Progressives must not give up

The cover image from Nina Turner's verified Twitter account.

Piqua, Ohio, U.S.A. – The progressive movement died at 9:39 p.m., Tuesday, August 3, 2021. At least, that’s what went through the minds of young leftists who phone banked, text banked, canvassed, and campaigned for Nina Turner.

Turner ran in a Democratic primary, hoping to have a chance to win a seat in Congress representing Ohio’s 11th District.

Despite copious amounts of momentum garnered from endorsements by the likes of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Turner lost to her primary opponent Shontel Brown.

Brown emerged fully formed from the Democratic machine’s bile-filled plague pit of “electable” candidates, stuffed with dark money and spitting disingenuous platitudes so acidic they could melt titanium.

Turner’s defeat – coupled with equally high-profile losses in the New York City mayoral election and Virginia’s gubernatorial primary, among others – caused an already discouraged left to become fully adrift.

For many voters who once held out hope for a progressive landslide, choices are narrowed to the Democrats’ rudderless centrism, Republicans’ mania-induced hallucinations of star-spangled authoritarianism, or nothing at all.

Unlike Brown, whose insipid vision seemed lifted from the brain-trust of an especially contemptible candidate for class president, Turner’s campaign represented more than could be summarized in a punchy tweet or headline.

She served as the torchbearer for a movement that began in 2015 when Sanders began running to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.

Building political movements around tangible restructuring of society toward wealth redistribution and retethering of the social safety net had long been considered archaic and unrealistic when Sanders entered the ring.

Three years later, an insurgent class of young politicians – now known as “the squad” – entered Congress, their candidacies built around picking up where Sanders left off.

While this cabal has seemingly grown inside the Democratic Party – with additions including U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones and U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, both of New York, and U.S. Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, among others – for every progressive candidate, a slew of centrists also take power, with an influx of donor cash and party backing their leftist colleagues could only dream of.

Policies like Medicare for All and a $15 minimum wage gain popularity as old institutions consistently fail to deliver for those dependent upon them. Yet Democrats – fearful of taking risks that may be polarizing and still reliant on infusions from billionaire donors for funding – continue to speak of socio-political emergencies, while relying on outdated solutions for them.

But giving up cannot be an option. Apathy is a luxury, exploited by people who know they will live comfortable lives no matter the outcome.

Bush’s recent sit-in on the Capitol steps led directly to the extension – however narrow or targeted – of Biden’s eviction moratorium and saved millions of families from homelessness.

Victories are possible, if only for those with the political will to attain them.

Turner may have lost one battle, but the war for America’s future is ongoing, and being fought in Congress by people like Bush, on the streets by grassroots organizers, and in courthouses by criminal justice reformers.

Nihilistic ravings about how “politics doesn’t matter” didn’t work in the past, and will not do so now.

We live in historic times. Our actions today will determine if our descendants look on us with pride or shame.

Zurie Pope is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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