Amer­ica’s new rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies show how the left can win Ge­orge Mon­biot,

The Guardian - Journal - - Front page - Ge­orge Mon­biot

Even at first sight it is ex­hil­a­rat­ing. The over­throw of one of the most main­stream and se­nior Democrats in Congress by a 28-year-old Demo­cratic so­cial­ist with a rad­i­cal pro­gramme and one tenth of his fund­ing is, you might think, in­ter­est­ing enough. But since Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez beat Joe Crow­ley in the Demo­cratic pri­mary in New York’s 14th district (mean­ing she will al­most cer­tainly en­ter Congress in Novem­ber), I’ve been in­ter­view­ing some of the peo­ple who lit the fuse that caused this det­o­na­tion. What has emerged is how mar­ginal and im­prob­a­ble their move­ment was when it be­gan, and how quickly it is now gain­ing mo­men­tum. A rev­o­lu­tion has be­gun in Amer­ica.

While the ef­fort to find and run in­sur­gent can­di­dates arose from the Bernie San­ders pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2016, the hand­ful of young peo­ple who launched this move­ment struck out en­tirely on their own. They had no re­sources and no po­lit­i­cal stand­ing. Nei­ther San­ders nor any oth­ers in the old guard were pre­pared to sup­port them or en­dorse the can­di­dates they found.

In a way, this tiny group, Brand New Congress, which evolved into the Jus­tice Democrats, marginalised it­self. It wanted noth­ing to do with a tra­di­tional left it saw as be­ing ob­sessed with po­si­tion­ing. It wanted to es­cape the shadow of peo­ple who seemed stuck in the 1980s, who didn’t take en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues se­ri­ously or un­der­stand the need to chal­lenge struc­tural racism and gen­der in­equal­ity, or to reach mil­len­ni­als trapped in ter­ri­ble hous­ing and mis­er­able non-jobs. They were mocked, ig­nored and dis­missed as well-in­ten­tioned but hope­less ide­al­ists. One of them told me how he was lit­er­ally pat­ted on the head by an older Demo­crat.

At first, it was chaotic. Most of the vol­un­teers they re­cruited had lit­tle or no ex­pe­ri­ence. Some turned out to be won­der­ful, oth­ers less so. Their orig­i­nal aim was to find 400 can­di­dates to chal­lenge both Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can in­cum­bents. They sought fac­tory work­ers, small-busi­ness peo­ple, com­mu­nity or­gan­is­ers, teach­ers, nurses – ide­ally peo­ple who had never held pub­lic of­fice. While Demo­cratic can­di­dates are usu­ally cho­sen on the grounds of how much money they can raise, the Jus­tice Democrats looked for peo­ple who could not be se­duced by big fun­ders.

They found plenty of bril­liant po­ten­tial re­cruits, but with­out main­stream sup­port they didn’t have the cred­i­bil­ity re­quired to con­vince hun­dreds of peo­ple to give up their lives for an im­prob­a­ble cause. They man­aged to per­suade a few dozen, how­ever, and among them was Oca­sio-Cortez. They phoned her, in­vited her to din­ner, and asked her to at­tend a meet­ing in Ken­tucky with other po­ten­tial can­di­dates. She took her time and toured the 14th district be­fore she agreed.

She was, as we have seen, a fan­tas­tic can­di­date: de­ter­mined, in­de­fati­ga­ble, bril­liant at ex­plain­ing com­plex is­sues. Alexan­dra Ro­jas, the cam­paigns di­rec­tor of Jus­tice Democrats, tells me: “She has a way of mak­ing is­sues that oth­ers see as rad­i­cal seem sim­ple, straight­for­ward and prag­matic.” Ev­ery­one I spoke to re­marked on her grace and sta­bil­ity, and how she calmly ab­sorbed the dra­mas that sur­rounded her bid.

Re­mark­able as she is, there are oth­ers like her.

Cori Bush in Mis­souri, Jess King in Penn­syl­va­nia and Kerri Eve­lyn Har­ris in Delaware are just a few of those now fight­ing for Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tions or seats while re­nounc­ing big money, re­ly­ing in­stead on the en­thu­si­asm of the com­mu­ni­ties they hope to serve.

The Jus­tice Democrats are not ex­pect­ing all th­ese can­di­dates to win, but hope for a few spec­tac­u­lar vic­to­ries at the con­gres­sional elec­tions in 2018 and 2020, not only re­plac­ing cor­po­rate, money-tainted Democrats, but flip­ping a cou­ple of Repub­li­can dis­tricts as well. As soon as such peo­ple take their seats in Congress, Saikat Chakrabarti, one of the core or­gan­is­ers, tells me, the aim is to “leg­is­late the hell out of ev­ery­thing, like the Repub­li­cans do … propos­ing the bold­est, big­gest ideas on day one”. By 2022, us­ing the mo­men­tum gained from a few strate­gic vic­to­ries, they hope to run a full slate of new or re-en­er­gised can­di­dates. The aim is to cre­ate a gen­uinely pop­ulist Demo­cratic party, which neu­tralises Trump’s bru­tal dem­a­goguery and speaks to peo­ple across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum who have been alien­ated by the cor­rup­tion and drift of main­stream pol­i­tics.

Thanks in part to the supreme court’s dis­as­trous Cit­i­zens United rul­ing, which re­moved the caps on po­lit­i­cal spend­ing by lob­by­ists, US pol­i­tics is dom­i­nated by bil­lion­aires and cor­po­ra­tions, buying the can­di­dates and poli­cies they want. They can’t be out­spent, but they can be out­ma­noeu­vred, by re­cruit­ing in­cor­rupt­ible peo­ple who can speak past the money. Even­tu­ally, the Jus­tice Democrats hope, there will be enough strong and in­spir­ing peo­ple in Congress to over­throw this rul­ing and purge the in­sti­tu­tional cor­rup­tion from US pol­i­tics.

So far, the Demo­cratic party has re­acted in two dis­tinct ways. Some se­nior fig­ures, such as Nancy Pelosi, dis­miss the sig­nif­i­cance of what Oca­sio-Cortez has achieved. Oth­ers, such as Kirsten Gil­li­brand, have sud­denly switched po­si­tions – echo­ing her call, for ex­am­ple, for the abo­li­tion of the Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agency, which has been sep­a­rat­ing chil­dren from their par­ents on the Mex­i­can bor­der. Both are forms of self­p­reser­va­tion, but if more revo­lu­tion­ary can­di­dates win their races, the sec­ond va­ri­ety is likely to pre­vail.

By un­der­stand­ing how the great re­ver­sal in

New York hap­pened, we can be­gin to un­der­stand what this move­ment of out­siders might achieve.

It could yet change the world.

They found plenty of bril­liant re­cruits, who are fight­ing for nom­i­na­tions while re­nounc­ing big money

PHO­TO­GRAPH: AP

Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, who won a Demo­cratic pri­mary in New York

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