The United States midterm elections are set to take place on Nov. 6. This year, several progressive candidates have made it to the ballot changing the electoral scenario. Most people will head to the polls Tuesday, however, 37 states have already begun their early voting processes.
The past two years since the election of president Donald Trump have triggered political soul-searching over what the country stands for and its national values. The dehumanizing rhetoric by the U.S. far-right has pushed new candidates to emerge, leading and inspiring people to address intransigent problems, such as income inequality, which has more than doubled in the past 30 years; war that has become an interminable state costing trillions of dollars; the consolidation of corporate power through laws that treat them as people despite their privilege; and the rising criminalization of immigrants.
teleSUR has compiled a list of candidates that are invigorating the country's Left through their focus on economic justice and social equality.
U.S. House of Representatives - New York - 14th District
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and a 29-year-old native of the Bronx, has shown it is possible to win by holding true to values that speak to disenfranchised and disillusioned classes without even having a million bucks. She won her nomination for the Democratic Party with US$197,000 vs. her 10-year-incumbent opponent’s US$3.4 million.
Her platform is derived from her working-class upbringing and it includes tuition-free public universities, a single-payer health care system (Medicare-for-All), and the abolition of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She also advocates unapologetically on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community, Black Lives Matter, and a free, independent Palestine.
The environment looms large on her agenda, recognizing the dire consequences of climate change for the whole world. In a recent speech, Ocasio-Cortez a total shift to renewable energy and she has also characterized climate change as a national struggle that should unite the country on a scale comparable to times of war to push toward the creation of green jobs, research, and technological advancement.
Speaking at an event at her alma mater Boston University in October, she urged students “to become activists for social justice despite the odds,” adding “I could not bear to be hopeless anymore, so I chose to do something.” Ocasio-Cortez’ nomination speaks to a generation of politically cynical people who hopelessly regarded politics-as-usual as a natural, and immutable law. The spark she created by speaking her truth has illuminated the empty spaces of politics that a new generation can start to fill.
She is widely expected to win against Republican nominee Anthony Pappas in the general election on Nov. 6, 2018, and if she does, she will add her voice to those pushing for economic and social justice in the U.S. House of Representatives.
NY State Senate - New York - 18th District
Julia Salazar is a leading member of the DSA and is running in an uncontested election for the New York State Senate. To win the nomination she campaigned on affordable housing — her district in North Brooklyn is currently experiencing a housing crisis with working-class people struggling to live dignified lives in the face of sky-high rents; against the criminalization of immigrants and, pushing for basic rights like driver’s licenses, state and local voting rights, and access to healthcare regardless of legal status; and for a NY healthcare bill that grants access to health services to all regardless of income.
“The United States is the wealthiest country in the world, yet we’re also the only country where millions of people lack access to quality healthcare because they can’t afford to pay. I believe that healthcare is a human right and that every person deserves access to the care they need at every stage of life,” Salazar has said.
State elections are as important as national elections for a number of reasons. As asserted by Justice Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1932, “states are the laboratories of democracy.” What happens in one state can provide both a workable example and an inspiration for other states, moving the wheel of progressive policies towards social and economic justice.
U.S. House of Representatives - Michigan - 8th District
Rashida Tlaib is running unopposed, except for a write-in Republican candidate (who will not appear in the ballot), for U.S. House of Representatives, and is expected to be the first Muslim Palestinian-American woman elected to higher office. She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, who began her political career as representative in the Michigan State House where she advocated for her constituents in Detroit suffering from an economic crisis of epic proportions, with whole neighborhoods gutted figuratively with profound population loss, and literally with abandoned houses stripped for scrap.
She’s pushed for environmental justice by working towards reducing lead exposure in low-income neighborhoods and preventing schools from being built on toxic sites. Her national priorities include advocating for a US$15 minimum wage nationally, which would pull a large number of low-income workers out of poverty. She also backs a Medicare-for-all plan that would immediately give access to health care.
Florida State Governor
Andrew Gillum is the current mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, the state capital. He is running as a Democrat for Governor of Florida against Republican Ron DeSantis. If elected, he would become Florida's first Black governor.
He hopes to reverse regressive criminal justice laws from the 90s. Specifically, he proposes full marijuana legalization, with tax revenues going to improve Florida’s public schools. Florida has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country and Gillum’s proposed reforms focus on rehabilitation and reintegration.
The race is being closely watched partly because Florida, a swing state with outsized influence over presidential elections, has profoundly changed in demographic terms since the last major election in 2016. Latino voter registration rates are up in Florida as compared to the last election.
There is a chance that the large influx of Puerto Ricans into Florida, due to economic woes in the island and the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, could change the dynamic of Florida voting patterns. Puerto Ricans can register to vote immediately upon taking residence in mainland U.S. Traditionally, Latino/Hispanic voters in Florida have been majority Republican, but that has been changing since 2006.
U.S. House of Representatives - Minnesota - 5th District
Ilhan Omar is the first Somali-American legislator in the U.S. She served in the Minnesota House of Representatives and is now running for the U.S. House of Representatives under the banner of the Democratic Party. Omar will be facing Republican Jennifer Zielinski
She identifies as a Democratic Socialist and her platform includes guaranteed access to public education via grants and forgiving the US$1.7 trillion in student debt, access to child care through expanded Head Start benefits, Medicare-for-all, and support to workers and working-class families through a US$15 minimum wage, strengthening collective bargaining rights, and a progressive tax system.
U.S. House of Representatives - Massachusetts - 7th District
Ayanna Pressley is a member of the Boston City Council but will begin her newest stint in the U.S. House of Representative in January 2019. She managed to beat 10-time incumbent Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary and faces no contenders in the general election.
Pressley is considered progressive, just as Capuano before her, but is more representative of the demographics of 7th District, a mostly minority district which she describes as “one of the most diverse districts in our Commonwealth, but it is also one of the most unequal.”
Her hope is to create solutions on the national scale that would close that gap through Medicare-for-all, or increased support for substance abuse, maternal care, or simply pushing healthy food options.
Maryland State Governor
Ben Jealous, a former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is a progressive candidate running for Governor of Maryland against Republican Larry Hogan. He is well-known for his activism and as a prominent voice in support of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.
His campaign issues are reform based, focusing on funding for education. According to Jealous, the current governor has used education funds to cover other state expenditure. He has pushed for an end to the student debt crisis, stressing past generations could afford higher education. “My grandfather paid US$200 to attend the University of Maryland School of Law and pull my parents out of McCulloh Homes public housing and into the middle class,” he likes to share in the campaign trail.
Jealous also supports Medicare-for-All and highlights the need to end the mass incarceration crisis by creating economic opportunity, developing skills and trades, reforming sentencing laws, reforming policing, and addressing the opioid crisis.
Despite Maryland being a heavily Democratic state, and Jealous having endorsements from much of the Democratic establishment, Jealous faces a difficult path to the governor’s mansion. Hogan is a popular incumbent who has remained centrist in a state that prefers moderates from either party. To address this, Jealous has tried to distance himself from the left-wing of his party, denying socialism and declaring himself a venture capitalist.
U.S. House of Representatives - Washington - 9th District
Sarah Smith is a progressive Democratic Socialist candidate running against another Democrat for a seat in the U.S. House, representing the Seattle area of Washington state.
Her platform focuses on economic justice via healthcare, tackling student debt, favoring small business over large corporations, a fair minimum wage, and affordable housing, among other important issues. She has been endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez of New York’s House race, with some hoping that she will create an upset like the one that happened in New York’s 14th District.