Requiem “progressive” or 3 things I learned (#STL should learn) from the Mayoral primary

This article, Talking past each other? Two sides of the Democratic party maneuvering to control agenda, finally pushed me to articulate my main takeaways from the events of the last week. The themes have been circling my thoughts, solicited and unsolicited conversations and unlimited comments threads for the past week, so I am not sure it was the article itself, as much as reaching a point where these thoughts needed to get out of my head.

1. The last month has officially rendered the descriptor “progressive” as useless here in St. Louis.

From the aforementioned article, linked above:

“To hear one side tell it, Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary highlighted a growing movement in city politics in which energized progressives are steadily advancing their agenda of racial equity and economic justice into the forefront of the public’s consciousness.”


I can give you a long list of people who are interested in “steadily advancing [an] agenda of racial equity and economic justice.” I can guarantee you that they don’t all identify as “progressives.” I have also watched them all fighting each other over [insert issue/POV here] for the past 4 days. I can also guarantee that they aren’t all going to show up for a protest action against policy brutality, they aren’t all going to support bike lanes, they aren’t all going to use words like “White Supremacy,” and they aren’t all going to use words like “Black Liberation.” But some of them do each of those things.

So maybe the term still has some use, but mainly just for those who would like to dismiss what is actually many groups coming together on behalf of truly changing the course of St. Louis.

2. It was a group made up of all those disparate realities (and more) and who share a desire for racial equity and economic justice who turned last week’s election on its head. By that I mean the following:

  • The last publicly available traditional poll showed their candidate in 4th place, 22 points behind the lead candidate.
  • When people challenged the fact that that poll was limited to land lines and therefore was not registering the impact of the weeks of ground-work the disparate groups had been doing on behalf of their candidate, someone with knowledge from inside the lead candidate’s campaign stated publicly that “the numbers we have include cellphones. [Our candidate] is winning. By a lot.”
  • Outcome shows that the ground-work done by those disparate groups 1) was not detected by traditional means and 2) resulted in their candidate coming within less that 2% of the lead candidate.

3. To pit “regional growth” against “an agenda of racial equity and economic justice” is to move deck chairs around on the Titanic.

It’s really hard to do business in this town. Our Chamber, our economic development entities, our CVC, our universities — they have an uphill battle attracting businesses, talent, development, etc. Why? Because enough people find insurmountable issues with public schools, poverty, racism, crime, etc. We can yell at each _other_ about lots of things, but until we address racial equity and economic justice for actual real, [see previous 60+ years of outcomes]. A forward-looking economist will tell you that “growth” leads with investing inward. So will a good couples therapist.

All this to say that: what bucked all traditional methods by 17 points was a growing set of multiple groups who, for different reasons, understand that without racial equity and economic justice, this city can’t grow.

To reduce that to “progressives” versus old line Democrats or a bunch of whiners who randomly vilify [insert thing you take personally here (i.e. police, development incentives, stadiums, white privilege)] is to a) risk having them overtake you and/or b) misunderstand that we need them to ensure that this city can grow and most importantly c) see that folks who didn’t back their candidate also care about an agenda of equity and economic justice, so really, more of us are on the same page than are not.

I hope that we can recognize what’s happening for what it is and harness it for what we so desperately need.