Oped: The Left isn’t fighting among ourselves, we are coming into our ownThe thing that we should take note of is how exciting this election cycle really is. Come what may, we are seeing a Left that is coming into its own. When we see such a large vibrant leftist movement emerge, the contrast between us and liberals is revealed to be far starker than most realize – and that’s ok.
Published on October 5, 2021
By Alex Morash
The surge of candidates challenging incumbents that support Rhode Island’s legislative leadership is a watershed moment, yet it has been framed as nothing more than internal squabbles on the Left. Don’t buy it. The Left is stepping into the spotlight and as it does, the stark contrast between liberals and ourselves comes clearly into view.
In 2020, 22 insurgent progressive candidates challenged Rhode Island’s political status quo and won 15 Democratic primaries. Candidates were backed by an array of different groups from Black Lives Matter PAC RI, the Sunrise Movement, the RI Political Cooperative, and the Providence Democratic Socialists of America – the group where I serve as a co-chair.
So on September 22, when the RI Political Cooperative announced that they would run a slate of 50 candidates – from governor and lieutenant governor on down to legislative and local candidates – one might think the group would be treated as a formidable force. When the Rhode Island Democratic Party released a bizarrely vague statement that attacked the group’s gubernatorial candidate, Matt Brown, claiming he had a “record of lies,” “ethical lapses” and a “trail of broken promises” yet couldn’t bother to point to a single specific incident, you would think a plethora of questions would arise. It is almost unheard of for a Democratic state party to attack a candidate running in their own primary. It is the kind of action pundits might point to and say this must mean party leaders are running scared. Surely this is a story worth looking at seriously.
Not a chance. Reporting on the Democratic Party’s statement focused on the statement itself, with little mention of how unusual it was. By September 24, former cooperative member, Representative Brandon Potter, published a piece calling the group “toxic” and by September 27 The Boston Globe declared “A progressive civil war is brewing in Rhode Island.”
This wasn’t the end of it. On September 30, the Globe had started to focus on the personal Facebook posts of cooperative candidates – an odd thing to nitpick at a time when Facebook is facing harsh scrutiny for how it manipulates its users. The next day, Aaron Regunberg had jumped into the fray, telling readers in the Globe that he doesn’t like “the ‘progressive civil war’ narrative that is developing in the media,” only to go on parroting that very narrative in his piece. Democracy and journalism at their finest.
Many may wonder what is going on, yet this isn’t an example of the Left at war with ourselves. Yes, there should be questions about the Globe’s focus and framing. It is legitimate to ask is this The Boston Globe’s attempt to increase subscriptions on the East Side. At a time when Facebook’s been exposed for manipulating users to the point that The Wall Street Journal does an eight-part series on the matter titled “The Facebook Files,” and TechCrunch declares that the Food and Drug Administration should consider regulating Facebook’s algorithms as drugs that are “impacting our nation’s mental health,” we should be asking why the Globe is publishing Facebook posts of individuals without any context about the social media company’s practices. The Globe’s reporting isn’t interesting – and it’s not the story.
The thing that we should take note of is how exciting this election cycle really is. Come what may, we are seeing a Left that is coming into its own. When we see such a large vibrant leftist movement emerge, the contrast between us and liberals is revealed to be far starker than most realize – and that’s ok.
Many are not sure what the difference is or why it should matter. In its simplest form, the best way I’ve heard the differences explained is that liberals want everyone to have an equal chance to climb the social ladder, while the Left wants to tear that ladder down.
This difference is seen most glaringly in our different electoral strategies: Liberals want to push current leaders to make reforms; the Left wants to push leadership – and everyone associated with them – out of office. This difference isn’t about strategies, these differences are based on the core values of each group. It is foolish to lump us all together and it is insulting to either group to ask them to betray their values.
Liberals say this prevents us from working together. I say, if liberals value democracy, then they should welcome a healthy campaign at the ballot box. No one has the right to run unopposed and no one has a right to another person’s vote. Many of us want nothing to do with the current leadership in Rhode Island. Just as liberals have a right to vote for candidates that want to work with leadership to make reforms, we on the Left have just as much a right to vote for those that commit to oppose leadership.
This isn’t a minor issue. While ProvDSA isn’t involved in the selection of the group’s slate or the cooperative generally, it is fair to view votes by the group – which is nearly 500 active members’ strong – as a reflection of leftist thought in the Ocean State. Over 2/3rds of ProvDSA’s members voted last February to amend our bylaws to ban any support of candidates that support Rhode Island’s political leadership. That vote should give liberals pause. So too when another group launches a slate of 50 candidates to oppose leadership. Liberals should note that this isn’t a minor disagreement between a few activists – this is the Left breaking with business as usual.
This fundamental difference between the Left and liberals doesn’t mean we can never work together. If liberals are sincere in wanting to work with the Left, then they should fight for their candidates. But when the dust settles, their winners and ours should work together when possible. Of course, if liberals have no respect for the Left, we will surely see more claims of war within the Left and claims that our strategies – along with our values – should be abandoned.
Alex Morash is a co-chair of ProvDSA. In 2012, he was the founding president of the current iteration of the Young Democrats of Rhode Island. He has been the economic researcher for the media watchdog Media Matters for America and worked during the 2020 election cycle as the statewide press secretary for the Florida Democratic Party. For more information visit him on Twitter @AlexMorash.
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