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Progressive Institutions That Don’t Sell Out

-by Eva Putzova

Arizona is the home state for Catch Fire Movement-- a grassroots-supported organization I co-founded after my 2020 congressional race. Since January 2021, we have been meeting on an almost weekly basis with other Arizona progressives to organize activities that we hoped would compel Senators Sinema and Kelly to vote to end the Senate filibuster-- a single most critical obstacle to major progressive reforms.

Flagstaff, AZ City Hall with a projected sign in April 2021

We met with both Senators’ offices and organized rallies and other online and offline actions around the state. While Kelly expressed support for changing the filibuster rules, making it the “talking filibuster,” neither one wants to do away with this archaic Jim-Crow era rule.

When you work on something intensely for a long time, the lack of victories may be demotivating, but when you realize that your work goes beyond moving the unmovable Senator and that you indeed are building a movement that will have far-reaching impact beyond the career of one Senator, things seem more hopeful.

Last month, I coordinated a letter of over 70 women active in Arizona’s politics demanding that Emily’s List, one of the largest PACs in the Democratic Party, end their support of Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

Emily’s List relies on large contributions from corporations and wealthy establishment figures to fund their work. They built their brand as a pro-choice cheerleader for women in politics, attracting many grassroots donors as well without disclosing that when progressive women challenge their status quo, they promptly get the door slammed in their face. They are gatekeepers rather than champions of progress. But even an organization like Emily’s List cares about its image. Even if the image is fake.

A few days after we published our letter, Emily’s List announced they wouldn’t endorse Sinema unless she supports Democratic efforts to change the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation through the Senate.

Emily’s List was Sinema’s largest donor in her first senatorial campaign. But it was not just the fact that the organization had stuck with the Senator through her year-long “fuck-off-workers” campaign (remember the ring?) that was troubling. The real issue is that Emily’s List supported Sinema’s defense of the filibuster rule, publishing her pro-filibuster op-ed on their own website. How can an organization claiming to “reject apathy and status quo” and that “change matters” support the very rule that prevents change to be legislated?

While Emily’s List’s signal to withhold support for Sinema hit the mainstream media news cycle, you’d have to dig deep to learn what compelled the organization to do so. Only Blue Tent as far as I know published the background story you can read here.

If we are going to change the political landscape, we must build strong progressive institutions and independent media that-- like good candidates-- are not bought by corporate interests or morphed into party puppets.

That’s exactly what we’re doing here at Catch Fire and why we rely on grassroots support. We are building progressive leadership from the bottom up, participating in progressive policy advocacy, and endorsing people’s champions for congressional offices. I hope you will consider a monthly membership at whatever level fits your budget.

As for Senator Sinema’s goals, I believe every step she takes is calculated and we can only speculate what game she is playing. She has certainly burned a bridge to run for re-election to the Senate. With likely primary and independent challengers in play, her path to win in the general election is closed. Her burning of the party bridge might have been necessary to build another one. While some think she just wants to cash out and join the lobby empire, I think she is much more ambitious and hungrier for media attention than that. During her last widely publicized appearance on the Senate floor reiterating her support for the filibuster on January 13, she wore a cross. For an atheist that is an unusual choice but for somebody with presidential (vice-presidential?) aspirations in the United States that is strategic. Far-fetched? Not necessarily.

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