By Penny Mintz
While bemoaning the results of last month’s elections with one of my relatives, a woman I love dearly, she put the blame squarely on progressive Democrats. “Progressives are too much,” she said. “We need moderation.”
Being one of those progressives, I cannot disagree more. I managed to maturely hold my tongue. But clear, convincing rebuttals to my relative’s position were provided by the speakers at the November 18th launch of the Manhattan-wide Progressive Action Network (MPAN), a chapter of the statewide New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN).
NYPAN was formed in 2016 by delegates for Bernie Sanders to the Democratic Party convention. That was a time when Sanders’ platform positions—like Medicare for all, a $15/hour minimum wage, tuition-free public college, college-loan forgiveness, and paid family leave—were considered radical… socialistic… dangerous. Now, these ideas are practically mainstream. They have even been adopted by Joe Biden, the standard bearer of political moderation.
My relative echoed the argument of the Democratic Party, which has, indeed, blamed progressives for the poor outcome last month. But the reason for the poor result, said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams at the MPAN launch, is that the Democrats did not do what the voters had asked them to do. People want “housing, healthcare, safety for everyone. Who could be against that?” says Williams, who was one of those 2016 Sanders delegates that formed NYPAN. Williams says that the MPAN launch could not have come at a better time. “We need to get politically courageous people into office. When we run a Republican-lite against a Republican, we’re going to lose.”
Jumaane Williams was one of several elected officials and candidates who spoke to the nearly 100 people who showed up at the MPAN launch. Another was Manhattan Borough President-elect Mark Levine. He said that, rather than reining in its progressive wing, the Democrat Party has to do the opposite. “The eyes of the world are on Manhattan,” says Levine. “We have to be the global leader on universal health care and the green new deal.” He urged the audience members to become advocates on the ground pushing the elected officials and pushing the state Democratic Committee to “go big.”
State Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, an original member of Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan, the downtown chapter of NYPAN, says that progressive politics is about electing people to advance progressive ideals. Epstein sees his role in Albany as an organizer. He creates coalitions among legislators in order to pass progressive legislation. When he was first elected in 2018, it was only Governor Cuomo’s agenda that got done, said Epstein. In 2020, when more progressive members were elected, “We got bail reform. We halted solitary confinement. We repealed walking while trans.” Epstein predicted that MPAN was going to be a collective that was going to impact Albany and make a critical difference in millions of lives. “There’s so much we can do if we engage.”
Zephyr Teachout, who is running for State Attorney General, also spoke at the MPAN launch. She asserted that we are in a “rising progressive moment” here in New York. She, too, suggested that, by coming together in MPAN, the people in the room would have the power to effect positive change.
Teachout described the office that she is seeking, that of the State Attorney General, as the “largest public interest firm in the nation.” She promises to use that office to take on corruption, defend New Yorkers from corporate abuse, pursue climate justice, and fight for civil rights, particularly voting rights.
MPAN’s immediate goals are to get members elected to the Democratic Party State Committee, which sets the statewide agenda for the party, to get members elected as Democratic Party District Leaders, and to get the New York Health Act passed in Albany. Opportunities were provided to take actions on those fronts.