Progressives lost the first half of 2016. Here’s why we’ll win the rest of it.
Six months into 2016, progressives have suffered dramatic defeats. The first half of 2016 has demonstrated the power disparities that continue to plague our society—and, in particular, how concentrated wealth and power can be used to vilify and attack communities of color and immigrants.
But there’s good news: if we work together and marshal our resources, we should win the second half of the year, and position ourselves for major victories in 2017 and beyond.
Let’s start with a recounting of what’s gone wrong. Here’s just some of the bad news that’s come our way:
- Donald J. Trump: Trump has, over the last six months, consolidated his hijacking of our nation’s politics, taking political discourse into the toilet and using his racist, misogynistic rhetoric to become the Republican Party’s nominee.
- Police Violence: the epidemic of police killings of blacks (with impunity) continued unabated, with 561 deaths tallied unofficially thus far this year, including the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Meanwhile, efforts to win real police reform and accountability have stalled.
- Supreme Court: following Justice Scalia’s death, Republicans took intransigence to a whole new level and have blocked even a hearing on a potential nominee. This blocking may well have electoral consequences, but, in the meantime, the 8-justice court left a preliminary injunction in place that blocks the implementation of President Obama’s immigration relief initiatives, leaving millions of immigrant families in limbo.
- Brexit: nationalism and xenophobia have continued to show their strength in Europe, with Trump-like characters Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage leading the “Leave” campaign to victory on an anti-immigrant platform, placing the entire European project in jeopardy.
- Brazil: amidst a wave of corruption scandals, right-wing Brazilian politicians engineered a de facto coup to remove President Dilma Roussef, demonstrating the fragility of Latin America’s largest democracy.
- Orlando: Forty-nine people were gunned down at the Pulse nightclub, shocking the nation, and striking fear into the LGBTQ community—and particularly those of color.
To be sure, there have been some silver linings: the Fight for $15 has won major victories for economic justice in New York, California, and elsewhere, the Supreme Court upheld reproductive health access in the Whole Womens Health case, and progressives have won other public policy fights at the state and local levels. But overall, these have been a very tough few months.
Still, looking forward to the rest of 2016, there’s substantial reason for optimism. Here’s a snapshot of the good to come:
- Latino and immigrant grassroots push: Trump’s rhetoric has not gone unnoticed, and already there’s evidence of increased naturalization rates and interest in voter registration in Latino and immigrant communities. With a strong voter registration infrastructure nationwide and targeted efforts to engage and motivate voters, these communities are poised to be the difference-makers in November’s presidential races—and down-ballot in key states.
- Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15: these two movements will also continue to engage in large-scale direct action and focus on “electoralizing” their efforts to hold candidates and incumbents accountable for their positions and win strong progressive representation.
- #FeeltheBern: despite Bernie Sanders meteoric rise, with his small army of energized progressive activists, Hillary Clinton has seized the Democratic nomination. While some bad feelings persist among the “Berners,” expect them to passionately join the anti-Trump effort and hone in on key down-ballot races where progressives are on the ballot.
- Down-ballot pick-ups: including candidates like Working Families Party-backed Zephyr Teachout in New York and Washington’s Pramila Jayapal. Strong new progressives taking congressional races and state-level seats will breathe new life into legislative chambers in the Capitol and beyond. More localized efforts in places like New York, where Republicans could very well lose control of the state Senate, will give new energy to the state and local policy fights that have energized the progressive movement nationwide despite gridlock in Washington.
- Democrats win the White House and the Senate: With the combined strength of our nation’s foremost progressive social movement efforts focused on galvanizing working-class communities and communities of color to action, Donald Trump will lose and Democrats will win the Senate.
- Progressives will hold Democrats’ feet to the fire: Democratic victories are a necessary condition for the progressive issue victories we need, but they are not a sufficient condition. During and after the campaigns this fall, progressive movements will thus engage (sometimes contentiously) with Democratic candidates to ensure that they reflect our core values and priorities—a process we have already seen begin in the negotiations regarding the platform for the Democratic convention.
Of course, progressives must not take any of these outcomes for granted—they will all take concerted effort and resources. Those who financially support social movement organizations will need to dig deep (and quickly) to fund the important work that needs to happen. And those who are able will also need to offer up their weekends and evenings to knock on voters doors, make phone calls, and recruit friends to volunteer.
The first half of this year have left many in our communities feeling dismayed, and even defeated. But there is hope. By harnessing the sense of outrage and urgency in our communities, we can make the second half of 2016 just the beginning of a progressive turning point in our politics.
Javier H. Valdés is the Co-Executive Director, and Daniel Altschuler is the Managing Director, of Make the Road Action, an immigrant advocacy organization. Follow their work: @Javierhvaldes @Altochulo @MaketheRoadAct