Progressive groups across the U.S. focused on one central goal over the past year, to defeat President Trump in the Nov. 3 election. With Joe Biden now set to enter the White House as the nation’s 46th president on Jan. 20, activists are mobilizing once again to fight for the adoption of progressive policies by the new administration.
One of the groups now organizing pressure on the incoming Biden administration is RootsAction.org, which supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries earlier in the year. Roots Action recently launched their new “No Honeymoon for Biden” campaign “to push back against the destructive forces of corporate power, racial injustice, extreme income inequality, environmental assault and the military-industrial complex.”
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Jeff Cohen, founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College and co-founder of RootsAction.org. Here, he talks about some of the key issues his group will be pressuring the Biden administration to take action on, including establishing a $15 federal minimum wage, cancellation of student debt, rolling back mass incarceration.
JEFF COHEN: So what we’ve done with this new campaign — and anyone can find it on social media #NoHoneymoon or NoMoneymoon.org — is, we’re trying to get progressives to challenge the Biden administration from Day One. As we look back at history, we see that progressives didn’t do that for Bill Clinton when he was elected in ’92. The left was happy that hope and change, the first African-American president was elected in November 2008 — Obama, and there wasn’t really much pressure from progressives. And in both of those cases, Bill Clinton was vacillating, hesitating, doing corporate stuff like the NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. And it led to the Republicans just storming back in 1994 and taking Congress. The same thing with Obama. There was a lot of hesitation. There was a great bailout of Wall Street, but not Main Street.
And you had record-breaking foreclosures and progressives wanted him — there were a few, a couple of progressive economists in the White House and they said, Where’s the foreclosure freeze that will help lower middle-class and middle-class families, especially disproportionately families of color? But Obama’s team would not do that. There was too much hesitation. The Republicans come storming back and take Congress in 2010. So in a sense, NoHoneymoon.org, #NoHoneymoon is an effort today to say that the progressive movement, which is better organized than it’s been in decades, better funded than it’s been in decades, better networked, more astute at the need to challenge Democratic leaders. We believe that we can help save the Biden administration from itself by pushing that administration to really deliver for working class people, real reforms that will prevent the Republicans from storming back in 2022 in the congressional elections.
SCOTT HARRIS: Jeff, I wanted to revisit the two presidents you spoke of earlier. After Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were elected president and succeeded unpopular Republican presidents, the left in this country, progressive activists went into a deep sleep. There was little activity on the ground, little pressure applied to these two Democratic presidents and the status quo hung in there. What is different about this moment? Maybe you could help our listeners gauge the level of activism that’s out there and the indications that you have at RootsAction.org that people are raring to go and not just go back to sleep for four years as happened so many times before.
JEFF COHEN: I’m not a young man. I’m almost 70. I’ve been in activism, progressive activism since I was in high school — from the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights era. I can tell you that the U.S. left, the progressive movement is better organized, better networked, better funded than it’s been in my lifetime. It’s multi-racial. It’s multi-generational. We’re ready to battle. We know what the proposals are that can solve the country’s problems. The Green New Deal is magic. It not only transforms our energy system, it can produce millions of jobs. And because of the pressure from below, Biden has improved on that issue. He won’t use the phrase Green New Deal, but his proposal for how many jobs he’s going to create, how fast he’s going to move to carbon net zero has sped up.
So progressive are more organized than we were in the past. And I would argue, Scott — more astute about the need to keep the pressure on the Democratic leaders, because Democratic leaders keep hearing from the corporate media and keep hearing from their corporate donors, “Go slow. Yes, no. Status quo.” That doesn’t get the job done. That leads to young people and people of color not turning out in 2022 for the congressional elections. It leads to swing voters swinging the other way.