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A Breakthrough Week for America’s Socialists and Progressives

The media might not mention it, but this was a good week for America's growing left-wing movement – with breakthrough wins for elected representatives and successful ballot initiatives across the country.

The implications of the US presidential and Senate contests will no doubt be parsed for months. Drawing less attention are Tuesday’s many progressive and socialist victories, a number of which would have been astonishing just a short time ago. While conservative Democrats like Kentucky’s Amy McGrath and Staten Island’s Max Rose were crushed by rabid-right opponents who humiliatingly out-Trumped them, the Left, nationwide, offered a way forward.

Although Florida voted for Trump, that state also passed a resolution to increase the minimum wage, eventually to $15 an hour. That wasn’t the only progressive decision made by “red” voters. Many communities passed referendums to fund their public schools, even in conservative states like Indiana. I asked education journalist Jennifer Berkshire, cohost of the education podcast Have You Heard and coauthor (both with Jack Schneider) of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School (New Press, 2020), what she made of this.

“Voters routinely come together across party lines to increase school spending,” Berkshire explained. “If you look at Wisconsin, counties that went big for Trump also voted to hike their own taxes to invest in schools. You see this pattern all over the country.” Arizona even passed a statewide tax hike to bring in nearly $1 billion in new dollars to its underfunded school system, a measure that, Berkshire notes, enjoyed bipartisan support.

Portland, Maine, joined Florida in voting for a minimum-wage hike, as well as voting for rent control, against facial surveillance, and for a local Green New Deal. Democratic Socialist of America (DSA), among other groups, campaigned for all four Portland measures.

Tenants were also winners in Boulder, Colorado, where voters passed No Eviction Without Representation, a measure to tax landlords and use the money to provide legal representation for tenants facing eviction, another initiative backed by DSA.

All in all, Colorado had a feminist night, rejecting forced reproductive labor for women — that is to say, defeating an attempt by the anti-choice forces to restrict abortion — and for family and medical leave. Montgomery County, Maryland, with DSA’s help, defeated a property tax override.

Oregon voted to tax the rich to fund universal pre-K. The state also decriminalised a startling number of drugs, including small quantities of heroin, cocaine, and meth, a huge step for the nationwide movement against mass incarceration.

Speaking of drugs, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, and New Jersey legalised weed for adults for any reason, while Mississippi approved medical marijuana. Washington, DC, legalised psychedelics. (All of which we will need, especially if Mitch McConnell retains control of the Senate, but I digress.)

Striking further blows to our cruel and racist regimes of punishment, cities elected (and in some cases re-elected) progressive district attorneys who campaigned on platforms of reform — ending cash bail, for example — including Chicago’s Kim Foxx, St. Louis’s Kim Gardner, Mark Gonzalez in Corpus Christi, Monique Worrell in Orlando, Eli Savit in Ann Arbor, Austin’s José Garza, and George Gascòn in Los Angeles. (It looks as if Julie Gunnigle, in Phoenix, may also win when all the votes are counted, but that race is still very close.)

Speaking of rejection of the Confederacy — Mississippi voted overwhelmingly (73 percent) to adopt a new state flag without the Confederate symbol, substituting a more appealingly neutral magnolia.

In Congress, the original Justice Democrats–powered “Squad” — Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib — were all re-elected, along with Medicare for All champion Pramila Jayapal and Green New Deal cosponsor Ed Markey.

Katie Porter, a liberal Democrat representing a historically conservative California district, was reelected by a comfortable margin. Progressive educator Jamaal Bowman of New York defeated an entrenched incumbent, and activist Cori Bush became the first black woman, nurse, and single mother to represent Missouri in Congress.

In fact, it was a powerful night for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which had endorsed twenty-nine candidates and eleven ballot initiatives. Of those, at least twenty candidates and eight ballot initiatives won.

In addition to the victories for AOC, Tlaib, Bowman, and Bush, DSA won big in State Senate races. In New York, the organisation won five contests for state-level government, re-electing Julia Salazar to State Senate and electing Jabari Brisport to join her, while three more DSA-endorsed candidates (Marcela MitaynesPhara Souffrant Forrest, and Zohran Mamdani) head to the state assembly.

Two other DSA members, Emily Gallagher and Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, both formidable activists whose races were not endorsed by the organisation, also won seats in the assembly. Philadelphia sent three DSA-endorsed candidates to state government: Nikil Saval to State Senate, and Rick Krajewski and Elizabeth Fiedler to the statehouse. Minnesota also gained a socialist state senator, Jen McEwen. In Western Montana, DSA helped send Danny Tenenbaum to the statehouse.

DSA also won impressive local victories, helping to send Greg Casar to the Austin City Council, Jovanka Beckles to East Bay’s public transit board, Dean Preston to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Janeese Lewis George to the Washington, DC, City Council. In Los Angeles, Konstantine Anthony won a seat on the Burbank City Council, and Nithya Raman, candidate for Los Angeles City Council, also looks like a winner, though her race has not been called yet.

The Los Angeles Times called its local elections a “progressive political shakeup,” asking, “Is it just the beginning?” There’s no doubt that the summer’s uprisings against police brutality affected elections here, as in many other cities.

Amplifying the strong decarceration mandate of the city’s district attorney race, Los Angeles County passed Measure J, which sets aside 10 percent of county-generated funds for social services, including mental health treatment and housing, in communities harmed by racism, prohibiting the local government from spending any of those funds on jails or police.

The implications of all these wins? Organising works; Left majorities can be created; and many Americans want racial justice, serious redistribution of wealth, and a better life for the working class.