2017 was the year Republicans seized control of the federal government, but it also turned out to be the year that progressive Democrats began taking back power. Democratic wins varied from local city councils, to the incredible Alabama upset by Doug Jones. These are some of the most noteworthy events from the year that we would like to see repeated in 2018 and beyond.
1) There is plenty of space for young leaders with bold, progressive agendas. 34-year-old Chokwe Antar Lumumba was voted mayor of Jackson, Mississippi in a special election in June after pledging during his campaign to make Jackson “the most progressive city in the country.” His message resonated so well with voters that he won 93 percent of the vote in the general election. Then, in November, in Aurora, Colorado, 23-year-old Democratic Latina candidate Crystal Murillo was one of three progressive women to unseat Republicans on the Aurora City Council. Her message to voters was straightforward:
“People, I think, are struggling, and that’s the truth… It’s an immigrant and refugee community … people are subject to some volatile rental rates, people are not benefiting the way other people are in Aurora.”
She spoke directly to the working-class and did not pander to a demographic that generally can afford campaign contributions. And she won. Capitalizing on voters’ real-life struggles and the need for sweeping change proved a winning message.
2) Women and women of color are building power. Get ready to see a lot more women in office in the next few years. The astonishing number of interested candidates who reached out to EMILY’s list is proof that women are coming out in droves. Compared to the 2015-16 election cycle, when 900 women contacted EMILY’s list interested running for office, in the past year, that number has ballooned to over 20,000. And this is not just a hypothetical future situation. Women are winning all over the map. In Virginia, the success of women challenging incumbents, who historically win 90 percent of the time, is proof enough of a sea-change. In a whopping nine out of thirty incumbent races with women challengers in Virginia, the women were victorious. Six women of color also won seats on the city council in Boston, the mayor of Charlotte, NC is now a black woman, as is the Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, to name just a few.
3) Representatives of marginalized groups can and should be leaders. In addition to women and people of color, there were wins in 2017 by refugees, Muslims, and transgender people. At a time when these communities are subject to frequent vitriol from the mouth of the president, wins by progressive democrats represent a backlash against the politics of division. The November elections proved there is no better strategy for opposing the hate-mongering of Trump than by running courageous candidates from marginalized communities. Ideally, the public support given to candidates by Democratic voters will help reinforce their place as valued citizens worthy of everyone’s respect.
4) Broad grassroots organizing can turn a deep red state blue. The special election in Alabama would not have resulted in a victory for Democrat Doug Jones without the support of a broad coalition of grassroots groups. Organizations like Woke Vote and BlackPAC coordinated deliberately to reach out to black voters, for not only the sake of the special election but as a long-term strategy to register and mobilize more voters in the black community. This kind of outreach will be important in 2018. But, then again, as Brad Bannon pointed out in his op-ed in The Hill, there is no magic bullet in terms of which voters to target most to score the win. If Democrats want to sweep in 2018, they must have a strategy that will turn out moderates, progressive democrats, and swing voters all at once. This will take a sophisticated and multi-faceted ground-game, and the work starts now.