"She was someone the grassroots organizations thought that we could trust"
Bad Democrats are facing backlash... if only people would pay attention
Welcome to the big Sunday edition of Progressives Everywhere!
Chaos reigns in Washington, DC right now, narrated in breathless media coverage of infrastructure negotiations that has focused almost entirely on the gossip leaking out from the small rooms where a wealthy few toss around abstract numbers and play psychological warfare with one another. And as usual, precious little attention has been paid to how actual people might be impacted by the policies in these bills or how those people feel about the negotiations. That the promises made to voters by their Democratic representatives continue to diminish by the day is just a plot point, not a great betrayal that will hurt millions.
To so many beltway reporters, the lives of 200+ million Americans are as abstract as the trillion dollar figures being bandied about in negotiations, relevant only as numbers in opinion polls that generally correspond to the skewed information fed to the public by those same reporters.
This isn’t just some inside game played between rival factions, but a matter of historic public interest and human impact. Only one side in this fight wants to allow pharmaceutical companies to continue to gouge the sick, wants to deny families a chance to properly feed and care for their children, and wants to scuttle the climate measures that might spare hundreds of millions of Americans the worst of the growing weather calamities and natural disasters that are already devastating cities. Yet based on media coverage, the real intrigue is over who screamed in a meeting and what we can glean from coded cable news appearances. The only winners and losers in this disconnected conception of government work on Capitol Hill and K Street.
Meanwhile, the outrage in the safe blue districts represented by the few conservative Democrats trying to kill the party’s popular agenda has boiled over into crowded, angry protests — none of which have been covered by the mainstream media. I can say this definitively because in addition to writing this newsletter, I work full-time at More Perfect Union and have been sending what inevitably wind up being the videographers to these events. Here’s our report on a protest at the San Diego office of Rep. Scott Peters, the biggest of the Big Pharma sell-outs.
This was the only news coverage of the protest, while a protest at Peters’ office the following night by environmentalists also upset with his votes earned just a quick write-up in the San Diego Union Tribune. Outside of the perfunctory coverage for the Women’s Marches across the country yesterday, it’s been crickets.
Kyrsten Sinema’s latest temper tantrum, however, has echoed around social media as if she’d declared war on a foreign state. In reality, Sinema has essentially declared war on her own home state. The battle between progressives and Sinema is likely to determine the future of the Biden agenda, the next decade of economic and labor policy, and democracy in states across the country, so I’m devoting the entire edition of this newsletter to that story.
But first, thank you to our latest crowdfunding donors: Jillian and Todd!
Three years after their sprawling grassroots operation helped carry Kyrsten Sinema over the electoral finish line, members of the progressive Hispanic activist group LUCHA stood at the back exit of the Royal Palms Resort in Scottsdale on Saturday night, attempting to score a few moments with the first-term senator as she left a high-dollar fundraiser put on by corporate lobbyists.
Instead, they were forced to leave by aggressive police and security guards as Sinema’s staff watched and mocked them from afar. The confrontation ensured that they would once again go home without getting to speak with Sinema, whose decision to continue her wine-soaked evening with millionaires sent a clear message to her one-time supporters.
“We have not been able to have a sit down conversation with the senator this entire year,” Stephanie Maldonado, the organizing director for LUCHA, told me earlier in the week. “We have had rallies and actions outside of her office when we’ve known she's here in state during her recess; there have been thousands of calls; we have been driven to her office and sent endless amounts of emails and letters. We’ve used all of the strategies to engage with her, and like many of the groups we engage with, we have yet to have a sit down conversation with the senator.”
They were once again left to shout their pleas into the desert night sky’s infinite emptiness. At least they weren’t alone: A larger contingent of LUCHA members protested in front of the resort for hours, capping a longer day of statewide actions meant to pressure Sinema into dropping her hardball tactics and stonewalling of just about every pressing Democratic priority.
Democratic leaders, reporters, pundits, and activists have spent these last nine months asking the same question: What does Sen. Kyrsten Sinema want?
The question, some version of which is now bluntly posed in headlines almost daily, is actually based on a flawed premise.
The Arizona lawmaker fooled scoop-hungry reporters at Axios into publishing multiple stories last month that extoll her independence, unpredictability, and supposed actuarial mastery in budget negotiations — negotiations that she takes so seriously that she fled them for that expensive lobbyist fundraiser this weekend. Sinema doesn’t play by the rules, these stories warn, which is a gentler way of conveying the message she wore on a ring in a photo posted on Instagram this spring.
It all adds up to a pretty clear conclusion: We know exactly what Sinema wants and it has nothing to do with numbers or the structure of a major piece of legislation.
While her efforts to strip the tax increases and most popular social programs out of Democrats’ reconciliation bill are being on behalf of corporate donors, it’s not policy that she ultimately cares about. What Kyrsten Sinema really wants is power and attention.
