Pennsylvania Democrat Mike Doyle was first elected to Congress in 1994 and he’s retiring after the current session. His Pittsburgh district had an unassailable D+26 partisan lean and after the most recent redistricting, it is still strongly blue, with a D+15 lean. The Democratic candidate, state Rep. Summer Lee, is one of the best Democratic congressional candidates anywhere in the country— and one of the only ones to beat the concerted onslaught of Big Money from AIPAC and DMFI in the primary (over $3 million).
Yesterday, Ted Lieu called me from Pittsburgh, where he was campaigning for Summer and another progressive Democrat in the district next door, Chris Deluzio, to tell me that the GOP had just started dumping large sums of money into Summer’s race, smearing her and pushing their own weak candidate— a weak Trumpist candidate hiding his Republican affiliation who happens to be named… Mike Doyle.
The whole Doyle campaign is premised on trying to trick voters into thinking the Republican Doyle is the long-time Democratic congressman. Confusion is the name of their game. The real Congressman Doyle called a news conference last week and told reporters that “My name is on the ballot, but it's not me. There is a gentleman with the same name as me who is running in the new 12th District, which is part of the old 18th District. That's about the only thing we share in common is the same name. This is not meant to be a political announcement… I'm not telling people who to vote for, I merely think it's the responsible thing to do, as a public service, to make sure they know who's on the ballot and who isn’t. I just don't think it would be right if people were marking their ballots based on the fact that they thought they were voting for me when I'm not on the ballot.”
But the problem is the outside money flooding into the district now purposefully trying to sow confusion. Ted Lieu asked me to alert Blue America supporters and ask for people to chip into Summer’s efforts to combat the sudden influx of money from Kevin McCarthy. “Summer Lee,” he told me, “is the real deal-- she will fight for lower healthcare costs-- whereas her opponent is trying to trick voters to think he's someone that he is not.”
Last night, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Back in June, the Cook Political Report changed the race in the heavily Democratic district where the party would typically have little trouble winning a House race to likely Democrat from solid Democrat. The report cited Ms. Lee’s progressive views, redistricting that created the new 12th district, which now incorporates more conservative voters, and ‘name confusion among longtime (Democratic) Doyle voters.’”
When I first met Summer last year, she told me that her “progressivism wasn’t about a brand, or theory, or the smartest policy paper. It was about the relentless cyclical inequality I saw everywhere in the home region that raised me and informed my politics. It was about what I knew it would take to make real changes in my own life and the lives of people and communities I love. Growing up in North Braddock and Swissvale, a Black woman in a poor and working class community, I saw firsthand the impacts of environmental racism, underfunded public schools, low wages, and inadequate healthcare and housing… But I’ve also always known in my bones that it doesn’t have to be this way-- and our movement here has been proving it for many cycles now.”
Since running for— and winning— a seat in the legislature, she told me she learned that “If we are going to win the massive systemic change we need in our society, being progressive can’t be just about your policies, but how you do your politics.”
True systemic change will never come from a few or even many elected officials-- progressive or not-- alone. The type of change that liberates and advances society can only come from mass movements of the people-- a poor and working class, multi-racial and multi-generational coalition ready to win power together. So it has been true all throughout history from abolition to women’s suffrage, to workers’ right to civil and voting rights, only when the people, organized and wielding their power to demand progress has congress ever moved to enact any change we need.
Of course, this doesn’t mean there’s no role for progressive elected officials - I’m running to be one! What I mean is: now is a time to build movements, not monuments. We need to invest in truly progressive leadership at every level now more than ever, from community leaders to voters, to candidates, to campaigners and movement organizations.
Of course, this is about policy-- as a baseline, we should expect all our candidates to champion what we know are popular, working class centered policies that have been elevated by the progressive electoral movement-- Green New Deal, Medicare for All, racial justice, a living wage, unions and workers’ rights.
But policy is only the beginning, and not enough on it’s own. The greatest barrier to achieving liberation and progressive change is the politics of old, that is exclusive and thrives in the dark, where a tiny handful of “experts” are able to disempower and disenfranchise leaders who deserve accountability, co-governing, and decision-making input over the laws that impact our lives.
Every campaign for elected office is an opportunity to shun me-centered campaigns, and embrace and advance we-centered movements that use their capacity to build power for all poor and working class and marginalized people.
We don’t need folks in office who will govern like they’re the smartest person in the room. Surely, we have enough of those types of folks already. What we need are folks who are smart enough to understand that we need to build, empower, and co-govern with our most impacted and vulnerable constituents and communities. Folks who understand the need to seek, center, and respect the perspectives and expertise of our constituents who are least likely to be invited into fancy rooms and curated tables of power as much if not far more than we do the colleagues, lobbyists and corporations led by folks with purchased titles and letters. We need folks in office who are from among them, and share the urgency of communities that can’t wait for investments in the solutions and infrastructure that our government not only can provide, but owes its marginalized and working class people.
Please consider clicking on the thermometer above and contributing what you can to Summer Lee’s campaign. Thanks.