What's An Occupy Movement Candidate?
This week, Mother Jones found 10 candidates running for Congress as supporters of the Occupy or 99% Movement. Most of them are Blue America candidates-- Alan Grayson, Ilya Sheyman, Elizabeth Warren, Norman Solomon, Eric Griego, and Tammy Baldwin, who we are daily urging people to support on our ActBlue House page or our ActBlue Senate page. But there are a four on their list we haven't gotten to yet:
Hakeem Jeffries (New York): "Income inequality is worse now that it has been since prior to the Great Depression," the state assemblyman said during a passionate speech at an Occupy rally in Brooklyn this fall. In January, Jeffries announced that he'd run for Congress in New York's Tenth Congressional District against 15-term incumbent Ed Towns, who'd angered labor unions when he cast the deciding vote in 2005 for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Since then, Jeffries has picked up endorsements in the Brooklyn district from prominent unions such as the Communications Workers of America.
Prospects: Fair. Jeffries' success could hinge on stopping the Tenth District from being redrawn to exclude his state assembly district, where he's popular.
Lori Saldaña (California): "Lori Saldaña has leapt headlong into the Occupy movement," writes the San Diego Union-Tribune. While that may be a bit of an overstatement, the Democratic former assemblywoman certainly caters to the cause with her campaign slogan: "Fighting for America's middle class." In January, she joined a rally organized by Occupy the Courts in protest of Supreme Court rulings that give corporations the rights of people.
Prospects: Good. A recent poll ranks her as the frontrunner in the primary and just six points behind incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray. But an independent who may enter the fray could strip away some of her supporters.
Wenona Benally Baldenegro (Arizona): Two years after Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick lost her Arizona congressional seat to tea party Republican Paul Gosar, she's campaigning to retake it. But she could lose in the primary to Baldenegro, who blames her for alienating supporters with votes against the pro-union Employee Free Choice Act and for job-killing foreign trade bills. A Harvard Law grad who'd be the nation's first Native American congresswoman if elected, Baldenegro has renounced campaign donations from corporate lobbyists and supports taxing the rich and public financing for elections. In late October, she joined six other progressive House candidates-- including Griego, Sheyman, and Saldaña-- to hand-deliver House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) 35,000 signatures from people who "stand with the 99 percent."
Prospects: Fair. Though Kirkpatrick sports name recognition and support from the Democratic establishment, Baldenegro has the endorsement of progressive Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz). More important, the district's boundaries were redrawn last year to include Navajo strongholds that will back her.
Hansen Clarke (Michigan): Sponsoring legislation to forgive student debt has made the Detroit Congressman a hero to thousands of college kids involved with Occupy. During the movement's March 1 "Occupy Education" protests in Washington, DC, activists relayed a statement from Clarke using the famous people's mic: "Young people in America should be able to pursue higher education to achieve their dreams without worrying that this decision will devastate their financial futures."
Prospects: Good. Though he's running against another incumbent Congressman in a consolidated district, Clarke has an early cash advantage and growing list of union endorsements.
We started covering Wenona back in May and she and Hakeem Jeffries are on the Blue America page we use to send a message to the corrupt Democratic power structure in DC. Ever check that page out? Here's part of the description, which was written in the last cycle but still applies today:
Many of us have been disappointed in the Democratic Party (again) this year-- but electing conservatives in the form of Republicans or Blue Dog Democrats is NOT the answer. People with memories that go back beyond last November, though, probably remember just what 8 years of George W. Bush and a Republican Congress meant for our country. And, stretching out from there a bit, some progressives even remember what happened when we split our votes between Al Gore and Ralph Nader. There is a way to send a message to the Inside the Beltway Democratic Establishment. It's called primaries-- and it works better than blindly empowering crazed, angry, racist teabaggers. When Adam Nagourney, Cokie Roberts or Glenn Beck promote Democratic atomization, they're not pumping for progressive values, as Digby pointed out in the post that inspired this Blue America page. She asks how liberals can exert what power we have and have the results be interpreted the way we want them to be-- as a repudiation of corporatism and conservative governance, not as a repudiation of Democratic governance?
There is a fairly compelling theory in political science that says that after political parties come into power, fulfill some pieces of their agenda, get fat and bloated and are finally removed from office, they then tend to deny the reality of their loss and blame it on everything but themselves until they lose enough elections that they finally realize that their ideology has failed. The current GOP is not there yet by a long shot. They are still in the process of doubling down on their radical agenda at a time when the economy is still in ruins, the effects of globalization are being fully felt, the planet is in peril and about to reach a tipping point, and a radical fundamentalist movement is trying to blow people up. I don't think the world can take any more of the right's prescriptions for these problems right now: Lindsay Graham is considered too liberal and neo-Hooverism is their economic program. Yes, the Democrats are corrupt and inept. But the other side is batshit insane.
