Justice Democrats

Amy Dwyer discusses the contemporary US and UK political climate.

The movement to push for representatives who make a consistent and real effort to champion working class people in the United States and what we can learn from it in the UK.

This isn’t a movement about the right or the left, but rather about prioritising ordinary people above business interests. It is about challenging elected representatives who hold their seat for long periods without making any real positive changes for their constituents. While it may seem like enough for some that they are of the same party and so prevent an opposing party gaining a seat, it needs to be about much more than this.

To be clear, long-serving representatives often do amazing work and this should not be brushed aside. Rather, what it is about is that it is important we are assessing whether elected representatives are the best for the job. If there are others who want to stand who may do a better job, offer fresh ideas and improve the variety of voices in the corridors of power then this needs to be considered. It needs to be clear that a long-term or prominent position within the party do not make candidates immune from having to continue earning the trust, respect and votes of their constituents.

Some have made the argument that this can damage party unity, but the party is hardly united if those who want to challenge incumbents are not allowed to do so. Eliot Engel recently argued that challenging incumbents was ‘very dangerous’ following from his defeat to a progressive candidate.[1] However, Engel himself won his seat by challenging a Democrat incumbent. Clearly, the criticisms of such a movement are mainly used by those who have lost their seats as a result and so are naturally more critical.

Justice Democrats have been enjoying significant gains through the elections of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and more recently Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush. These seats were already held by Democrats, but this is not the point. These progressive candidates ran on a platform of representing ordinary Americans, climate change mitigation and addressing existing inequalities. They challenged incumbents on these progressive platforms and won their primaries, and in many cases their seats.

In the case of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the incumbent was Joe Crowley who enjoyed fourteen years unchallenged by any Democratic candidate. This would be problematic even if he was a good representative and championed his constituents’ concerns. However, he consistently prioritised big business above his constituents. When interviewed in December he conceded that he did not make politics local enough but also made it clear that he did not see a bigger issue at play with Ocasio-Cortez’ win.[2] This is arguably part of the problem. These members of Congress, and perhaps of Parliament too that believe that once they have won a seat that they do not need to be challenged, simply because they have been able to prevent an opposing party from gaining a seat need to realise that this is not enough. Crowley’s arrogance was shown by his failure to attend a primary debate with AOC, during which he lost significant support as constituents recognised that he felt safe enough to not show up. No incumbent member of Congress should be so confident in their constituent’s support.

AOC ran an entirely grassroot-funded campaign and rejected corporate money, sending a strong message that she is not prepared to owe corporations any favours. Similarly, it suggests and has been proven that she strongly prioritises her constituents and their concerns. Throughout her campaign, she highlighted the difference between lip service and real substantive change.[3] The inherent inequalities that exist in and permeate every level of American society needs real and substantive change and it will take more progressive grassroots candidates with the support of Justice Democrats to achieve this, but this is a step in the right direction.

Labour should take note of this movement and perhaps learn from it. We need to evolve and grow as a party, to be more inclusive and support minority and excluded voices and ensure they are heard but also to change how we operate as a party. The 2019 election perhaps demonstrates the need for substantive change and encouraging new progressive candidates to emerge. We need candidates with a fresh outlook who want to advocate for every and any group that feels they are without a voice. We need to prioritise working class everyday people above big business. Justice Democrats have enjoyed substantial successes and Congress is more representative as a result, perhaps we should be taking notes.

Amy Dwyer is studying for an MA in Politics and conducting research on community wealth building for Preston City Council. She is also the Women’s officer for the North West Young Fabians.

She tweets @AmyDwyer23


[1] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/20/politics/eliot-engel-reaction-democratic-primary-fight/index.html

[2] https://www.leadingauthorities.com/uk/speakers/video/rep-joe-crowley-reflects-stunning-loss-alexandria-ocasio-cortez

[3] https://theintercept.com/2018/06/16/two-very-different-democrats-joe-crowley-and-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-squared-off-in-debate-friday-night/

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