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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/31/17

The 2017 Progressive Honor Roll

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Capitol Hill's steadiest champion of congressional oversight on war-making, Representative Barbara Lee always needs allies. She got a great one when Khanna arrived in January. Lee's fellow California Democrat jumped into a leadership post with the Congressional Progressive Caucus (as did two other outstanding newcomers, Washington's Pramila Jayapal and Maryland's Jamie Raskin) and emerged as a savvy champion of net neutrality. But the law-school instructor made his boldest mark as an advocate for the restoration of constitutional checks and balances. Khanna decried the use of tax dollars to "bomb and starve civilians" in Yemen and -- working with CPC co-chair Mark Pocan and libertarian-leaning Republicans -- drafted legislation to block US support for Saudi Arabia's brutal assault on that country. In November, Khanna and his allies forced a debate on the issue, getting the chamber to vote 366-30 for a nonbinding resolution stating that US military assistance for the Saudi war was not authorized by Congress. That was a small step. But with support growing for Lee's effort to overturn the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which has served as an excuse for military adventurism, Khanna says the Yemen vote signals that the project of "re-orienting our foreign policy away from our Saudi alliance and away from neocon/neoliberal interventionism" is finally beginning.

Most Valuable House Speech

JOE KENNEDY III

Infuriated by the empty statements and inaction of House Republicans after the October 1 massacre in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and more than 500 injured, Representative Kennedy took to the floor of the chamber as the grandson of a presidential contender who was murdered by a gun-wielding assassin, as the great-nephew of a president who was felled by bullets from another assassin, and as an ardent advocate for all families who have lost loved ones to guns. "Ending gun violence isn't political. This is personal," said the Massachusetts Democrat. "We are not powerless. We are not helpless. We are not hostages to some political organization. We are not bystanders, as bullets tear through concerts and prayer circles and elementary-school classrooms and nightclubs and military compounds and quiet neighborhoods. This is up to us -- to every single American. This is our country and our home and our families. We can decide that one person's right to bear arms does not come at the expense of a neighbor's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Most Valuable New Governor

PHIL MURPHY

The headlines reporting off-year Democratic election wins highlighted Ralph Northam's important victory in Virginia's gubernatorial contest. But Northam held a Democratic seat, while New Jersey's Phil Murphy flipped one. And he did so by running as a progressive on a host of issues. Chris Christie's replacement describes gun violence as "a public health crisis," calls for "ending the era of high-stakes testing" in public schools, and promises to defend immigrants' rights by opposing "any efforts to use state and local police to assist in mass deportations." He also wants to create a state-run public bank. "It is time to bring the money home so it can build our future," says the former banker. "We will do this by redirecting resources to a bank that is committed to making investments in and for New Jersey because it will be owned by the people of New Jersey."

Most Valuable Legislators

GILDA COBB-HUNTER AND OTHER WOMEN WHO SAY "WE, TOO..."

"It's apparent that leadership to address sexual violence and harassment will not come from the federal level under the current administration," read an October 31 letter by South Carolina state legislator Gilda Cobb-Hunter, along with Colorado's Daneya Esgar, California's Cristina Garcia, Oregon's Sara Gelser, Georgia's Renitta Shannon, Rhode Island's Teresa Tanzi, and Illinois's Litesa Wallace. "But in the states, there are concrete steps we can take to support survivors, hold offenders accountable, and prevent this behavior in the first place."

The legislators explained that "we, too, have experienced harassment or assault. And we are saying enough. We, too, want to see change. And we are taking action to transform #MeToo from a social media movement into real change." They proposed specific legislative initiatives, but they also suggested an electoral response: "Today, women make up just 24.8 percent of all state legislators in the nation, but after the 2016 election, more than 20,000 women are considering running for office. We have faith that these women can win and will join those of us who are working every day to demand solutions."

Most Valuable Mayor

CARMEN YULIN CRUZ

Puerto Rico is not allowed to send voting representatives to the US Congress. But after Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through the Caribbean, San Juan's mayor refused to allow the federal government to neglect the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Her objection to claims that bumbling recovery efforts were somehow going smoothly drew the ire of President Trump, but Cruz did not back down. "The Trump administration can't handle the truth," she declared. Addressing the president directly, Cruz said: "Mr. Trump, do your job. Lives are at stake. This is not about politics. This is not about your ego. This is about the people of Puerto Rico and the [Virgin Islands]." Her advocacy got national attention and helped secure vital aid, as officials recognized the truth of Cruz's assertion that "survival cannot be our new way of life."

Most Valuable Inside/Outside Progressive

BERNIE SANDERS

Polls identify him as the nation's most popular prominent political figure, and Sanders used that popularity to build movements in 2017. The Vermonter did plenty of work in the Senate: introducing Medicare for All legislation that drew unprecedented support, and grilling Trump cabinet picks like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whom he asked: "Do you think, if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?" Outside Washington, Sanders rallied red-state voters against Trump's agenda, defending the Affordable Care Act at "Care Not Cuts" rallies in Kentucky and West Virginia; barnstormed across Pennsylvania and Ohio on a "Protect Working Families" tour sponsored by MoveOn.org and Not One Penny to oppose the GOP tax bill; and helped Indiana steelworkers expose the administration's failure to advance fair trade. Sanders also marched in favor of union rights in Mississippi with thousands of United Auto Workers activists, civil-rights campaigners, and members of the new Good Jobs Defenders coalition.

Most Valuable Protest (National)

WOMEN'S MARCH ON WASHINGTON

January 20 was the most dispiriting day of 2017. Donald Trump didn't just assume the presidency; he did so with an ominous rumination on "American carnage" that confirmed the worst fears about him. But within hours of his swearing-in, Trump was checked and balanced. The Women's March -- brilliantly organized and promoted by a network of activists that included co-chairs Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Bob Bland -- filled the capital's streets with crowds dramatically larger than those drawn by the new president. Sister marches stepped off from Maine to California and from Florida to Alaska, as millions joined what political scientists called the largest single-day protest in US history. The massive, multi-city uprising so unsettled Trump that he is still sputtering about crowd sizes. Marchers maintained momentum by pulling together more than 5,000 huddles to advance their "10 Actions for the First 100 Days" agenda -- putting women at the center of a nationwide resistance.

Most Valuable Protest (Local)

MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA

After his landslide election in June as mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, Lumumba announced that he planned to make his hometown "the most radical city on the planet." He has kept that promise with an ambitious agenda that includes cooperative development, citizen budgeting, and social and economic policies inspired by the activist movements of the 1960s and '70s. So when Trump arrived in Jackson in December to attend opening ceremonies for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, Lumumba was not on the dais but outside with NAACP leaders. "It is my appreciation for the Mississippi martyrs not here -- the names both known and unknown -- that will not allow me, that will not allow many of us standing here today, to share a stage with a president who has not demonstrated a continuing commitment to civil rights, a continuing commitment to human rights, a continuing commitment to women's rights," explained Lumumba, who spoke of his desire to "write a new narrative" for Mississippi, America, and the world. By refusing to appear with a president who keeps reading from the old script, Lumumba did just that.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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