By: Suzanna Ibarra, Co-Chair of Our Revolution Illinois
On Tuesday, March 17, we celebrated the primary victories of four progressive champions: Marie Newman (IL-03), Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (IL-04), Robert Peters (SD-13) and Dagmara “Dee” Avelar (HD-85). These wins happened in large part because of the tremendous grassroots efforts by volunteers and supporters committed to positive change in our communities.
Perhaps nowhere in our state did we need change more than Congressional District 3. Dan Lipinski, an eight-term incumbent Democrat, had a record that looked like a Republican’s: he opposed the Affordable Care Act, LGBTQ rights, raising the minimum wage to $15, and the DREAM Act, while voting to fund a border wall; declined to endorse Obama in 2012; and repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthood. In spite of being on the opposite side of many key party positions, the Democratic establishment threw its support behind him.
In contrast, Marie Newman supports Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, a $15 minimum wage, the Equality Act, reproductive rights, and other policies more closely aligned with traditional Democratic values and more responsive to the struggles of working families in Illinois and across the nation.
When Marie decided in 2017 to challenge Lipinski, we answered the call. We organized phone banking and direct actions that put pressure on Lipinski, like our December 2017 sit-in at his Lockport office over his position on DACA. The 2018 primary was extremely close: Lipinski won by just over 2 points.
Marie did not give up. She stayed engaged and present within the community and kept her base of support together. In April 2019 she decided to run again, and we were ready.
But the Democratic party wasn’t going to make it easy. Even though District 3 is solidly blue, the establishment’s campaign arm rigged the rules to give the advantage to a right-wing incumbent over a true blue candidate.
The DCCC had announced a blacklisting policy prohibiting consultants and vendors from working for primary challengers. Marie couldn’t find union vendors to print her literature and lost several consultants who were told they would never work for the DNC again if they stayed on her campaign. Our Revolution and our coalition collected over 30,000 signatures on a petition asking the DCCC to reverse its policy.
In another display of establishment cronyism, DCCC head Cheri Bustos was scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Lipinski in June. But after intense pressure from us and other groups, she withdrew.
Marie didn’t have the support of the party or the name recognition of the incumbent (a Lipinski had held that seat since 1983), but we had her back. Our Revolution amplified her public events, created coalitions and web groups, and kept Lipinski’s abysmal record on the issues in the spotlight via social media posts, phone calls, emails, and direct actions with our coalition partners. In January, when he teamed up with Republicans in signing an amicus brief with the intent of overturning Roe v. Wade, we joined 25 groups in a protest at his district office that garnered considerable media attention.
We also organized a summit in January of statewide local groups that together represent 30,000 Illinois progressive voters and officially endorsed Marie, Jesus, Robert, and Dagmara along with other progressive candidates up and down the ballot.
In support of our candidates, Our Illinois Revolution set up phone banks and made tens of thousands of calls. We canvassed and knocked on thousands of doors. In the final days of the campaign, when the coronavirus made social distancing an imperative, we adapted. Door-to-door canvassing was replaced by increased phone banking. There was uncertainty about whether the primary would be postponed, concerns about low voter turnout, and voting snafus at polling places. Through all of these challenges, the commitment to positive change that first inspired us kept us going.
As we bask in Tuesday’s victories, I’m reminded of something Marie said at the summit. “The premise of our campaign, and the question we ask everyone is, ‘Is your life affordable today?’ And the answer is resoundingly ‘no.’” Electing progressives like Marie, Jesus, Robert, and Dagmara is the path to transforming the Democratic party’s priorities away from big-donor interests and back to the interests of working families. Marie Newman’s victory over an entrenched incumbent is proof that, through intelligent, persistent and committed organizing, we can take on the establishment, defeat their tactics, and win in our fight for the social and economic justice all of us deserve.