WFT’s Maurice Mitchell: Exciting times for progressives
The Working Families Party (WFP) is basking in the sunshine of a huge measure of recent political success. The party backed a slew of progressive candidates in the recently concluded 2018 mid-term elections, and in particular helped to upend the tenuous hold that Republicans in New York State exerted over the State Senate. And the party also backed winning candidates across the United States articulating and executing a bold and working-peopled focused vision by its new national director, Maurice Mitchell.
I recently caught up with Maurice in an exclusive early morning interview to find out what he and WFP were doing, his thoughts on the recently concluded mid-term elections, and the way forward for the party, especially in New York State.
MICHAEL ROBERTS: Maurice the last time I spoke you, you had just taken over the reigns of leadership of the Working Families Party (WFT). You shared a vision of the future of the party with an emphasis on national political organization, and also promoting and pushing a progressive agenda. So my question to you is this: What’s changed since you took the top leadership role in WFP?
MAURICE MITCHELL: Well let me say thank you for speaking to me. CARIBBEAN TIMES NEWS is now my favorite newspaper for Caribbean news and information, and reaching the community in New York. Keep up the great work. First, the local and national litmus test for us was the recent mid-term elections and that was a good night for us. Working Families Party’s supportive and, in some cases, direct help for local candidates in New York City resulted in a new and transformative State Senate.
WFP candidates won by very large margins and defeated the corporate democrats and routed them from their positions in the Independent Democratic Congress (IDC) that is totally dead. Progressive democrats made the IDC extinct by defeating all – save one – member of that group that thwarted the will of the people for way too long. We’re very satisfied and happy with this development.
While we did not win the governor’s race our influence in it cannot be denied. I think that we helped to force a number of working people’s issues onto the debate. For example, issues like allowing felons to vote, and healthcare as a right and not a privilege for all New Yorkers. Nationally, we helped to put a democrat in the governor’s mansion in Wisconsin. That state under a Republican governor was “ground zero” for trampling on the rights of working people and attacks on organized labor. That also made it a good night for the WFP.
MR: With these wins under your belt I wonder what are your views on electoral reforms? Especially in the context of the Florida recounts and ballot box challenges in New York state.
MM: Great question. Yes, election reform is a major concern for the Working Families Party. We’ve had many complaints about problems with voting machines and other issues in New York, and we know the same it true for Black and Brown voters in Georgia and Florida. So we’re also focused in this area. But there is also good news. For example, in Texas even though Beta O’Rourke did not win the senate seat his campaign so energized voters for the first time that he closed an 800,000-voter gap. That’s new voters and young people. That’s good news for the future.
MR: So how do you see the Working Families Party in this new political context, post mind-term election?
MM: Simple. We want those voters to know that the Working Families Party is their political home. We’re growing our party and we’ve emerged much stronger after these mid-term elections.
MR: Let’s go back to the New York State elections. What does the control of all the three levers of state power mean or should mean for New Yorkers?
MM: It means that we can now promote and work towards an agenda for working people that helps to improve their daily lives. From a Working Families Party standpoint we’re going to push for a $15 minimum wage, work to make sure that we pass the DREAM Act this time, also put on the agenda driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants – this is a public safety and security issue and NOT and immigration one -, fight for women’s rights and generally make sure that this time around we set in place systems that will allow ordinary, working class New Yorkers to access democracy.
And we can do this by holing those that we elected and worked with to win the elections accountable to the voters and remind them of their commitment and promise to work on passing these working people reforms. We’ll also challenge them when and where necessary so that they work for us and not the other way around.
MR: Can you speak a bit about voter suppression?
MM: This is the Republican Party’s game plan – to disenfranchise and suppress the Black and Brown vote – one district at a time. They are afraid of our vote and so they concoct all kinds of anti-voter rules to depress Black and Brown voter turn out. But here New York can be the leading example to all other states by passing strong anti-voter and suppression laws. By overhauling, transforming and reforming the voting process here and making it better and making it easier for voters to exercise this democratic right – not more difficult.
MR: Finally, how is Working Families Party gearing up for 2020?
MM: 2020 is on our minds. We’re very focused on this presidential year. Not only to defeat Trump and the GOP but also to energize progressives, working people and women to go to the polls in the numbers that can make a huge difference. So we’re going to do a lot of work in early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and North Carolina. It’s also a census year and redistricting is going to be very important.
So we will be working with local legislators to either flip or keep state governments so that GOP gerrymandering tricks stymied, are exposed and made impotent. Yes, we have to win the presidency because of many reasons. But one crucial reason is to change the transformation and trajectory of the US Supreme Court that’s now being made in the image of the far-right.
MR: Thank you Maurice.
MM: You’re most welcome.