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A wave of young, progressive energy washed over the country on Tuesday night, proving that this newfound optimism can be harnessed to win elections in the face of President Donald Trump.
Local elections around the country saw a slew of progressive candidates elected to office Tuesday night. Many of them were first-time candidates, and many of them come from diverse backgrounds. But, no candidate wins by themselves. Behind these victories, there are a number of grassroots organizations that have risen to new levels of national prominence in recent months. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Our Revolution, Black Lives Matter, Victory Fund, and Run for Something all claimed major victories on Tuesday.
The story of Lee J. Carter’s victory in the Virginia House of Delegates may be a blueprint for future progressive victories. The state Democratic Party dropped their financial backing for his campaign after he opposed a pipeline proposal from a massive Democrat-aligned energy company. After this principled stand, the Metro DC DSA Chapter endorsed Carter and threw themselves into knocking on doors.
“This is a victory for working people throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, and it shows the world that a candidate can stand on an unabashedly pro-worker platform and win convincingly in parts of the country that the conventional wisdom says can’t be won,” Carter tells the Daily Dot.
Though the DSA has seen an explosion in membership since the election (surpassing 30,000 last month), critics have wondered if that would translate into an electoral victory. They don’t have to wonder anymore. Though some seats are still being contested, as of Wednesday morning, the DSA had claimed victory in at least half of their twenty-five nationwide contests, including Seema Singh Perez’s bid to become the first South Asian woman elected to Knoxville, Tennessee’s city council.
The Daily Dot spoke to the DSA’s Chris Riddiough about the victory. Riddiough says, “Lee Carter brings to the American political scene a new vision and direction. His victory signals that the values espoused by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 campaign continue to be supported by many Americans.”
Materially focused approaches like New Orleans DSA’s brake light replacement program and nationwide Medicare for All canvassing have raised DSA’s profile in communities across the US. Programs like these have helped make DSA candidates viable nationwide.
Our Revolution, the Bernie Sanders backed group running progressives across the country, had a great night as well. They claimed 19 wins, about half of whom are women, communications director Diane May told the Daily Dot. One of Our Revolution’s biggest wins was in the Philadelphia District Attorney race. Larry Krasner, a civil rights lawyer who has represented participants in Black Lives Matter and Occupy Philadelphia actions, ran on a platform of criminal justice reform that includes an overhaul of cash bail, the abolition of the death penalty, and a crackdown on police corruption. He was deemed “completely unelectable” by the city establishment and has been heavily criticized by the police union. But, with a coalition including Our Revolution, DSA, and Black Lives Matter, Krasner won the race by a huge margin.
In a statement released Wednesday, Our Revolution president Nina Turner proudly claimed victory and looked to the future:
“Our Revolution’s candidates won in every part of America–blue and red, rural and urban. What we saw last night is a preview of what is to come and what is possible when local groups stick to progressive values, identify progressive champions and advocate for an America that works for all. Our Revolution is building a bench of diverse progressive champions at all levels of government who can change their communities and grow the progressive movement.”
Run for Something, a group that aims to get progressives under the age of 35 to run for office, has a 40 percent win rate as of Wednesday morning. Though they don’t have the strict ideological expectations of Our Revolution and DSA (DSA only endorses socialists and Our Revolution uses issues like Medicare for All and $15 minimum wage as litmus tests), they elected a diverse slate of candidates across the country. Ashley Bennett, a first-time candidate supported by Run for Something, won a New Jersey seat after deciding to run when she saw a sexist Facebook meme on the incumbent’s Facebook wall.
One of the most inspiring stories to come out of Tuesday night is Danica Roem. She is a transgender woman who beat out a conservative incumbent who had been serving since 1992, and will be joining Lee Carter in the Virginia House of Delegates. The victory was extra sweet since Republican Bob Marshall helped author a proposed state “bathroom bill” and has referred to himself as the state’s “chief’s homophobe.” Her campaign was supported by Victory Fund, a group that works to elect openly LGBTQ politicians. Victory Fund also supported Andrea Jenkins (who is also an Our Revolution candidate), a trans Black woman who won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council last night. She is the second trans Black woman to win elected office in the United States.
Though Tuesday night’s election was certainly a shot across the bow of the establishment, these groups are approaching their wins with measured optimism. Their leaders recognize that bigger contests, such as national House and Senate seats, will be more difficult to win. They know it will be no easy task to keep their newfound energy going into 2018 and 2020, but these groups are also ready to fight.
As the DSA’s Riddiough put it, “Reliance on Wall Street capitalists and tired neoliberalism will not result in success for the Democratic Party. It’s time for a new direction and the Democratic Socialists of America are eager to lead the way.”
Brenden Gallagher is a politics reporter and cultural commentator. His work has been published by Motherboard, Complex, and VH1. He’s the co-founder of Beer Money Films, an indie production company. Based in Los Angeles, he works in television drama as a writers assistant.