Before a sabbatical in the northwest Bronx settled into a domicile that has lasted 23 years and counting, I resided in what is now considered “Trump Country.”
Although the Mohawk Valley is only a three-hour drive and 200 miles in physical distance, politically it is far away.
Many of my childhood friends’ world views are vastly different from those of the “coastal elites.” Paradoxically, there are similar needs in those communities, and so many opportunities for collaboration on policies that will help millions of Americans across geographic, cultural and ethnic continuums.
What is more perplexing to some is that many aspects of the progressive agenda stand to benefit millions of voters opposed to it.
In a recent town hall with Jamaal Bowman hosted by Northwest Bronx Indivisible, the then congressman-elect effectively articulated this phenomenon that often seems esoteric to the creative class of professionals in coastal urban centers: “The GOP is managing a monopoly on working-class voters.”
I commend Mr. Bowman for calling out this fact, bringing attention to the divide that is widening among us Americans, and hope that he can be a part of the solution.
As Mr. Bowman pointed out during the event, the Democratic Party must re-evaluate its messaging if it is ever to expand its base and retake what was once a bastion of support. As co-chair of the New York Committee for Think National, Act Bronx, I had the opportunity to work on the campaign to re-elect U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi in what was once my home district.
President Obama won New York’s 22nd Congressional District in 2008, and came within less than 1 percent of winning it in 2012. Subsequently, both Clinton and Biden lost there in 2016 and 2020, respectively, and by substantially larger margins.
Along with my fellow co-chairs — Liz Manning and David Knapp — we effectively built bridges with individuals from within the district who otherwise would not be willing to listen to Democrats, let alone progressives.
Although I found our work arduous at times, I was motivated by my colleagues’ dedication to the campaign, and their assiduousness in connecting voters who previously would “never vote for a socialist.”
I realized that this was no easy task. We are not all as skillful as David and Liz at communication, social role-taking, and not offending while trying to persuade others to consider alternative viewpoints. Nevertheless, this is important work that needs doing. Now more than ever.
I was happy to hear that the Congressman-elect Bowman instructed his staff to compile a list of GOP representatives and moderate Democrats with whom he could attempt to find common ground. Many of the policy items he laid out as his initial plan — portable job benefits, expansion of child care services, investment in infrastructure, and trade agreements that protect American workers — are all ideas that have been supported by moderates from both parties. Mr. Bowman’s purported commitment to bipartisanship for the entire country’s benefit is laudable, and I hope that he accomplishes his stated objectives.
I can attest that folks in Central New York — and here in the Bronx — are hurting more than ever. The inequities and deprivation of resources that progressives fight veraciously against in our district are just as harsh and consequential in Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and adjacent rural white communities.
Meanwhile, the current Democratic Party has not figured out how to reach them. Democrats continue to lose ground with the working class in small towns and rural communities throughout the country.
In addition to gaining ground Upstate, as the congressman-elect astutely pointed out at the time, Trump increased his totals right here in New York City.
The message to working class Americans is getting lost, and Democrats should focus on why it keeps happening.
The statements made at the town hall portend that Congressman Bowman is willing and able to be a leader on this front. Whether he can communicate with colleagues who do not share his ideology remains to be seen.
As our work in the 22nd Congressional District demonstrated, it is not easy to get outside “the bubble” and understand alternative perspectives nonjudgmentally. However, Mr. Bowman can lead by example, refuse the temptation to vilify or patronize others who don’t necessarily see the world the same way, or judge people by who they voted for in the last election.
I hope that he does all of the above, and that his supporters follow his lead. Otherwise, Democratic power at both the executive and legislative branches will end up being nothing more than a sabbatical from the divisiveness that continues to pervade and intensify.
Meanwhile, districts across our great nation similar to the 22nd Congressional District — however close to home — will move further and further away.