Carrie N. Baker and Emma Jewell: Time to steer Biden, Harris toward more progressive agenda

  • House Oversight and Reform Committee members, from left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., listen during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.   AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Published: 11/25/2020 10:43:54 AM

“What’s your voting plan?” We heard this repeatedly throughout the election. Our plans paid off. The election had record-breaking numbers of people voting, and their votes were counted. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election. So now we need a new plan for steering the Biden-Harris administration toward a progressive, human rights-based agenda. We can’t let up. 

After the election of Barack Obama in 2008, too many on the left stopped paying attention. We turned away from politics, trusting that Obama would do right. We didn’t have a plan. As a result, we let Obama get away with things we subsequently condemned Trump for doing, like big bailouts for corporations and mass deportations of immigrants. Biden’s platform speaks repeatedly of restoring and expanding on the Obama legacy. 

But New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez urges the Democratic Party to move beyond its centrist past and embrace its base in the progressive left. “I need my colleagues to understand that we are not the enemy,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez in a New York Times interview. “That their base is not the enemy. That the Movement for Black Lives is not the enemy, that Medicare for all is not the enemy. If they keep going after the wrong thing, they’re just setting up their own obsolescence.” 

Ocasio-Cortez argues that Democrats aren’t heeding the warnings of their leftmost wing: that systems like health care, policing and prisons, and environmentally unsustainable economics are due for a massive overhaul. By cautiously occupying the political middle, Democrats are sacrificing the power of progressives. 

We know that Biden is a moderate who will compromise with the right. He has already appointed industry allies such as former DuPont consultant Michael McCabe and fossil-fuel-industry-funded Cedric Richmond to high-level positions. If we want to reverse the damage done by the Trump administration and expand human rights, we each need a plan for keeping pressure on Biden and the Democratic Party to push forward a progressive political agenda. Our plan includes working at the federal, state and local levels.

To start, we are focusing on the two Georgia Senate runoff elections. We are contributing our money and time to Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight and other progressive, people of color-led organizations fighting to win these critical races. While Biden can make many policy changes through executive action, without control of the Senate, the Democrats will be severely hampered in passing legislation and confirming Biden’s judicial appointments. If we can win the Senate, then we can push for a progressive COVID-19 relief plan, the Green New Deal and other needed policies.

Our plan also includes working for better state laws. With a 6-3 right-wing supermajority on the Supreme Court, we must turn to the states to guarantee our rights. The Supreme Court, for example, may soon overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, so here in Massachusetts, we are fighting for the ROE Act to secure and strengthen abortion rights in the state. The Massachusetts House and Senate recently passed ROE Act amendments, and we are now pressing Gov. Charlie Baker to sign the legislation. We are also working on telemedicine abortion access and legislation addressing maternal mortality and morbidity in Massachusetts.

And, vitally, our plan includes organizing at the local level. Time and time again, we’ve seen government systems fail to protect us and members of our community like formerly incarcerated folks and undocumented people. But we don’t have to wait on the government to keep us and our neighbors safe — we already have the skills and resources we need to strengthen our community. We need to develop networks of mutual aid, defined by legal scholar and activist Dean Spade as “collective coordination to meet survival needs.” 

In western Massachusetts, many mutual aid networks are already up and running. Western Massachusetts Community Mutual Aid matches individuals requesting aid with neighbors who can help. Touch the Sky (formerly PV Housing Now) raises funds, secures housing, and organizes community support for our unhoused neighbors. The Pioneer Valley Workers Center organizes for immigrants’ and workers’ rights and sustains several mutual aid networks, including a child care collective and a “People’s Pantry” with free groceries, meals and PPE. 

All of these organizations welcome volunteers, donations and other forms of support. They are paving the way for a kinder and more interconnected community. Unlike state and federal policy, these organizations have the capacity to respond to individual needs in real time with the resources we already have on hand. 

Trump’s decimation of the rule of law, democratic processes and human rights will be hard to reverse. We all need a plan for how to fix the damage done. Whether at the federal, state or local levels, we need to develop concrete strategies and stay accountable for building a better future.

So what’s your plan?

Carrie Baker is a professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College and a regular contributor to Ms. Magazine. Emma Jewell is a junior at Smith College majoring in the Study of Women and Gender.

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