What Comes After the Blue Wave? A Q&A with David Duhalde

What Comes After the Blue Wave? A Q&A with David Duhalde

Our Revolution’s political director assesses the left’s midterm achievements and discusses the organization’s plan to build a progressive mass movement and transform the Democratic Party.

Ilhan Omar, elected as part of the "Blue Wave," speaks at an election results party. (Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)

In the wake of the midterm elections, Dissent co-editor Michael Kazin interviewed David Duhalde, political director of Our Revolution and former deputy director of the Democratic Socialists of America, about Our Revolution’s successes and failures, strategies, and plans for the future. Our Revolution was founded by veterans of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign following the 2016 primary.

Michael Kazin: How did OR-endorsed candidates do this election? Any notable successes and any notable failures?

David Duhalde: One the biggest national successes that Our Revolution helped usher in was the new wave of progressive women of color elected to Congress. Incoming representatives include Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Deb Haaland, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We were one of the first national groups to back Ocasio-Cortez, which led to other liberal electoral groups endorsing her as well.

On the statewide level, we helped elect some fantastic candidates to critical constitutional offices. David Zuckerman was re-elected as Lt. Governor of Vermont. As a member of the Progressive Party, he is now the highest ranking third party office holder in the country. In addition, Sarah Godlewski, an Our Revolution member, won the election for Wisconsin State Treasurer. Republican Governor Scott Walker and his party tried to abolish that position in order to give themselves more power.

Nearly seventy percent of our endorsed candidates were running in down-ballot races at the city, county, or municipal levels. There, we saw some impressive victories as well. Marc Elrich, an Our Revolution member, won the Montgomery County Executive Council. This position covers Maryland’s largest county and makes Elrich the democratic socialist with the largest constituency in the United States.

We’re also very proud to have been a participant in the Second Chances coalition that ushered in a huge victory for voting rights by expanding access to more than 1.4 million people with felony convictions. Led by formerly incarcerated individuals, Second Chances won with an overwhelming majority of 64 percent of Floridians in one of the largest expansions of voting rights since the Civil Rights Act. This victory is a major step toward removing voter suppression laws throughout the deep south.

Like many democratically minded Americans, we were deeply disappointed in the miscarriage of voting rights and the outright racism in the Georgia and Florida statewide elections. One of the clear lessons of this election is the need to remain vigilant in the fight for voting rights and continue to work on expanding ballot access through automatic voter registration, mail-in ballots, and early voting.

Kazin: How did OR decide who to endorse? I notice that most of the candidates you endorsed were running for local or state office. What’s the strategy there? Will you be doing that in 2020 too?

Duhalde: Our Revolution has a grassroots nomination process. Ninety-nine percent of our endorsements come from one or more of our more than 600 groups. With a membership of nearly 200,000, we know that our greatest power comes from our base mobilizing for candidates. Therefore, our board members mostly only consider candidates nominated by our groups who we know will organize to elect these candidates and hold them accountable.

Our Revolution also believes that local offices are often the best place for progressives to start their electoral careers. The burden of proof is often higher for left-wing politicians than right-wing ones to prove they can govern. Just as Senator Bernie Sanders began his political career as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, we know that many future national leaders will start in a lower office and we strongly encourage progressive activists to run for those seats.

Starting next year, we will start going deeper into races for local executive office for candidates with organic and organized community support around them. This campaign is inspired by Senator Sanders’ experience as mayor with the Progressive Coalition and the current example of Mayor Chowke Lumumba and Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi. We will be looking at key mayor races and other executive campaigns around the county to lend extra support to build progressivism locally.

Kazin: What do you expect OR-endorsed winners to do while in office—national, state, or local? Does your organization have a way of holding them to their promises? Should it?

Duhalde: For our federally backed candidates, we expect them to back the majority—if not all—of our People’s Platform, a basic social democratic platform that we aspire to be the mainstream position of the Democratic Party. Issues include a Medicare for All, $15 minimum wage, College for All, fair trade, investing in renewable energy, women’s reproductive health, immigration reform, voting rights, and criminal justice reform.

We want to support our allies in elected office and hold them accountable if needed. For example, we are teaming up with National Nurses United, Labor for Single Payer, and Democratic Socialists of America to educate legislators about Medicare for All and raise public awareness. We believe that a more educated public will ensure that when the House takes up Medicare for All it truly is a single-payer, universal healthcare system that works for the people.

Kazin: Do you think progressive candidates like the ones you endorsed should form broad coalitions with other Democrats and, perhaps, some reasonable Republicans (if they exist) or stick to groups like the Progressive Caucus in Congress and similar ones that exist in some states?

Duhalde: We want to work with people who share our common interest to advance a progressive political agenda. Currently, it makes more sense to work with broad-based allies such as the Progressive Democrats of America and the Progressive Caucus to share ideas and strategies for advancing policy. There are plenty of right-wing equivalents such as the Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House that have exercised outsized influence. We would love to see our candidates work with other left-wing elected officials to do the same and not just on the federal level. We’ve had discussions about ways to facilitate conversations between our state and municipal candidates as well.

Kazin: Which ballot initiatives failed and which succeeded? Was there a pattern to those results? I noticed, for example, that some economic reform measures, such as a higher minimum wage, did well but the rent control measure in California failed. And ones to curb climate change did badly everywhere. How would you explain this?

Duhalde: Our Revolution endorsed over 40 ballot measures this year and we saw two major patterns. Ballot measures that promoted popular ideas such as Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage did well. Unfortunately, ballot measures on climate change were outspent by Big Oil and Gas, and as a result lost across the country. In Washington state, a ballot initiative to pass a carbon fee to fund the transition to clean energy, which was backed by indigenous, communities of color, and progressive labor unions, was outspent two to one. In Colorado, a proposed ban on any new oil and gas development located at least 2,500 feet from any structure intended for human occupancy was outspent by more than 30 to one.

Kazin: In a broader sense, how do you view OR’s role in the larger universe of the U.S. left? Is it primarily a group that uses its influence to back individual candidates and win elections or do you see it more broadly as an educational institution or one that can help organize a larger movement capable of operating both inside and outside the electoral arena?

Duhalde: Our Revolution is organizing in three key areas: building a progressive movement, electing progressive candidates, and transforming the Democratic Party. We currently have more than 600 local groups that are at the forefront of our efforts. Their work includes finding candidates to run for state, local, and party office, organizing around our People’s Platform, and holding their local Democratic Parties accountable. We’ve had many successes with these methods including electing state Democratic Party officials in Colorado, Washington, and Hawai’i, stopping the repeal of the Affordable Care Act through sit-ins, and, of course, electing many amazing champions to state, local, and federal office.

Kazin: Does OR favor an effort by the new Democratic majority in the House to impeach President Trump, as Maxine Waters and some other progressives have proposed?

Duhalde: Our Revolution firmly believes that Congress must hold the Trump Administration accountable. However, the people who voted Democrats into power in the House largely did so because they believe the party offered something better and different. Democrats should use this opportunity to highlight policies that directly affect everyday Americans like wages, health care, combating climate change and investing in infrastructure.

Kazin: Is Bernie running for president? If he does, will OR be able to keep working with/endorsing candidates who don’t support him?

Duhalde: We sure hope so! But in the meantime, we’ll work to build grassroots activist education and training around the country so progressives are ready to engage in the 2020 political process at all levels of government regardless of the Democratic nominee.

Michael Kazin is co-editor of Dissent.

David Duhalde is Our Revolution’s Political Director.