Zephyr Teachout, the liberal law professor who ran an impressive 2014 primary campaign against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is now running for Congress in the 19th District in the Hudson Valley.
In any year, progressives would cheer this news. She’s a strong voice against corruption and for campaign finance reform. She’s an environmental activist in a time of climate crisis, and a rare bird: a New York politician who is not embedded with real estate or finance industry interests.
But her candidacy is especially encouraging in light of the nationwide support — including Teachout’s endorsement — for the presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose primary challenge to Hillary Clinton has been more serious than many expected. The movement to elect Sanders — involving an army of passionate volunteers around the country — has injected concepts like democratic socialism, single-payer health care and free college tuition into our national political discourse. It also has built on deep dissatisfaction over economic inequality and the power of the “1 percent.” Sanders has said that to enact any of his agenda as president, he would need a movement. That movement would have to be in the streets, but also elect more allies — equally independent of corporate cash — to public office.
The social democratic left, whether in Brazil or Sweden, typically comes to power not by starting with the presidency, but by organizing from the ground up. Some people run for local office, building on smaller victories before aiming for the executive branch. The Sanders campaign has exploded in a way few people saw, and whatever happens this year, he needs to build institutional power that could turn into support for a progressive president.
More progressives need to follow Teachout’s lead and run for Congress, and quickly. Such efforts need not come from within the Democratic Party, as Teachout’s does. Further-left parties like the Green Party and Socialist Alternative have been running candidates around the country. In 2013, Socialist Alternative elected Kshama Sawant to Seattle’s City Council, where she has achieved impressive victories, including a win on a $15 minimum wage.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.