Primaries are a way to replace passive liberals with progressive boat-rockers, writes Norman Solomon.
Earlier this month, both Politico and The New York Times reported that freshman Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was ruffling the feathers of fellow congressional Democrats. Chief among the reasons for the tension? Ocasio-Cortez’s apparent support for progressive primary challenges against centrist Democrats.
It’s one of the most significant ideas the young New York congresswoman has brought with her to Washington.
That’s because turning the Democratic Party into a truly progressive force will require turning “primary” into a verb. The corporate Democrats who dominate the party’s power structure in Congress should fear losing their seats because they’re out of step with constituents. And Democratic voters should understand that if they want to change the party, the only path to do so is to change the people who represent them. Otherwise, the leverage of Wall Street and the military-industrial complex will continue to hold sway.
These days, with fingers to the wind, incumbents often give lip service to proposals that have wide public support nationwide, such as Medicare for All (70 percent) and higher taxes on the wealthy (76 percent). But big gaps remain between what most congressional Democrats are willing to fight for and what their constituents actually want.
Credible primary challenges or even just the threat of them can work wonders. Instead of merely asking a member of Congress to do the right thing, activists can convey a much more persuasive message: Do the right thing or we’ll replace you with someone who will.
Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats (a group that played a major role in Ocasio-Cortez’s election victory), emphasizes that “safe” Democratic districts shouldn’t stay safe for just any Democrat. The goal is to “hold representatives who throw diverse working-class voters under the bus accountable.”