A Progressive Electoral Wave Is Sweeping the Country

By John NicholsTwitter

JUNE 15, 2017


The New York special-election winner, elementary-school teacher and union activist Christine Pellegrino, described her victory as a “thunderbolt of resistance.” But it was also something else: Pellegrino, another 2016 Sanders delegate, wasn’t the first choice of Democratic strategists and local party leaders. She gained the nomination with the crucial help of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, as well as the group Long Island Activists, which was “born out of the Bernie Sanders movement.” Pellegrino ran an edgy anticorruption campaign that recognized the mood among voters frustrated with both major parties. As observers hailed her victory in a district that gave Trump a 23-point edge last November, Pellegrino explained that her winning strategy wasn’t all that complicated: “A strong progressive agenda is the way forward.”

Pellegrino proved her point by taking 58 percent of the vote in one of the 710 legislative districts nationwide that have been identified by Ballotpedia as including all or part of the so-called “Pivot Counties”—those that voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then voted for Republican Donald Trump in 2016. As the website explains: “477 state house districts and 233 state senate districts intersected with these Pivot Counties.… These [districts comprise] approximately 10 percent of all state legislative districts in the country.”

For progressives, figuring out where to win and how to win—not merely to resist, but to set the agenda—is about more than positioning. This is the essential first step in breaking the grip of a politics that imagines large parts of the country will always be red, and that says the only real fights are over an elusive middle ground where campaigns are fought with lots of money but little substance. The resistance-and-renewal politics that’s now gathering momentum rejects such empty politics and embraces what Chokwe Antar Lumumba identifies as “the struggle [that] does not cease”: to give people the jobs and freedom they need to shape their own destinies. That makes every election in every community matter, because the point isn’t merely to resist one bad president; as Lumumba reminds us, it is “to change the order of the world.”


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