Many experts will tell you that the disappointing Democratic election results across the country on Tuesday were a clear rejection of progressive ideals, but Greg Casar would invite them to ponder what happened in Austin, Texas.
In this rapidly growing and increasingly diverse city in the southwest, the Austin Police Association and conservative groups campaigned for a November 2 election proposal that would have forced the city to hire hundreds of new police officers. If passed, it would have increased police spending at a time when activists seeking to end police brutality and violence argue that more resources should be allocated to mental health initiatives and community services.
The Police Association and its allies believed the proposal campaign would spark a dissenting vote against local and national policing reform efforts on the theory that voters were so concerned about recent crime data, widely misinterpreted by the media, that they would shift priorities to dramatically expand the police budget. That didn’t happen. A grassroots coalition with deep roots in the community mobilized and pushed through the election proposal a 68-32 margin.
The Austin vote came on election day when Minneapolis voters rejected an election initiative to replace the city’s police force with a new public safety division and were defeated in several cities as advocates of courageous police reforms. Austin voters were faced with a different question, but they opposed similar false premises and scare tactics. Why so?
“We have formed a broad coalition and have shown that it is possible to break the lies and overcome the terrifying tactics,” said Casar, a member of Austin city council, who denounced the proposal as a “far-right police mandate.” and joined activists and community leaders in warning that funding for other city services would be cut. “There’s a message from Austin that progressives can win. But there is more to it than that, ”he added. “Progressives have to understand that we cannot shy away from and ignore the long-term organizational work that we have to do.”
Casar is well aware that long-term work does not always lead to victories. As a Texan in a predominantly Democratic city, he has seen advances at the local level undone by Republican civil servants, and has waged his share in losing battles. Still, he says, diligent neighborhood work – knocking on doors and building lasting relationships with people who are often let down by the system – can produce results. Coalitions are forged, battles are fought, and losses can be turned into victories.
This is a message that Casar has shared with the base organizer for years Workers Defense Project (Proyecto Defensa Laboral), a community organization for migrant workers who called for protective measures in the workplace and fought against wage theft, and as a senior local official. After his election to the council in 2014, Casar brought his workers’ rights activism to the City Hall and campaigned for a paid initiative for medical and family leave that the Texas watchers referred to as the “first paid sick leave scheme in the south”. He has also fought for affordable housing in gentrification-threatened neighborhoods, challenged tax breaks for the rich, defended planned parenthood, while state attempts were made to unburden reproductive health organizations, and fought against mass incarceration and mass deportations.
Now, as a candidate for Congress, Casar wants to put his trust in the fact that progressive politics can be promoted through profound organization. Casar announced Thursday he will run in District 35 to get a seat that occupies part of Austin and runs down a corridor to San Antonio. Progressive Democrat Lloyd Doggett has represented the district for years. But, according to a new map created by Texas lawmakers based on the 2020 census, Doggett will now be serving in the 37th district in Austin. Both seats are solidly Democratic and the race for the vacant seat in 35th is likely to attract a number of major contenders.
Casar is jumping in early in the Congressional race at a time when Democrats are struggling to resent Tuesday’s out-of-year election results, which saw the party suffer major setbacks in a number of states. There are plenty of political insiders and media experts out there telling the Democrats that the party’s problem is that it has moved too far left on topics ranging from the climate crisis to criminal law reform. But, as Casar pointed out, this is not the time for cautious politics.
The way to fight the rights, he explains, is with a bold progressivism that recognizes the need for legislation and Grassroots work advocates economic, social and racial justice in a state where right-wing politicians attack workers’ rights, reproductive rights and local democracy.
To this end, he launched his campaign as an ardent supporter of Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, comprehensive immigration reform, strong unions and abortion rights. He enters the race with the support of district elected officials, former Senator and Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, and the National Working Families Party. “Greg Casar is a working family champion on Austin City Council. Now is the time to bring the fight to the halls of Congress, ”said Maurice Mitchell, National Director of the WFP. “Progressives in Congress need all the support they can get to get through a big, bold agenda that works for the working people and shows that the government can work for the many.”
For Casar, base organization is an integral part of the equation. “The victories that mean the most are fought for together,” explains Casar, who promises: “We will talk to the people in front of the door, motivate and inspire them.”
Casar sees his bid for Congress as an extension of his work in Austin and across Texas, arguing, “We have to change the state of Texas, but for that we need a representation in Washington that works with a clear mind on national issues like it is on Texans impact. ”
Take the voting rights besieged by the Texas legislature. As a member of Congress, Casar says he would bring struggles to enforce democracy reforms like the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act with a sense of urgency. However, understanding that the political make-up of Congress can block progressive laws, he says he will be in his 35th birthday. would continue to organize in Austin and other communitiesNS District – work on the ground to register new voters and get them to the polls. “From my first election in 2014 to my re-election in 2020, we’ve doubled the turnout in my city council district,” he said. “That’s what Republicans fear.”
The constant focus on organizing is demanding. But as Casar said, “We are best when we stop talking about what we can’t and start working on what we have to do.” That advice should be heeded more than ever for Texas and national Democrats facing a daunting 2022 election cycle.