McGovern, Ellison urge progressives to organize now

  • U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and James McGovern, D-Worcester, are introduced at Bowker Auditorium on the University of Massachusetts campus Saturday, where they spoke on “Progressive Politics in the Era of Trump.” MORGAN HUGHES


  • U.S. REP. JIM MCGOVERN, D-Worcester U.S. REP. JIM MCGOVERN, D-Worcester

Saturday, April 01, 2017

AMHERST — Two Democratic congressmen urged a crowd of more than 1,000 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on the evening of March 25 to organize in their communities to fight the Republican agenda on local, state and national levels — and to do it now.

“This isn’t checkers — it’s chess,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “We can’t wait until 2018 to start organizing these streets. We’ve got to organize right here, right now.”

Ellison was joined by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, to speak on “Progressive Politics in the Era of Trump” at Bowker Auditorium. Ellison is co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus in Congress, of which McGovern is a member.

The congressmen called for people to invest time and money in things like education, infrastructure, healthcare, food and shelter for all, and reducing the defense budget.

In response to a question from the audience about an overwhelming number of “action alerts” for protests and rallies, Ellison suggested that community organizers make priority lists for the policies they need to represent the most, and to work with other community groups to be active for the rest.

“Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something,” Ellison said.

He stressed the importance of local and state elections for winning back the more than 900 seats Democrats have lost in state legislatures nationwide since 2008.

On another note, Ellison also underlined the importance of Democrats and progressives “meeting somewhere in the middle” to move forward against those policies of President Trump’s administration that most Americans can disagree with, such as cutting care for the elderly.

“Disunity can kill us,” Ellison said. “Look at the circular firing squad (Republicans) have created, shooting each other dead.”

Referring to voters who are leaving the Democratic Party for third parties, Ellison suggested the DNC adjust itself to bring in the support of progressives.

“I fear the energy won’t dissipate, it will migrate,” Ellison said.

McGovern talked about winning back the “Obama-to-Trump” voters, who voted for Trump because they “wanted something different.” Some of those voters regret their ballot choice, he said, and are even working to reverse Trump’s policy decisions.

“Even though there are 320 million people in America, they still feel alone sometimes, and that’s what makes a good person vote for Trump,” he said.

Ellison encouraged progressives who feel disenfranchised from the Democratic Party to get involved to make the change they want to see, and for Democrats inside the party to meet on things like higher minimum wages, environmental protection, and Medicaid and Medicare.

McGovern and Ellison also stressed the importance of quality education for all, and affordable higher education.

“If you want to know why millennials are pissed, it may be all the student debt they’re humping,” Ellison said.

The Trump administration is not likely to help, he said.

“Trump’s position on higher education is Trump University,” Ellison said to a chuckling crowd.

“He’s trying to tell you to be more worried about Muslims and Mexicans than higher education,” he continued. “If Sweden, Germany and France can have free higher education, the richest country in the history of the world can do it, too.”

In regards to Trump’s frequent attacks on the media and threats to the freedom of press, Ellison said these attacks go beyond journalists.

“They are attacking (the people’s) right to know,” he said.

McGovern, for his part, said Trump worries him.

“I lose sleep at night thinking about these wacky and erratic behaviors,” he said. “This is not normal behavior.”

He also questioned the White House’s ties to Russia.

“I want to know if our president is a Manchurian candidate,” he said. “The only way we’re going to find that out is through an independent, non-partisan investigation.”

The event was organized by Progressive Democrats of America, and moderated by UMass Democrats’ Casey Pease and UMass Progressives’ Julia Pelletier.

Morgan Hughes can be reached at mahughes@umass.edu.