If there are any doubts that progressives are ascendant in US politics, the 2020 Democratic presidential primary should put them to rest. Two giants of our movement — Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — are leading candidates in the field. Each of them is organizing their own coalition of voters around bold plans for transformational change. And, judging by the latest polls, their platforms are resonating. Together, their voting blocs easily beat corporate standard-bearer Joe Biden.
That’s not just a testament to two remarkable candidates and messengers. It’s the result of years of organizing and public education by progressive groups like ours. We have been in the trenches and on the doorsteps working to build public support for Medicare for All, Wall Street reform, universal childcare, investment in public schools, a humane immigration system, ending mass incarceration, and a Green New Deal.
Progressives are winning the public debate with a little less than a month to go before the first primary votes are cast. But the path to victory is steep, and there are significant pitfalls.
The first danger is that the corporate wing of the Democratic Party drowns us in big money, misrepresenting our plans and scaremongering voters. You can see it happening in Pete Buttigieg’s shameful ad campaigns against debt-free college and Medicare for All, and billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s titanic ad buys. Corporate interests will pull out all the stops to make sure a progressive candidate never gets near the White House.
The second major risk is that we could allow our greatest strength this year — two standout progressive candidates — to become our greatest weakness. In a primary, it’s only natural that people have their favorite candidates. The problem comes if we, in our eagerness to see our favorite win the race, poison the well for the other progressive and make them unacceptable for another candidate's coalition.
We take both of these risks seriously. Our organizations are closely aligned, and we frequently work together on political campaigns and issue advocacy. But we each endorsed different candidates this year, after months-long processes with our respective members and local affiliates. The Working Families Party endorsed Warren. The Center for Popular Democracy Action endorsed Sanders.
Our groups decided to endorse because we couldn’t sit on the sidelines in the most important election of our lives. We had to do what we do best: organize and talk with people about their struggles and their aspirations, and invite them to engage actively in our democracy, and make it come alive with their energy and their votes. Doing that effectively meant choosing a candidate around which to rally.
While we support different candidates, the WFP and CPDA consider ourselves on the same team. Our mission is to build a more just society; in order to do so, we must stop a corporate Democrat from winning the nomination and ensure a progressive champion beats Donald Trump.
Corporate Democrats are unwilling to act with the urgency and boldness necessary to meet the many crises we are facing in our country and the world, from climate change to mass incarceration to millions of people living without housing and health care. Progressives have ideas that inspire people and remind them that a new world is possible if we dare to imagine it and fight for it.
Warren and Sanders share many of the same ideas, but they are not the same. Their differences on platform, message, strategy, and theory of change led each of our organizations to make different endorsements. But we are not interested in poaching voters from one coalition or the other. WFP celebrates Sanders' supporters organizing, and CPD Action is proud that some of its leaders and affiliates may end up organizing for Warren.
We are trying to persuade and organize the large swaths of voters who haven’t made up their mind yet or who haven’t yet committed to voting in this primary. We are also trying to persuade those who have high hopes for change but are desperate to beat Trump that it’s the progressive wing that is best positioned to win. Making sure that Warren and Sanders have the biggest followings possible is the surest way to make sure that a progressive wins the nomination and, eventually, the presidency. That is our North Star.
That isn’t to say that there is no room for progressives to debate and distinguish. This is a primary, and drawing contrasts is fair game. But it is to say that when we do so it must be done in a way that recognizes our shared mission and allows for us all to be on the same team as the primary continues.
We are clear-eyed that our preferred candidate may not be the ultimate progressive standard-bearer as we approach the Democratic convention. Having both Warren and Sanders as strong as possible increases the likelihood that one of their campaigns will be left standing at the end of the process. We encourage everyone who organizes for these candidates to make the same calculation this election and set their eyes firmly on the ultimate prize.
This election cycle, we have a historic opportunity to not just defeat Trump but make this country fairer and freer than it has ever been. To build an America that allows us all to thrive, no matter what we look like, where we come from, whom we love, or how much money is in our pockets. But we can only get there if we embrace a radical solidarity that is bigger than any one candidate or campaign.
Maurice Mitchell is the national director of the Working Families Party.
Ana Maria Archila is the co–executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy Action.