Editor’s Note: Jeff Weaver is a senior adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and former campaign manager for Bernie Sanders 2016. The views expressed are his own.
In the 2 1/2 years since Sen. Bernie Sanders launched his presidential campaign, the Democratic Party has felt the Bern. A $15 minimum wage, campaign finance reform, access to a free college education and health care for all Americans – issues central to Sen. Sanders’ campaign – have gained a brighter spotlight in the Democratic platform. It’s a testament to the power of the political revolution.
In the past few months, we’ve witnessed the awesome impact Democrats can have when they’re united. Together, we defeated the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. We’ve held demonstrations to oppose the Trump tax scam. We elected a Democratic governor in Virginia, in addition to turning 16 Republican-held districts blue. And we even elected a Democratic senator in deep-red Alabama.
Since the 2016 election, Democrats have begun to reclaim the mantle of economic populism. But that doesn’t mean our work as progressives is complete. There are still some members of our party who refuse to join the awakened Democratic Party. They would rather compromise with Republicans on issues that benefit Wall Street at the expense of consumers on Main Street.
Those Democrats elected need to understand where progressives are and catch up. Quickly.
Recently, under the cover of the tax fight, the Senate Banking Committee voted to advance a bill co-sponsored by a group of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans that would gut critical provisions included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Most Democrats understand that Americans are against bank bailouts, like those that took place during the financial crisis, while too many hard-working people were getting pink slips and foreclosure notices. And yet, 10 Democratic senators are lining up next to Republicans to tear down a barrier that stands between us and the next financial crisis – and making it easier for Wall Street to make an extra buck.
In addition, three House Democrats have co-sponsored a Republican-led bill that would make it easier for predatory payday lenders to charge borrowers effective annual interest rates exceeding 300%. You have to look hard to find something people despise more than payday lenders – a recent poll found them to be more than five times less favorable than used car salesmen. And that makes sense. Their entire business model revolves around trapping vulnerable Americans into seemingly never-ending cycles of debt, which is why they cluster near lower-income communities.
That’s not what the Democratic Party stands for. Our party lifts up vulnerable communities. It doesn’t open them up to Bush-era vulnerability.
Yet another bill would allow payday lenders to override usury laws on the books in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The bill, informally dubbed the Madden bill after the court case Madden v. Midland, would make it easier for non-banks (payday lenders) to partner with national banks to skirt state laws. The bank takes a commission, and payday lenders are able to sidestep basic state consumer protections. The bill has been denounced by the NAACP and others.
It’s not solely Republicans leading this effort. My home state senator, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, introduced the Madden bill in the Senate with Sen. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat, as a co-sponsor. Democratic Reps. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin and Gregory Meeks of New York are co-sponsors of the House version.
Democrats are never going to fully reclaim the mantle of economic populism if we don’t make it clear whose side we’re on, and whose interests we’re representing. In Alabama, we saw the incredible electoral power that minority communities can wield. Former NBA star Charles Barkley is right: Democrats need to do a better job of supporting the people whose votes are taken for granted. They can do that by protecting their voters from legislation that allows them to be preyed upon.
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For those Democrats in the establishment who didn’t get the memo, let me say this: Your continued refusal to stand with regular Americans against the economic elites who are looting communities of every color is making it so much harder for the Democrats who are trying to defeat Trump and move the country forward.
But here’s a solution for those of us who do want progress. Stay angry. Channel that anger and join a progressive organizing group. Attend a town hall. March at a protest. Get involved with your local Democratic Party. Knock on doors and phone bank for candidates you believe in. And then come November, let’s send a message, loud and clear, with our votes. Public figures who have lost touch with the rank and file need to join the awakened Democrats of the 21st century.