the growing climate movement and women’s protests are on the streets. Importantly, strikes by independent workers – from the teachers in red states to the $ 15 struggle through fast food and other workers to the workers protesting unsafe conditions in the pandemic – mark a new period of worker activism presuppose that could dramatically increase the demand for change.
The battle will begin immediately after the election, if Biden is elected and if – a big if – Democrats recapture the Senate. The first battle will be with the Senate Democratic caucus over whether to get rid of the filibuster to curb Republican obstruction. Biden, an institutionalist, has expressed doubts about the change. Sanders, Our Revolution, and much of the left will mobilize to pressure the Democrats to move.
Biden’s early agenda will be to reverse many of Trump’s follies, end his immigration abuses, re-enter the Paris Agreement and roll back the attack on environmental protection. A first major battle is likely to go beyond the tragically delayed next Covid-19 rescue package. The next test is likely to be how Biden reacts to growing Republican and establishment calls for austerity in the face of large deficits.
What is clear is that progressives don’t wait for Biden to set the course. They will immediately press for bold reforms. In the Great Depression, when the early Roosevelt agenda failed, growing populist movements and liberals in Congress forced Roosevelt to join the Second New Deal – Social Security, the Works Progress Administration, the National Labor Relations Act, rural electrification, and more . Under Biden, printing starts from day one. After claiming that he plans to “most progressive president since FDR“Biden would be well advised to lead the push, not resist it.”