However, that doesn't mean that there's nothing we can do but wring our hands about how the system is broken and fret ourselves into inertia. The other way to send messages to the Democratic party is through the unsatisfying and often thankless process of primary challenges. Nobody can have any problem understanding that message, not even Adam Nagourney.
It's hard to find challengers and it's no wonder. It's expensive, time consuming and after all your hard work you will probably lose. It takes real commitment and a desire to not only win a seat in Congress but do it by way of unseating an incumbent of your own party with whom you disagree, an act which is guaranteed to make you an odd man out among the party hierarchy. But if you win, it can send shockwaves through the system.
And guess what? We are in another favorable year for primary challenges in recent memory. The insane teabaggers aren't going to allow any rational Republicans to run and the anti-incumbent fever is going to be as high as it's been since 1994. The Democratic base has an energetic activist faction, the netroots can raise money and there is a burning desire to show the party establishment that they cannot take liberals for granted. It's a perfect environment for successful primary challenges.
Back to the Mother Jones article for a moment. There's a postscript from the author, Josh Harkinson: "Many people have contacted me with the names of other Occupy-friendly candidates. If you have suggestions for other races to check out, leave them in the comments or send them to @JoshHarkinson on Twitter, where I've been RTing them." I doubt there's a more Occupy Movement candidate anywhere than George Martinez in Brooklyn, although I'm not certain if he's made his run official yet.
I didn't write to Josh, but I do want to remind readers of this blog about two Occupy candidates who Blue America endorsed for Congress who are very strongly backing the Occupy Movement. Ken Aden is running against corporate shill Steve Womack in northwest Arkansas. "I am a staunch and proud supporter of the Occupy Wall Street Movement," he told us last May. "In fact, I helped folks here in Arkansas start an Occupy chapter in the Northern part of our state. This is a true grassroots movement made up of young people, veterans, students, and folks from across the middle class just like me who are sick and tired of irresponsible corporations buying politicians of both parties while many in the government stand idly by and give corporate America the keys to the proverbial candy store. It's truly nauseating to know that so many politicians can be so easily bought, and not even loose an ounce of sleep over the fact that they are destroying everything which we hold dear. I firmly believe that more people need to become involved, and stand up for what is right! Corporate greed is the new pandemic in this country. The ratio of CEO pay to that of the average worker is a prime example of the kind of reckless behavior that corporations in this country are exercising on a daily basis. Just look at how many politicians Koch Industries has bought over the last ten years alone. As the next congressman from Arkansas I would support an amendment to destroy the destructive influence of Citizens United. The last time I checked, corporations are NOT and will never be real people."
And the very first candidate Blue America endorsed this cycle was an independent-minded Orlando-area activist, Nick Ruiz, who has been motivated and animated by the exact same values and objectives that animate and motivate the 99% Movement. I asked him for his perspective on the whole idea of 99% candidates. Worth reading:
"For electoral politics, what the Occupy movement reflects is that the average citizen's feeling of being 'outside' of Washington, DC's insider games, has reached the threshold of what will be tolerated by most people. Citizens know they have to fight to get it back again. Democracy, representation, mutual prosperity. It's what the American Revolution represented for so many Americans living in the 18th century.
"For many decades now, too many people have experienced that their interests were not being adequately represented by their Representatives. It has reached the point where they are ready to do something about it. History and more importantly, progress was made in the 1930s, when a whole lot of people, and personalities, like FDR-- made it happen. And progress happened again, in the 1960s, with a mass of supporters and people like MLK and others. It is set to happen again beginning in 2012.
"And once again, we have the same problems they did, with the same lackluster Democratic response from the top. The Democratic Party infrastructure is not ready for us. And the Republicans, of course, want to crush equality of opportunity and representation, in every form. And so we the people, are again-- consciously competing for representation. Competing with the status quo bureaucracy, and the candidates they favor, who are working to ensure that power remains in the unfair hands of those that would enrich them with titles and business favors.
"But this is our United States of America. It belongs to all us. Not just those that have most of the capital and the power that comes with that capital. And we demand a representative seat and a table where truly democratic policy and law-making take place for the benefit of all Americans."
Not your standard garden variety DCCC kind of candidate, huh? You can help Nick win his House race against whichever corporate shill the GOP puts up against him, by contributing here. Let me leave you with George Martinez' Occupy song and video-- and ask you if you think freshly minted Michigan "Democrat" Joe Schwarz will be singing it in the shower?