Happy New Year! Let’s start the year off right with a proper celebration of the music of a true Pittsburgh icon in Anne Feeney. Anne’s daughter helped to orchestrate this benefit record of Anne Feeney covers named for her song “War on the Workers”. Anne has been successfully fighting off cancer for a few years now. Here is your chance to show your support!
OK, maybe I lied. Maybe I will write about electoral politics. My heart is forever stuck with the cool creeks, the ferns, orchids, and rhododendron, the northern goshawk, coyote, and black bears, and the towering Eastern Hemlock, American Beech, and White Pine that make up the Allegheny National Forest. So i’ve spent my fair share of time in rural Pennsylvania, in the states 5th Congressional District. The 5th is the largest rural Congressional District east of the Mississippi River and outside of Maine. It is also the land where Democrats are virtually non-existant (ok hyperbole).
Or at least have been historically. In my 10+ years there, I had only one opportunity to vote for a Democrat for State House, State Senate, or US House. So some of us got together and ran Green Party candidates. It made the most sense at the time since those of us involved were also largely disillusioned with the Democratic Party nationally. And the Republican Party was just the antithesis to the issues we cared about.
That background is important. Lots of Democrats live in areas where Democrats frequently run competitive campaigns for local and state office. But that is not the case for everyone. In fact, the number of races for Congress that have been unopposed has been increasing year in year out. In 2012, there were 45 US House races that were essentially single party. In 2014, that number rose to 77. I’m not sure what the number is for 2016, but rest assured, it’s probably pretty high. Though it should help that some Berniecrats have stepped up to run for office. The 5th District mentioned above? Yes, there is a candidate. She also ran in 2014, so stepped up before Bernie’s campaign. But these types of campaigns are a sign of things to come!
And so, what does this all mean? What do we do about this? Well, partially, a lot of this is due to gerrymandering. Which is horse shit in and of itself and something people are attempting to address in various ways. But we can highlight that at a later date. Because another way to fix this – is to run candidates. And that’s exactly what some former Sanders’ staffers propose to do with Brand New Congress.
I’ll let them sum up their plans:
America needs an honest, accountable Congress to enact Bernie’s program. But trying to win each Congressional seat one-by-one is impossible. So let’s run one campaign to replace Congress all at once (except those already on board) that whips up the same enthusiasm, volunteerism and money as Bernie’s presidential campaign.
Now let’s be clear, while this effort is inspired by Bernie Sanders’ run for President, you don’t need to support Bernie to get behind this. I know lots of people who more closely support Bernie’s policies but are supporting Hillary for one reason or other. There is no need to re-litigate those differences here. I think we can all get behind improving Congress.
Running this as a national combined campaign is key to overcoming the differences in resources and recognition. They plan to challenge Democrats and Republicans in primaries wherever and whenever necessary. Given the extent to which our representatives have increasingly been unresponsive to constituents, I whole heartedly embrace this. I can see where this might make some folks nervous. If so, that’s fine. All I can tell you is that, not doing something out of fear of failure is the same as giving up.
So let’s give this a shot. Check out the Brand New Congress website. Follow Brand New Congress on twitter. There is a lot of work to do here. If their plans don’t work out as expected. That’s ok too. Our successes often come out of our perceived failures. We have a unique opportunity right now with the momentum gained from Sanders’ campaign. Now is the time to capitalize on it.
When it comes to politics, most of my political posts around these parts will be less about electoral politics and more about working for social change. I’m a progressive, a social democrat (not a Democratic Party Democrat though i’m registered as one for voting purposes), and most of all a tree hugger. So when time permits I will share my thoughts on the plight of Eastern Hemlock-Northern Hardwood forests.
But, for today, the message is simple. I believe in principles. And it’s principles that guide my decisions on activism. It should not be particularly surprisingly to know that i’m disappointed in the primaries that were held yesterday, on April 26. I wanted Bernie Sanders to win. I wanted Fetterman or Sestak to win. I wanted more and better progressives working to help make America a better place for all Americans and the immigrants and refugees that need a respite. Just so it’s clear, i’m not a nationalist, and yet I am. We are part of a global community anymore, but I also believe in my country. So let that be as it must be.
Let me at least share this. If you are a Bernie Sanders supporter, by all means, continue the struggle to see how much influence we can win. And look forward to the many Berniecrats running in local and state elections all across the country. And check out The People’s Summit planned for Chicago in June. The struggle for change is a novel of epic proportions and the newest chapter is just beginning.