A week ago I wrote an opinion piece for this publication titled, “How To Kill the Democratic Party of Virginia” after attending the Blue Commonwealth Gala in Richmond on June 16. I had no idea that this opinion piece would create as many arguments and as much division as it has.
I have been called a “traitor”, an imitator, and told to “become an agent of change” and be “more involved in the party”. I disagree with all of this. Nonetheless, I have been called out, verbally attacked, and sternly spoken to as if I were a child. These interactions were naturally from Virginia Democrats. I’m not sure if this occurred because the title of my piece was so shocking, or if I just hit a raw nerve within the party by saying what lots of people (especially young people) are thinking, and how can we not? Look around at what’s happening nationally.
Either way, the blowback was surprising and emotionally draining. But let me tell you a story:
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an activist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, beat long-standing Democratic Congressman and New York City political powerhouse Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district Democratic primary race.
What does this win tell you? It tells me that the Democratic Party has become old, tired, and is not listening to the young people it should be recruiting as its next generation. Crowely even refused to debate Cortez publicly–part of a long trend of the party being patronizing and dismissive towards young people.
What was Ocasio-Cortez doing during the last weeks of her primary campaign? Protesting at an ICE detention center in Texas. This is what we want to see as young Democrats. This young woman stands for the abolition of ICE, universal Medicare, criminal justice reforms, a federal jobs guarantee, and free college tuition. She was at Standing Rock, from April 2016 to February 2017, when Native Americans protested against a natural gas pipeline cutting through their sacred North Dakota land.
On the other hand, Crowly presents like a Republican: He voted to create the Department of Homeland Security, voted for the war in Iraq, is a monied Democrat, and has not been challenged in 14 years. Too many elected Democrats struggle to believe that a change is upon the party. They still believe this is the party of Hillary and Bill Clinton, and consistently struggle to understand why this is a bad strategy.
One of these Democrats is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In a statement after Ocasio-Cortez’s win she said, “The fact that in a very progressive district in New York it went more progressive—Joe Crowley is a progressive, but more to the left than Joe Crowley, is about that district. It is not to be viewed as something that stands for everything else.”
Pelosi’s refusal to acknowledge that Ocasio-Cortez’ win is a threat to establishment Democrats is a wake up call to what young people are shouting at the top of our lungs: what is happening right now in the party is not working.
How would you describe today’s Democratic Party, nationally and in Virginia? Is it a party that is divided over ideology and outreach? Have the Democrats protected us from the hate, fear, and restriction of civil liberties being restricted (because the current administration excels at dividing and conquering)? Does the party have a strategic plan to fight against Trump’s next Supreme Court appointee (his last nominee was supported by at least three Democratic Senators)? Is this a party that looks eerily similar to the Republican Party in the way it is financed by corporate donors who reject a progressive agenda?
Now, more than ever before, Democrats in Virginia and nationally need to band together and adhere to a strategy that represents the party’s next generation. Democrats have won the popular vote in six out of the past seven presidential elections, but conservatives continue to dominate both houses of Congress and now the Supreme Court–that is reflective of political failure.
Republicans will use their control of the Supreme Court to exert policy control nationally for many generations to come, which will damage unions, uphold voter suppression, and, in every way, threaten Roe v. Wade and LGBTQ rights.
In the years ahead, there are other justices that may also need to step down given their age (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 85, Stephen Breyer is 79), resulting in more liberal seats opening during the Trump Presidency.
So the question once again becomes, what is our strategy? Because older establishment Democrats will not have to bear the brunt of this, we will.
As a thought exercise, I can describe what I envision the Democratic Party in Virginia and nationally to look like moving forward: a party focused on protecting the environment, removing money and corporations from politics, healthcare for all, eradicating ICE, making education a priority, resolving the student loan debt crisis, investing in critical national infrastructure, and re-establishing the middle class–something the party has moved away from.
Ocasio-Cortez’ win shows that the sentiment in my original opinion piece was not wrong or misguided. Progressives are ready for a change in leadership. It is important for me to highlight how many strangers have tweeted, messaged, and emailed me to say that they agreed the Democratic Party is being unrealistic regarding their expectations for the average member.
The Democratic Party needs to do better and stop turning their noses up at candidates like Ocasio-Cortez. The Democratic Party would prefer that moderate centrists candidates continue to run, but we don’t live in moderate times.
The only silver lining about the 2016 election is nothing is safe anymore with regards to status-quo politics. Ocasio-Cortez and her progressive platform is an excellent example. I for one am going to keep working for the most progressive candidate, the one whose platform aligns with the issues that impact my life and the lives of the those around me, the patients I see in my practice, and the voices that seem to be forgotten in the current Democratic Party. If you’re a candidate like Ocasio-Cortez, count me in as someone who will work relentlessly to ensure you’re elected.