Time to Hold Democrats’ Feet to the Fire 

Stanley Fritz, Jess Wisneski

New Yorkers face grave threats as Trump and GOP lawmakers try to punish states that don’t endorse their divisive agenda. But there is a way we can survive this current crisis, and emerge stronger as a state and a country, if we stand together. Here’s how we can accomplish this.

Days after Trump’s electoral college victory, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wrote about the storm he saw coming, and proposed a path to defeat it. States need to step up, he said, to actively defend voting rights, health care, and public education from federal efforts to undermine them. Ordinary people, too, need to step up and defend progressive values by running for and retaking public offices at every level.

Schneiderman laid out a political path for regaining power and “building a healthier, vibrant and just society.” States, he said, and their officials – like Governors and Attorneys General – must play a pivotal role in this resistance for it to be successful. He coined the phrase “when they go low, we go local.” One year later, these words still ring true.

Who Decides

GOP lawmakers’ mad dash to give themselves a giant Christmas gift shows what happens when a dominant group of rich, white men, backed by uber-wealthy donors, are put in positions of power. They gave trillions of dollars in tax breaks to their rich pals and massive corporations that wreak havoc on working people.

The GOP’s 1.5 trillion tax giveaway is one of the largest upward redistributions of wealth our country has ever seen, and will have repercussions for years to come. It shamelessly steals from the working poor, people of color, and middle-class families, and even from future generations.

But this heartless money grab is not a one-off: it’s the product of a system of racial capitalism run wild, which for years has been allowed to enrich white corporate elites at the expense of people of color and the working class. It’s straight from the time-honored playbook that the powerful in business and politics have used since the founding of our country.

But as Attorney General Schneiderman makes clear, our country’s federalist system offers us the tools to fight tyranny and win. We have the capacity to break this pattern, if we stand up and fight for what we truly believe.

So it’s up to us, and to everyone who believes in racial justice, open democracy, and a society based on community values, to stand up and forge ahead in New York State and beyond. As the 2018 Legislative Session in New York begins, here’s a roadmap to meeting the needs of everyday people.

Recapturing Taxes from the Rich

Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Senate, and the State Assembly must include policies in the budget that recapture the massive windfall the super-rich and big corporations will receive from the Republican tax scam. That means the wealthy must pay their fair share in taxes, and we must claw back the billions of dollars New York doles out under the guise of “economic development” dollars, which is really just a slush fund of subsidies and tax breaks given to the wealthiest corporations across the state.

To fund our schools, health care programs, and critical services like the MTA and housing, we need the wealthy to pay their fair share.

Restructuring Our Democracy

Look no further than Alabama, where Doug Jones just became the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in 25 years, to see the power of Black voters. By all accounts, efforts to register and re-enfranchise Black voters and women were decisive in his victory.

For far too long, the Democratic Party has dismissed and ignored people of color, young people, immigrant voters, and low-income people. New York is no exception; our Governor and State Legislature must modernize our state’s voting system now. It’s designed to disenfranchise voters and make it harder for New Yorkers to participate in the democratic process.

New York State must pass comprehensive voting rights reforms, including early voting, automatic voter registration, same day registration, and restored voting rights for people on parole. Not next year, or in the next administration. New York, and the country, need this right now.

We must also work locally to end the stranglehold of big money on our government by instituting small donor public matching funds for all elections. Suffolk County’s move to implement a new public campaign finance system is the perfect example of beating back the super-rich’s control over working people.

This reform goes to the heart of dismantling structural racism in our electoral system – a system where the ability to run for office skews heavily toward wealthy and advantaged white men.

Invest in Community

We must also invest now in communities that have been systematically underinvested in for decades. Public schools in communities of color have been underfunded and ignored. They need more resources to counteract the disinvestment that has perpetuated poverty and racial injustice.

We must invest in affordable housing and an end to homelessness. We must invest in good jobs and a clean energy economy–one that supports specific investments in frontline communities and low-income people of color who continue to deal with the effects of environmental racism.

We must also invest in the power of workers to organize against their corporate bosses, as well as build unions and organizations that allow them to protect themselves and their families through labor rights, wage increases, paid sick leave, and other workplace protections.

Feet to the Fire

To accomplish these goals, we’ll have to take the Attorney General’s advice, and finally hear what our communities have been saying for years: it’s time to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire.

Governor Cuomo is a Democrat. Will he heed this call, or revert to his corporate-centered, fiscally conservative ways? Will the Independent Democratic Conference finally give up their power play and stop caucusing with Trump’s GOP State Senators? Will the Senate Democratic Conference rise to challenge in the midst of electoral threats to their most vulnerable members?

There is no doubt that if a united voting bloc of Black, Brown, immigrant, working class and white liberal voters unify in New York, we can hold everyone accountable during the 2018 legislative session, and elect true champions for the people of our state.

But to do this, we have to stand up, then step up. We have the tools, but still have to do the hard work to stop those who want to suppress our votes and the voices of underrepresented groups. But the good news is we can win if we join together and work to build a society that’s healthy, just, and vibrant for all people, not just the wealthy few.

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