The Election Is Only Half the Battle: Challenges of Progressive Governance

Primary wins by New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum have generated much excitement among progressives and socialists as well as much conversation about the role that progressives and the broader left could play in electoral politics. No matter what happens Tuesday, these campaigns have demonstrated the power and potential of left-wing social movements and grassroots-driven politics in a country where the two-party system has historically marginalized them.

Yet, there seems to be less discussion about how the left can actually govern — not just win elections — in institutional conditions that are hostile to progressive governance. Would elections of Ocasio-Cortez and Gillum inspire more leftists to run for office, and make it more possible to implement progressive changes? What would it take for the left to turn electoral wins into policy? Electoral success for the left also raises other strategic questions, not just for progressive elected officials, but for social movements. What kind of accountability structures need to be created in order to ensure progressives’ commitment to enacting policy and not succumbing to the reactionary impulses embedded in established political institutions? How will their elections affect radical social movements as organizers continue to mount critiques and push for transformative change?

The left has been successful in influencing mainstream conversations about particular issues, such as economic inequality, policing and mass incarceration, and health care. With more progressives running serious campaigns for office, now is the opportunity to strategize about more concrete ways to shape policy outcomes. When leftist candidates win, it will be important for leftist politicians, progressive political groups and social movements to continue to build and utilize power inside and outside of established political institutions. It is also necessary for outside groups to…

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