June 23: A Good Day for the Left

Amidst a nationwide struggle against oppression and police brutality, as well as a pandemic, three states held primary elections on Tuesday, June 23rd. The results are still being reported due to the increase in votes cast via mail-in ballot, but in certain districts, like New York’s 17th and 16th, the results were resounding enough that winners have already been declared: Mondaire Jones and Jamaal Bowman won their contests by sizable amounts, and will face no serious viable threat in the general. In Virginia, which also voted Tuesday, Qasim Rashid won his primary, and will go on to face incumbent Republican Robert J. Whitman, which will be an uphill battle. In Kentucky, the nation awaits definitive results in the Democratic primary race to defeat Mitch McConnell; Charles Booker currently leads Amy McGrath by a few thousand votes in the results that have come in thus far, but depending on the content of the uncounted ballots, either candidate could still emerge victorious (if Booker pulls it off, it could very well be goodnight for Mitch McConnell). And finally, when faced with a Wall St.-funded challenger groomed by the corporate media, sitting Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez handily won re-election with over two-thirds of the vote in an impressive display of strength for the progressive movement.

What do these results say about the mood of Democratic voters? They say that Democrats are beginning to realize that systemic change simply isn’t going to occur with the Congress and Senate as they’re currently occupied. These victories were hard fought, and won on the basis of the bold ideas the candidates introduced. Is it really shocking that, amidst a pandemic that has ravaged our nation, Medicare for All would be a winning policy position? Or that populist policies on racial and economic justice would go over well during a national reckoning with our treatment of communities of color? Though all of these primary victories are exciting and meaningful to the progressive cause, perhaps none is more meaningful for the movement than the defeat of incumbent Democrat Eliot Engle, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Comitee, at the hands of Jamaal Bowman.

Jamaal Bowman represents a deep change for his district of NY-16, and on the night of his election said that he “can’t wait to get to congress and cause problems for those maintaining the status quo.” A leftist after my own heart. But in addition to having the right attitude and being a genuinely likable guy, Bowman has the policy chops to back up his rhetoric. Among the most important areas of disagreement that Bowman has with the Democratic establishment, and indeed the ousted Rep. Engle, is their cold, cowardly response to the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement — a peaceful protest movement that seeks to liberate the Palestinians from the apartheid state many of them live in in Gaza and the occupied areas of their country, inspired by many of the successful methods used to fight apartheid in South Africa. “This is not about singling out Israel and targeting Israel. This is about any country that we provide aid to that’s committing human rights violations — we need to have a conversation about conditioning some aid if those violations continue,” said Bowman in an interview with Jacobin, a statement perfectly in line with the sentiments of most BDS-proponents.

Bowman’s disagreements with the Democratic leadership by no means starts nor ends with Palestine. Rep. Eliot Engle, who has been in Congress for over 30 years, was by far one of the most deplorable Democrats in leadership in regards to foreign policy in general. He voted for the Iraq war, and was also one of only 25 House Democrats to vote against Obama’s Iran deal. And of course he was a trusted favorite of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby that has helped quash the BDS movement, so much so that they apparently started panicking when it became obvious that Bowman was closing in for the kill.

The system may be impossible to change totally from within. And that might be why, in the case of these primary elections, we actually got some encouraging results. Because these primaries were so close in proximity to some of the most intense demonstrations of civil unrest in decades, some of that activist energy surely translated into the results at the ballot box. Mondaire Jones won his primary with 44% of the vote, despite there being 6 other candidates running, some of which had millions more dollars in funding. Like Charles Booker and Jamaal Bowman, Jones is a pro-Medicare for All Democrat who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders, and represents the same style of anti-establishment, anti-corporate politics. Citizens of New York’s 17th will no doubt feel more represented with Jones in Washington, who also happens to be the first openly-gay black man to win a congressional seat in New York.

And the primary season forges on. The Democratic primary for Senate in Colorado looked like a sure bet for former Presidential Candidate John Hickenlooper a few months ago when he announced his candidacy, but now Andrew Romanoff appears to be encroaching on Hickenlooper in the polls. Romanoff is endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, and has made addressing climate change a central part of his campaign. Jess Scarance, who is likewise running on Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, is making a run for the Senate in Delaware, primarying sitting Democratic Senator Chris Coons who has occupied the seat since Joe Biden vacated in 2009 to become Vice President.

Also not to be overlooked is the campaign of Cori Bush, who is challenging incumbent Dem. William Lacy Clay in Missouri’s 1st congressional district. What better time than now to elect Bush — a nurse, pastor and Black Lives Matter activist who was active in the Ferguson protests? Similarly to Eliot Engels’ ousting in New York’s 16th, if Lacy Clay gets voted out in Missouri’s August 4th primary, it will be a massive victory for both the community/district in question as well as the progressive cause. And, perhaps going for the biggest prize of all is Shahid Buttar, a socialist primarying current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco. A Buttar victory would make the progressive/socialist takeover of the party official, and would represent a grave threat to sitting Democratic legislators from their insurgent left flank, a threat that they could not afford to keep ignoring.

Though Bernie Sanders may have failed to win the Presidential primary, his campaigns’ spirit and ideas are still resonating through the body politic, as evidenced by June 23’s primary results. Though the progressive leftist/socialist movement has been severally battered and demoralized this year, new voices like Jaamal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, Charles Booker & Cori Bush continue leading the way, showing the path to victory and to affecting real change. It may not be the path of least resistance, but at least it is a path of resistance, unlike that of the corporate Democrats, whose faux resistance to the issues plaguing our nation is all rhetorical, with very little of substance actually ever getting accomplished. Perhaps it’s this exact reality which people are finally waking up to, and perhaps that’s why Tuesday, June 23 was such a great night for the left.

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