American Momentum – behind the rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

5 Jul 2018


On the 8th of November 2016, Hillary Clinton busted not her first, but her second shot at becoming America’s first ever female president - squarely beaten by the single most unpopular presidential candidate in US history. She had the entire Democratic fundraising machine behind her, and still fell flat on her face.


There were no words to overstate simply how bad this loss was, and it wasn’t an outlier in any respect. The Democrats have been consistently having their asses kicked for a full decade by this point. It was simply the largest and latest in a long string of losses.


When Obama was elected in 2008, the party held 59% of state legislatures. Today, that proportion has plummeted to 31%. Back then, they sat in twenty-nine state governors’ offices. As of this moment, that figure stands at a dismal sixteen. If you add it all up, Republicans hold a grand total of one thousand more seats, across the country, than they did ten years ago. Even establishment members of congress admit they’re “literally in their worst position, as a party, since the 1920s”.


The point is that the Democrats are losers. Decades of New Labour-style triangulation, moderatism, and pandering to corporate interests have sucked every last bit of life out the party. They don’t stand for anything anymore - and naturally, voters are disillusioned because of it. As of last week, Nancy Pelosi officially has a favourability rating of just 29%. That a whopping thirteen points worse than Donald Trump.


Cenk Uygur saw this catastrophic decline, on the night of November 8th, and decided to do something about it. The founder of The Young Turks (arguably the single largest online video network in the entire world, raking in more views than CNN, MSNBC, FOX, or VICE), he had considerable resources at his disposal. Having spent well over a decade pushing against the establishment, providing coverage to progressive figures and stories the mainstream media simply refused to cover, he knew what it took to take on the big dogs.


Uygur teamed up with a number of fellow progressive figures - both from other media outlets and the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign - and with them co-founded the Justice Democrats. This was an organisation basically intended to be to the US Democrats, what Momentum is to UK Labour: a left-wing, populist uprising. A people’s coup, designed to kick out the corporatists at the top of the party who had led it into such a disaster. They would field their own candidates, usurp the establishment, and usher in a new era of American politics.


Central to their policy platform was the adamant belief that leftist, genuine candidates stood a far better chance success against Republicans, than mustard centrists ever would. Trump’s election was a blinding signal that people wanted change - and progressives were the best placed to take advantage of that. Be it universal healthcare, tuition-free college, or a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics - these were policies that, far from being the fringe fantasies cable TV makes them out to be, all in fact had the support of at least 60% of Americans. The Democrats could run on these ideas, transform the US into a twenty first-century, compassionate democracy, and win.


And so they started recruiting candidates, drawing in talent of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. As of the time of writing this article, they boast over seventy candidates either already having stood, or set to stand in Senate, House, and Gubernatorial races across the country. You can view their full and detailed list on their website, it really is pretty impressive. They don’t accept any corporate funding, with an average donation of just $18.


Bit by bit, too, they have recruited individuals already sitting inside of congress. House members Ro Khanna, Raúl Grijalva, and Pramila Jayapal have all signed onto the organisation’s radical platform; giving an upstart organisation not even two years old - prior dismissed as hopelessly irrelevant and doomed to fail - a solid, and present caucus within the US Congress. This is all even more impressive when you consider that those representatives have taken the step of actively supporting an effective mutiny against the status quo, actively pushing for the deselection of their colleagues in the House. That takes dedication.


The organisation did suffer a brief wobble back in December, when the two founding members Uygur and Kulinski were forced to resign in a typical scandal surrounding controversial old blog posts, however it has dusted itself off and persevered stronger than ever.


Your feed probably got pummelled last week with an absolutely insane amount of stories regarding Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez - a working class, democratic socialist - who came out of nowhere to beat ten-term congressman, (and fourth-ranking Democrat in congress) Joe Crowley in his own primary. This is a woman who overcame a 10-1 funding disadvantage, usurping a heavily tipped successor to Nancy Pelosi.


The media, to their credit, have been giving her the kind of extensive media coverage she deserves. What they haven’t been mentioning, very deliberately, was that she is a Justice Democrat. The very first interview she gave after her victory was to The Young Turks - the very same news organisation run by Uygur. It was their strength, their volunteers, and their mobilisation that tipped her over the line, and got her elected. She isn’t the only success story for them either - on that very same day Ben Jealous won a gubernatorial primary in Maryland; a key swing state. They already had ten House candidates into the general election, and have plenty more to go.


Obviously, there are plenty of other progressive organisations all across America playing their part in getting these candidates elected - Our Revolution, WolfPac, and Black Lives Matter being just a few. However, the Justice Democrats are important, because they’re effectively a perfect bellwether for anticipating the future of US politics. For the first time in living memory, there’s a genuine chance here of a progressive, compassionate government in the country. They still have a long way to go yet, but they’ve trumped all expectations so far and are a key player to watch moving forward.

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