When Hillary Clinton was chosen as the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, the progressive movement seemed to find itself in limbo. Many left-of-center were not energized enough to get behind their party’s candidate. Some were taking issue with the DNC’s lack of support behind Bernie Sanders during the primary. Reasons for the progressive base’s discouragement seemingly varied from Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, to her past record on criminal justice. But Bernie Sanders’ 2016 run had successfully — whether willfully or not — pulled the far-left of the Democratic Party away from the centrist orientation that had been meticulously layered from the days of the Clinton-Obama neoliberal policy-reform era.
Since the election of Donald Trump, there have been attacks on minority communities and a significant rise of far-right extremism. However, we also see more people engaged in the political process unlike ever before. Most significantly, the progressive movement is accelerating tenfold outside the confines of the Democratic Party. Progressives across America have been taking to the streets, donating more than ever before to their favorite activist groups, getting engaged in campaigns, and sending a message to the establishment. In fact, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) experienced a spike in membership since 2016, and local chapters are opening in districts where Trump carried strongly, with considerable DSA members expanding across party lines.
Beyond that, some progressives have become creative by starting movements without the Democratic Party’s graces. In some places, the Republican Party seems to be opening its doors to disenchanted progressives and open-minded Republicans who feel building a left caucus will benefit the Party and a progressive agenda more broadly. There are even Republican groups advocating single-payer healthcare.
However, one woman has taken notice of this particular phenomenon and is applying a focused nonpartisan effort that may have long-ranging implications. Lindsay Brown, a progressive millennial is running a campaign in New Jersey’s Seventh Congressional District as a Republican to restore power and voice to the working class. Although it will be a daunting task as a Republican, and will certainly defy political norms, she is not the only who has been thinking along these lines. Many others are crafting a blueprint for an eclectic progressive movement. Robb Ryerse of Brand New Congress is also seeking to build a new coalition of progressive Republicans in Arkansas’ Third Congressional District.
These campaigns are configuring a widespread progressive movement, irrespective of political party. One step at a time, they are breaking down political boundaries that have kept the American people divided.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) recently gave a speech to Netroots Nation urging Democrats to consider shifting left due to the various organizational breakdowns that occurred within the Party during the 2016 presidential election. Warren boldly pointed out the mistakes of the DNC and Hillary Clinton by stating that their mission cannot solely contrast Trump, or try to win back those who strayed to vote for Trump (or third party). She added, “we can’t do either of those things until we can show that things can change — and that we will fight to change them.” Her pointed remarks drew a positive response from progressives who saw her speech as helping guide the dysfunction being experienced at the top of the Democratic echelons.
However, her words also sound an alarm for the establishment, suggesting that the Democratic Party is vulnerable and concerned about losing a considerable portion of their base in upcoming elections. The fear is that thwarting a bold vision for a centrist one will further alienate progressives and isolate the party from the left. Across America, Democratic state houses and town halls are demonstrating widespread disenchantment among voters who feel the Democratic Party has either forgotten about them, silenced them, or simply, ‘are not listening.’
And these concerns are already having an effect as seen in some upcoming elections.
As ironic as it may initially seem, Lindsay Brown is charting a valiant path for progressives to take hold within the Republican Party. As a millennial seeking to change ‘politics as usual,’ her unique campaign is positioned to attract a lot of young individuals, both Democrat and Republican. She has addressed numerous problems that have manifested from the Great Recession as prompting an immediate response for swift progressive economic and social reform. Brown wants to begin by taking on special interest groups that influence government policy to benefit the established interests and wealthy. She wants to remove big money from the political system, and champion a Teddy Roosevelt style regulatory system that puts the interests of consumers and working people first. In fact, when asked why she isn’t running as a Democrat with such a progressive platform, she is not afraid to invoke Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency — the bull-moose reformer taking on the powerful elites of the 1900s.
Brown’s firebrand character would have fitted the modern Democratic Party well, but her plan is to help stir a movement that will bring about remedy to the political fractures in both parties, and in turn, spark a bipartisan movement on the left. But that hasn’t stopped Lindsay Brown from working with Democrats who agree with her vision for a non-party-specific progressive movement. For instance, she has sought communication and engagement from Sam Ronan, former DNC Chair candidate, and now, Democratic Congressional Candidate for Ohio’s First District. Since Ronan’s DNC run, he has gained extensive bipartisan popularity. He has been featured on the Young Turks and other popular progressive networks. Most notably, he was heralded by millennials for his performance during the DNC debate, where he stood up to the existing power structure, confronted Tom Perez, and encouraged young people to get involved, no matter what political party.
Ronan and Brown are aiming to expand the progressive movement to the grassroots level by unifying behind specific policy proposals like single-payer healthcare and the fight for $15. Agreeing on a plan to pursue specific legislative initiatives prior to being elected will help them in their promise to deliver for the American people. To show that these trends can be accomplished locally as well, Ronan and Brown are aiming to coordinate with James Canale, a local 26 year old resident from Long Island, NY, running a distinctive campaign for Town Council in Brookhaven as a progressive Republican. He is carrying petitions for the New York Health Act (a NY State proposal for single-payer) while calling for more affordable housing in his area. These political relationships are building a message of unity behind people power and stand as a historic testament to our contemporary political culture.
Lindsay Brown’s movement also has an ally in Arkansas. Robb Ryerse is looking to accomplish something very similar. While taking aim at large multinational corporations like Walmart, Ryerse wants to restore the Republican Party to its ‘Lincolnian’ roots. As a Christian minister, he believes the Republican brand has lost its way with regard to civil rights and economic justice. More closely, he is looking to build upon his deep Christian convictions so to drive policy initiatives aimed at assisting the less fortunate. Given Ryerse’s admiration for the policies of Dwight D. Eisenhower, he supports a progressive taxation plan where the wealthy pay their fair share and relief is provided for low-middle income American families.
The difference with Ryerse is that he is directly appealing to conservatives because he is expressing his progressive message within a Christian context of charity and service. Likewise, Ryerse wants to establish that conservatives can be more accepting of immigrants, as the current position expressed by Trump is expected to tear many immigrant families apart while also costing taxpayers a lot of money. Ryerse’s strategy should make successful inroads with skeptical conservatives who feel progressivism is anathema to the Republican Party.
The outcome of these elections are yet to be seen. However, what is clear is that these campaigns deserve the people’s attention now. More significantly, Lindsay Brown merits praise for taking on a monumental battle as a progressive Republican woman. Her pioneering efforts will translate to inspiration for countless young women across the country who aspire to be leaders. Additionally, she is demonstrating how women can change the course of traditional politics by trying something new and being a bold leader.
Nevertheless, the progressive movement is building en masse, and not merely in the Democratic Party, but beyond. The surge in people power has brought a new wave of political activists who have a brave and new vision for how to solve America’s problems — and that is through unity in an age of great division.
Addendum: Sam Ronan has since declared running as a Republican for the remaining of his campaign for Congress.