What’s next

Mark Riddle & Brett Seifried

Attendees of New Leaders Council’s annual national leadership retreat on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States.

In a time of reaction, Progressives should take heart.

Today, President Trump was sworn in as the forty fifth President of the United States. He takes over a unified federal government under the most reactionary coalition in decades.

Also today, more than fifty members of Congress boycotted President Trump’s inauguration. Tomorrow thousands will join the Women’s March on Washington — and thousands more will join in sister marches across the country. President Trump enters the office with the lowest approval ratings of any president in memory, a cabinet dedicated to the destruction of the very cabinet agencies themselves, and with only superficial connections to his purportedly-allied Congressional counterparts. Even in the moment of conquest, cracks emerge in the coalition of reaction.

Of course, our own rifts are open to see as well. Over the past few weeks, the left has gone through a torturous (if not unpredictable) period of self-flagellation. Depending on who you ask, the left lost because it abandoned the working class. Or perhaps it is just the white working class. Or because they abandoned state parties. Or because they focused too much on political fundraising (which presumably could have helped state parties). Or because James Comey. Or because of Putin. Or because of neoliberalism. Or because of all the above.

Progressives, we are told, are in exile. The problems are real: we have not invested enough in a new generation; we need to support progressives in every state; we need to run for every available seat; we need to push back against gerrymandering; and we need to settle the differences that exist within our movement.

But, exile is a strange thing. When we find ourselves in the wilderness, it has a way of making us stronger.

Progressives must embrace their position as an opposition party. While the bench has been thinned out, some our strongest advocates have now emerged. We have President Obama as perhaps the youngest “elder” statesman in history. We have leaders that came up with President Obama and whose time has now come, like NY Assemblyman Michael Blake. Leaders who can stand against President Trump’s worst instincts, like Senator Corey Booker and Illinois state attorney Kim Foxx and their fight for social justice reforms. We have strong progressives from the “red” states, like Senator Sherrod Brown, Congressman Tim Ryan, and Governor Steve Bullock. We have strong women who have served their country like Senator Tammy Duckworth. And we have rising leaders like Mayor Eric Garcetti and his fight for real infrastructure investments, and Governor Gina Raimondo working on making higher education accessible to all. There are hundreds more just like these individuals. These are powerful advocates of progressive, positive opposition.

Most importantly, we have a new layer of leaders coming up at the state level. From our vantage point working with New Leaders Council, we get to see our Fellows rise prominence. These are individuals like Darius Pattillo (Henry County, GA, District Attorney), Brenda Lopez (GA State Representative), Kristen Hawkins (Houston Texas District Judge), Ethan Ashley (Orleans Parish School Board), and Jheanelle Wilkins (Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly).

Many have not heard of these leaders — or the hundreds of other NLC leaders now rising — but they will. These leaders are unified in purpose, and capable of great things. This proverbial exile may be just what they need, a time to incubate and mature in dedicated opposition.

This is a time for hope. Not for an unrealistic hope, but for a measured hope in proven results. In what could be our darkest hour, we are already seeing the growth of a new generation of resistors and reformers.

We have a long challenge ahead of us to make our country live up to our progressive vision. In exile, we now have the time, we have the tools, and we have the individuals ready to lead. It is time for us to heal our wounds, to rewrite our scripture, and to show up for change.

We are what is next.