Some level of narcissism is practically de rigueur for any politician, of course, though Sinema’s Joker-esque commitment to sewing chaos and outrage amongst her own voters is unprecedented and borderline sociopathic, especially in an increasingly tribal political system. But what makes her right-wing trolling still difficult to accept is how much of a heel turn it represents from the lawmaker who began once presented as a leftist progressive, suggesting that her politics and campaigns are mere kayfabe in a state where the stakes couldn’t be higher.
For Maldonado, the decision to work as an organizer was a deeply personal one. In 2012, her mother, an undocumented immigrant in a state being terrorized by the GOP’s “Show Me Your Papers” law and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, decided to self-deport back to Mexico. Maldonado was in college at the time and it became a formative event.
“I think something hit me, something clicked where I felt the need to really fight,” she recalled. “My mother was not a criminal, my mother didn't do anything bad. All she did was really fight for a better future for her family, for me and for my siblings. And the fact of the matter is that no matter how good you are, as immigrant, due to the way the system is set up, she was just not a priority for this country.”
Maldonado has worked her way up as an organizer at LUCHA, becoming a key part of the tireless campaign machinery that has turned Arizona blue in national elections and nearly flipped it at the legislative level, as well. The victories have included electing Sinema in 2018 after the quirky wig-wearing lawmaker had served in both chambers of the legislature and in Congress.
“We do independent programs to uplift and support candidates that we believe are going to align with our political agenda and that are going to defend and value our people and center them in their decision-making,” Maldonado said. “And Kyrsten Sinema is someone that people looked up to, someone the grassroots organizations saw as someone that we could trust, someone that could get the job done, that was going to go to Washington, DC and center those communities of color that elected her into office.”
This wasn’t some naive assumption by young activists; Sinema began her political life as a Green Party activist and has consistently spoken like a movement progressive, voicing support for taxing the rich, ending corporate influence in politics, eliminating the filibuster, and free Community College, among many other key policies.
Now, she’ll only talk to corporate lobbyists, as evidenced by her ongoing refusal to exchange words with LUCHA activists on Sunday, even when they stood face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder. Listen to the heart-wrenching stories they tell in the video below and ask yourself how any person, let alone politician, could stay silent.
She spent 18 hours refusing to talk to them before this moment. Even Joe Manchin invited kayakers onto his yacht.
After the Arizona Democratic Party overwhelmingly authorized an official vote of no confidence against Sen. Kyrsten Sinema should she not bend on the filibuster or the most important provisions in the Build Back Better legislative package, a number of party officials and activists on Wednesday launched a prospective primary campaign against the troll masquerading as a senator. They’re raising money right now that they plan to split between a primary candidate and grassroots organizations that would do the groundwork necessary to topple Sinema.
Perhaps not wanting to give away the bomb that was dropping the next morning, Maldonado demurred a bit when I asked about LUCHA’s interest in supporting a primary challenge; LUCHA, she said, wanted to keep focusing on the filibuster and reconciliation for now.
Still, it wasn’t hard to read in between the lines; Maldonado’s disappointment in and frustration with Sinema was palpable and personal, and on the subject of the primary challenge, it wasn’t all that hard to game out what’s going to happen given what’s happened all year.
“Based on how she shows up and votes, I think that that's going to be very telling for where groups like ours will be,” Maldonado said. “I think at that point, we will identify whether that’s primary challenge. But for now we still are remaining hopeful that the senator will show up and she will vote for our communities.”
The situation for progressives in Arizona is an urgent one. Though Democrats flipped the state’s electoral votes and other Senate seat last November, Republicans were able to hold on to the state legislature with their fingernails, retaining the thinnest of majorities in both houses. As in every other red state with fading GOP majorities, the Republican trifecta set its sights on stealing elections and guaranteeing minority rule.
The GOP has been busy this year: They’ve enacted some major voter suppression laws, instituted a remarkably regressive flat tax that overturns the wealth tax approved by voters via ballot initiative last year, and have tried to stack the independent redistricting commission. And then there is the comical election “audit” that conservatives nationwide have used as a rallying cry in their efforts to delegitimize future elections.
Sinema’s refusal to move on the filibuster is blocking the Democratic Senate from passing major voting rights protections, which would negate statewide GOP assaults on ballot access and stop the army of right-wing lunatics in many states from over overturning elections in 2022 and 2024. It’s also preventing the codifying of Roe v Wade
LUCHA, looking to counteract not just those policies but also the culture that allows them to take root. Its People First Economy will drive deep canvassing and off-year organizing, which will focus on educating working about their rights and how the federal budget is dominated by corporate interests. As Democrats continue to discover, getting people elected is just the start of the work.
“We're going to continue to organize and we're going to continue to show up to the polls, because that's what's going to change the system that we've been living under,” Maldonado said. “We've turned our frustration into action. It ignites us to keep fighting, to keep organizing, to keep building our power, to keep engaging with community. And even though yes there are setbacks, we use those setbacks as learning in order for us to continue engaging and building over time.”
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