An all-day conversation on gaining progressive wins

In Montgomery County, a day-long session detailed "the art of navigating through fraught political waters in order to attain real political power." Regular PM blogger Hal Ginsberg was there and brings us this report.

/By Hal Ginsberg/ I joined one hundred or so other activists, elected officials, and aspiring office holders in Rockville Sunday (May 7) for an all-day Teach-In on Progressive Changes in Maryland.  Several progressive groups sponsored the event, which was designed to instruct progressives on the art of navigating through fraught political waters in order to attain real political power.   After brief introductions by the event’s sponsors, Electoral Politics 101 kicked into high gear with an inspiring speech by Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr.  The Hip Hop Caucus’s president and CEO exhorted us to recognize environmentalism as a crucial aspect of the progressive movement. 

 Continuing use of fossil fuels means an ever bleaker future for our children and grandchildren.  Yearwood wants America to be 100% dependent on renewables by 2050 at the latest.  Using a term that we would hear throughout the day, the Reverend urged us not to “silo” ourselves into various factions.  Facing the twin dangers of global warming and incipient fascism in the persona of President Trump and the Republican majority at our doorstep, we must unite in opposition.

 After Yearwood’s inspiring call to defend our planet, Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich greeted the throng.  Councilman Elrich implored activists to run for elected office as progressive democrats.  If progressives don’t take over the Democratic Party, Elrich warned, it will remain at least somewhat in thrall to monied interests.  The more progressive candidates run and win, said Elrich, the more the Democratic Party will have to participate in the progressive movement.

 Elrich closed by urging progressives to put the divisive 2016 democratic primaries behind us.  While he acknowledged being a strong Sanders supporter, Elrich noted that many Clinton backers share Bernie’s progressive values but truly believed she would be a stronger candidate in the general election.  In any case, Elrich concluded, we must present a united front against the Republicans.

 A number of group presentations followed Councilman Elrich.  “Advancing a progressive agenda through government office” included five elected progressives who discussed legislative successes and challenges.  Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (Dist. 18) presented a compelling and depressing description of a House of Delegates in which the Democratic rank and file is divided into insiders and outsiders.  The insiders include the House Speaker, the floor leaders (whips), and legislators viewed as allies by the speaker and the whips.  Legislation introduced by the outsiders, who include the few progressives, rarely gets to the floor and when it does, leadership often cuts off debate without a vote.  Delegate Gutierrez said that she needs more progressives in the legislature and a progressive caucus.

 A second presentation, “Recent struggles for justice and resistance,” followed, featuring activists involved in the fights against the Inter-County Connector and cosmetic pesticides and for affordable housing and clean drinking water.  Julie Taddeo, a University of Maryland professor, described the herculean efforts needed to pass county-wide legislation against cosmetic, i.e., non-essential, lawn and garden pesticides.  Most interesting to hear about were her conversations with small-business owners and workers in the industry who feared losing their livelihood if the sought-for bans were obtained.  Regardless of the health risks posed by contact with these deadly pesticides, workers in the industry fought against the ultimately approved legislation.

Electoral Politics 101 continued with a working lunch.  Likely Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous spoke for about 15 minutes.  As he did two weeks earlier at the Our Revolution Livestream, Ben made a compelling case for progressivism in general and his candidacy in particular.  He noted that demographics are on the side of Democrats.  The populations of southern states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida include more unregistered potential voters of color than recent Republican margins of victory.  It is incumbent on progressives to register these voters and persuade them of the importance of voting in every election, Jealous argued. 

Jealous stressed the importance of every human being and how our society is missing out on contributions from millions of Americans who are by necessity focused on day-to-day survival or living in the shadows for fear of deportation.  Finally, Jealous invoked hard-right LAPD Chief Daryl Gates for the proposition that Maryland needs a Trust Act.  Gates famously told his officers not to enforce immigration laws because undocumented victims of and witnesses to crimes would remain silent rather than come forward and risk deportation.  This would make Los Angeles less safe for citizens and non-citizens alike as many criminals, who might otherwise be incarcerated, would go unprosecuted.

 Three sessions succeeded lunch.  During “How progressives can run and win elections,” State Senator Roger Manno described how the financial struggles his mom and he underwent after his father died stoked his desire for economic justice and provided him with an emotional connection to less affluent residents in his district.  Del. Marice Morales, one of the youngest members of Maryland’s lower house, discussed the importance of knocking on doors and meeting and talking with as many people as possible during campaigns.  Prince George’s County Del. Jimmy Tarlau raised eyebrows when he urged people not to run for office unless they were prepared to do the necessary grunt work to get elected and could envision a real path to victory.

 “Current issues” came next with two of the speakers questioning how progressive Montgomery County really is.  Montgomery County School Board Member Jill Ortman Fouse noted that residents of wealthy higher-performing school districts invariably recoil any time the topic of redrawing their district lines to include more poor students and students of color is broached.  CASA’s Executive Director Gustavo Torres told a distressing anecdote about an immigrant who died rather than seek medical treatment in a county hospital because she feared being deported. 

 As the teach-in began to wind down, several candidates introduced themselves to the audience.  Mixing personal stories with policy proposals, the candidates - including Brandy Brooks, Lorig Charkoudian, Gabriel Accevero, Ben Shnider, Danielle Meitiv, Bill Cook, Bobby Bartlett, and Chris Wilhelm - made a compelling case for themselves and left audience members optimistic about the prospect that by the end of next year we will have a great crop of new progressive leaders in government.

 The goal of sponsors Progressive Neighbors, Our Revolution Montgomery County, Progressive Democrats of America, and Progressive Montgomery was to help us understand “how city, county and state politics work and how to change” them.  In the mind of this participant, they succeeded admirably.


Hal Ginsberg, a PM BlogSpace regular, blogs at halginsberg.com/