This first appeared in the New York Daily News on July 18, 2019
The Democratic Party is at a crossroads, and which path we choose to follow will dictate whether the American people will have the faith to place their future in our hands or dismiss our party as a group of typical politicians too worried about electoral success to stand for the bold and transformational change the public demands.
Despite this, too many of our established officials do not recognize this rare moment in history and instead advocate a cautious approach of politics as usual that will lead to failure as surely as a prevent defense does in sports. One by one, they take turns deriding new voices that advance aggressive reforms on issues that have plagued our nation for decades. Issues like health care, climate change and economic inequality have only gotten worse while politicians pass blame among themselves in an effort to win votes. The people deserve better.
Here in New York, the state Legislature has set the example. The just concluded 2019 legislative session was by all accounts the most productive and progressive in our state’s history. Strong new protections for tenants, the environment, immigrants, women, victims of child sex abuse and our LGBTQ+ neighbors together with unprecedented reforms to the election process, criminal justice and gun safety laws made this session one for the history books.
We achieved this not by the tired political practices of triangulation and manipulation but by embracing the progressive energy that is sweeping our party and riding it to one victory after another.
This incredible energy first defeated the Independent Democratic Conference and then the Republican majority that was artificially empowered for the better part of a decade. Fifteen new Democratic senators better reflecting the diversity of our communities with a new outlook on how government should function transformed Albany from a laughing stock to a model for the nation.
Make no mistake, progressive activists and their energy are responsible for these results. They displayed not only the ability to insist on promises, but also the ability to deliver them.
One only need look at the last decade of failure in this regard to realize what variable changed the equation. Progress languished while comfortable arrangements kept the status quo in power and progress was achieved when that status quo was finally disrupted.
In New York, and across the nation, the next chapter remains to be written: We desperately need to level the playing field and eliminate the imbalance of power between powerful wealthy corporations and everyday people. Issues ranging from fair elections to a just legal system to the increasing threat of climate change are colored by this overarching structural unfairness. This struggle will be hard fought, but will be won through the continuing work of organizers fighting for progress.
Of course, any change this sudden begets a reaction, and new leaders like “The Squad” of impressive new members of Congress and our freshman state Senate class often bear the brunt when the establishment strikes back.
Across the nation and here in New York, Democrats who rose to power in a party stuck in a defensive crouch since the Reagan administration only know how to play at the margins instead of loudly proclaiming to the public that they stand for something more than a lite version of the opposition. They fear what Republican voters might think if we stray too far from conservative dogma when they should seize the opportunity to convince the public we are right because we actually believe in something worth advocating outside of some poll-tested analysis.
The public will reward conviction over calculation, electing people who will be the strongest and loudest voices for progress.
We owe much to the grassroots organizers who delivered success at the ballot box and we would be wise to elevate and amplify the voices of those who were newly elected as a result. That is the path to victory in 2020 and beyond.
Gianaris is deputy majority leader of the New York State Senate.