They inquire if we’re going to join the Squad at this point in the interview.

On the final Tuesday in July, Summer Lee, a Democratic candidate for a congressional seat representing the Pittsburgh region, let her remark hang in a basement bar in the Logan Circle section of Washington. She stirred the straw in her ice water.

Lee looked across our hightop at two other upcoming House progressives: Delia Ramirez, running for a safe western Chicago seat in a gerrymandered deep-blue district that includes Austin and San Antonio, and Greg Casar, who were both clutching their ice-cold whiskeys.

When they run for the House the next year, I had really asked if there were any current federal members they could look up to. Only Casar dared to respond, praising Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), whom he had just met as intelligent and courageous. Such information provided an answer to Lee’s question. After the group’s first face-to-face encounter the day before, Casar even took a picture of them. A triple threat will visit DC on January 3! Check out the caption. (Not quite the AAAAS Squad, but a beginning.)

A triple threat will visit DC on January 3!
Greg Casar July 26, 2022 (@GregCasar)

To fill available House seats in districts where Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are among voters’ favorite candidates, all three progressives seated at the table won their respective primaries. They are all in their thirties, candidates of color (Lee is Black; Casar and Ramirez are Latino), and come from working-class families. They all ran on platforms appropriate for the political leaders of their districts, frequently with the support of the same political parties that helped elect AOC to office. And, barring extraordinary political events, they will take their seats in Congress in January of 2019.

The trio agreed to meet me after taking part in a day-long workshop on developing progressive power, a topic that also came up in their internal discussions as they got ready for the upcoming House term. What must we collectively do to make a difference in a setting that is anything but accepting of who we are? About their duty, Ramirez says. She underlines that what we are is a danger to the current quo.

Progressives in the House have faced opposition as they acquire political clout, mostly in response to their demands for police reform from party moderates who are already attempting to shift responsibility for projected Democratic losses this November.

If predictions for the midterm elections are to be believed, these likely lawmakers will start their careers in Congress as members of the minority party, where they will work to advance the party’s agenda rather than pass bills.

But these most recent candidates for the House’s left flank are unjaded, unfazed, and perhaps even a little empowered by the hostile circumstances that await them as they gather in Washington for the first time since their primary triumphs. Coming in together will make it much more difficult to isolate us, claims Lee.

The little advancements made by the Biden administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress have been a big letdown for many leftists. Casar bemoaned recent catastrophes in his native Texas, including the murder of 50 migrants in the back of an 18-wheeler, the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, and the implementation of one of the nation’s tightest abortion prohibitions. He claims that we moved from being five blocks near an abortion clinic to being 550 miles away. Casar sees each as a failure on the part of the federal government to truly support immigration reform, reproductive rights, and gun control, respectively. He claims that the federal government’s lack of action is the root of everything.

Lee thinks that the lawmakers at the table’s primary victories were largely due to their displeasure with the impasse in Washington. She says that the reason we are where we are today is because “Democrats” made poor judgments in the past and wasted our power when we did have it. Too frequently, the messaging from our “party” tries to convince you that what you’re experiencing isn’t really what’s going on, she continues. Because we are the ones validating that voters’ knowledge of what is actually happening, that is what makes us the targets.

Targets are present, even though Lee’s logic might not fully explain them. As Lee puts it, discussion at the hightop always veers toward the subject at hand: the historically large sum of money that was mostly spent this year in opposition to progressive candidates in Democratic House primaries. It is a level of funding typically used for close general election contests. We can’t be the party that wants to overturn Citizens United and also say, “As long as I like the target, I’ll let that happen,” quipped Lee, who saw a stunning $4 million spent against her in the last days of the campaign.

They frequently utilized that money to turn their primaries into a vote on the Squad. Instead of being proud of allies like Ocasio-Cortez and Omar, they wanted me and people like me to feel ashamed of them, Lee claims. Furthermore, Casar’s opponents sent out seven rounds of mailers that obviously blackened his face, displaying a casual prejudice. The trio interprets the assault as their enemies’ desperation rather than a criticism of their movement. According to Casar, unless people are concerned about anything, there is no pushback unless you are winning.

What is certain is that by January, the left side of the Congress will reach double digits, a number they are keen to use to exert influence.

You can try to silence four, six, or eight people, but as the number reaches 15 or 20, Casar argues, you’re talking about a sizeable block of votes and a disproportionate number of people who speak up. Their intention to oppose Democratic House leadership strikes me as courageous; few members of their caucus now take this step out of fear of the consequences, which virtually invariably follow such actions.

As opposed to Ocasio-Cortez, who was employed as a bartender before to winning her House seat, this new crop of progressives is more akin to Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass. ), who served on the Boston city council before making her House bid. They have served the public in hostile environments and have experience as both elected politicians and organizers: Republicans have had control of the Pennsylvania state House for as long as Lee has held office, while Ramirez battled the Chicago Democratic establishment that didn’t want her in Springfield. Casars’ Austin city council chafed under Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

Ramirez says that by forming a coalition there, we were able to expand on it in Congress. That is where we are coming from, says Casar, whether we are in the majority attempting to overthrow the leadership or in the minority trying to inspire what the Democratic Party ought to be.

Lee does respond to my query about which lawmakers inspire her as our glasses near empty. She continues, almost ruefully, “I’ve never had a mentor.” However, I consider all the other candidates who, like us, are from working-class families and had to deal with this in a different way. How can I just prevent the next individual from approaching in this manner?

Casar adds, “That ought to be different for you here.” Lee sighs. I’m hoping that for us, things will be different. Casar remarks while scanning his tablemates’ eyes for signs of agreement. I suppose I’ll see. There are some people here.

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