On Sunday, when The New York Times put a “tossup” label on three dozen House races with Democrats running for re-election, there were very few genuine progressives involved. In fact, just three of the lawmakers on the list are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. And only one of them is a progressive standout: Raul Grijalva.
With a record of grassroots activism that goes back four decades, Grijalva is the real deal. Since 2003, his presence in Congress – representing a heavily Latino district in Southern Arizona – has been a force of nature for progressive advocacy on issues ranging from health care and education to war. And immigration.
Now, the forces of xenophobia and bogus “populism” think they smell blood.
Nowhere in the United States is political courage for progressive principles more on the line this Election Day than in the battle to re-elect Grijalva.
Two years ago, he won with a 30 percent margin. This time, the race is very tight for reasons that have little to do with his Republican opponent, a 28-year-old rocket scientist named Ruth McClung.
“Democrats are facing tough races in what they once thought were safe areas around the country,” The Los Angeles Times noted over the weekend, “but Grijalva faces an additional burden. He called for a boycott of his state after Gov. Jan Brewer signed a tough immigration law, known as SB 1070, in April.”
Much more than “tough,” that law – now largely tied up in court – is the essence of systematic racial profiling. In effect, it requires police to target Latinos. In response, Grijalva spoke up for human rights.
That’s why many right-wing politicians and power brokers have poured several hundred thousand dollars into anti-Grijalva efforts.
Speaking about immigration in early summer, Grijalva said: “Demagogues in the Republican Party, and their Democratic allies, will say this is about amnesty and open borders. No matter how many times they repeat it, it won’t be true. No one who understands the issue believes we can just dig trenches, point guns at the border and live in fear the rest of our lives. We need legal, social, economic and political reforms to truly make immigration work in this country, and we need them now.”
Days ago, along Tucson streets, I saw McClung campaign signs that said, “Boycott Grijalva, Not Arizona.”
What’s at stake in the campaign transcends any district or state. On the night of November 2, the returns from the Seventh Congressional District of Arizona will be about human decency.
Last Saturday morning, at a rally in front of a Grijalva campaign headquarters in Tucson, the spirit was upbeat. Close to 200 volunteers were there, and despite the enthusiastic responses to speakers (who included Grijalva, his colleague Rep. Barbara Lee, Progressive Democrats of America chair Mimi Kennedy and myself) the crowd was clearly eager to move past the talk and go into action.
Before they fanned out to walk precincts, Grijalva told the assembled volunteers: “A human face to a human face – talking, neighbor to neighbor – is the most powerful grassroots tool that this campaign has or any other campaign has.” For video of the rally, click here.
Nationwide, for progressives assessing where to help in the final days of House races, the names of two other Democrats should also loom large: Alan Grayson and Bill Hedrick.
Grayson, an outspoken progressive from Florida, has enlivened the House of Representatives with his bold truth telling. The New York Times says the race in his district is now “leaning Republican.”
Hedrick, a teacher who came very close to winning a House seat two years ago, has deep and longstanding commitments to social justice. In a Southern California district that includes Riverside and Corona, he’s running a notably thorough grassroots campaign against a corrupt and reactionary incumbent, Ken Calvert.
While weighing options in the stretch drive of a long election year, every progressive individual and group must come to terms with limited time and resources. Clear priorities are essential. Now, on the eve of an election when many candidates will sink under an onslaught from the far right, we should have a national vision – and concentrate on saving the ones who most truly represent our values.
“We’re in this fight because we want to be in this fight,” Grijalva said a few nights ago, at a Progressive Democrats of America gathering in Tucson. “Decency demands of us and of all of the people here that we fight on…. The values of this country are at stake.”