A letter to the left regarding the next governor of Illinois.

Daniel Biss remains the best candidate for the 99%


The first time I encountered Daniel Biss was at a Reclaim Chicago event. On the first monday of each month, a local group or candidate would speak and respond to questions at a humble location on Chicago’s north side. This week, it was 2018 gubernatorial candidate, Daniel Biss.

I listen to politicians and political-hopefuls very critically. I found myself interested in what Biss was saying, and also, how he was saying it. He seemed honest, and didn’t mince his words (like so many politicians do). Not strikingly charismatic, I thought―or overwhelmingly bold―but with good ideas, and a genuine way of speaking.

I got a similar impression listening to Daniel Biss as when I watched Bernie Sanders speak, in the sense that he actually means what he says. You can see it and feel it. He wasn’t dodging the tough questions, or playing political games.

Biss talked about taking on the political status quo. He also affirmed that he supports and will fight for some important issues, like full and equitable education funding, a universal healthcare system, and a much-needed progressive tax in the state of Illinois. He articulated a good case for public funding of elections, and getting big money out of politics.

These are not necessarily radical positions, but here in the United States, and in the state of Illinois, they are still relatively bold positions for a Democratic candidate to take. And I was pretty confident that Daniel Biss was not just saying these things. He actually meant them and believed in them.

(Later, I learned that Daniel Biss had co-sponsored quite a bit of progressive legislation during his time as State Senator, so his history backed up his sincere rhetoric.)

For that hour or two, I waited and waited for the phrase that I wanted to hear, but I never heard it. Political Revolution. That’s what I wanted to hear. Not only do we need a political revolution in Illinois, I thought, it would be required in order for Daniel Biss to stand a chance at winning the governor’s seat. Otherwise, he won’t generate the kind of enthusiasm and support that his campaign needed to fight and win against the establishment.

Daniel Biss made the point repeatedly, and we all knew it in the room, that he was not the “big money” candidate. He is not a billionaire or a millionaire, and his campaign is going to need all the help it can get. That was correct. He needed a political revolution, not only to win, but to effect change in office.

While Daniel Biss never mentioned that wonderful two-word phrase on that night―political revolution―he came close. And even if he did not say the phrase explicitly, he did speak about it. Daniel Biss spoke from the heart about representing the people, building a movement, and doing the tough work that is required for a democratic society. That is, more or less, what the political revolution is about.

**

Months later, I was present in Logan Square for an important announcement: Daniel Biss was selecting a very progressive member of city council, Carlos Ramirez Rosa, to be his running mate. Carlos Rosa is a proud Democratic Socialist―solidly to the “left” of Daniel Biss―and has proven to be a strong and consistent fighter in his community. In just a few years, and as the youngest member of Chicago’s city council, Carlos Rosa gained much confidence of the Left and local city activists.

This, we thought, was the political revolution the Biss campaign needed. The willingness to select Carlos Rosa in the first place showed that Daniel Biss was a different kind of candidate.

Unfortunately, a few days later, it came as bad news that Biss was dropping Rosa as his running mate. This upset leftists and activist in the local community, and rightfully so. The rationale was dubious at best. In short, Carlos Rosa had openly supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is seen as “radical” by some amount of voters (a bit strange, considering BDS is an implementation of “free speech”). Daniel Biss was not prepared for the political fallout, by association.

I believed it was a bad decision, and I was very upset about it. I suddenly lost my newly-found motivation to volunteer for the Biss campaign. And looking back, my upset was legitimate. So was the disappointment of other local leftists and activists, and I don’t blame them for their disappointment. I especially sympathize with the Chicago DSA (of which I am also a member) who harshly criticized Daniel Biss for this action. The DSA is proud of their support of both Carlos Ramirez Rosa and the BDS movement.

But some others among the grassroots decided to keep believing in Daniel Biss, and to continue supporting his campaign. For these folks I eventually found myself grateful. While I did personally lose inspiration to work for the Biss campaign, I also still believed in the back of my mind, and felt in my heart, that Biss remained, by far, the best option in the race. And not just a lesser option, but someone who could still be really good.

**

As the 2016 primary ended painfully, and then the national presidential election ended in disaster, I decided after a very long nap that it’s time to focus on local politics. Like Bernie Sanders said: no matter who wins political office, that is not enough. What we need is a political revolution.

Accordingly, this “revolution” had to come from the bottom-up. It had to be a truly grassroots effort. Imagine the Sanders campaign, where we stood together to say “enough is enough” and articulate our demands. But now, imagine something similar―but broader, better, and permanent. To me, that is the political revolution.

Over the past several years, I began to understand more deeply that politics is not just a matter of voting on election day. But, with that said, elected representatives still make some very important decisions, since these decision have major impacts on a lot of people. So I started thinking about the governor’s race, the mayoral race, and members of city council―all of whom wield great power in the city of Chicago, and beyond.

We have to get new people into these positions of power. We need elected officials who will represent their constituents. This will be our revolution―or at least, a major part of it.

So I just wanted to tell my story, and I am speaking mainly to others on the “left,” especially my fellow Democratic Socialists, who felt a similar disappointment when Daniel Biss dropped Carlos Ramirez Rosa. While I do not believe that was the right decision, neither do I believe Biss is a “compromise” candidate. Nor do I believe he is a lesser-of-evils. I actually believe, as I did on that first monday, that Daniel Biss could become one of the best governors in the nation.

Today, Daniel Biss was endorsed by Reclaim Chicago, a local organization supported by The People’s Lobby and National Nurses United. These organizations decided to endorse because “the stakes were too high” not to do so, and the contrast between Biss and the rest was all too clear.

Reclaim Chicago, People’s Lobby, and NNU have been at the forefront of this fight for a government of, by, and for the 99 percent. This new endorsement means a lot in our political revolution, and I believe that if Daniel Biss is pressured by the people, and powerful bottom-up organizations, then he could lead a political revolution in Illinois.

If you are any bit sympathetic to this movement toward a “people-powered” politics, it is important to vote for Daniel Biss in the Democratic primary on March 20, 2018. (You must be registered to vote by February 20th.) I will also ask that if you have the time and energy, consider directly supporting the Biss campaign, whether that means donating, volunteering, or whatever else you are good at doing.

Then, after the primary election on March 20th, we can focus on taking the governor’s seat from the billionaire Republican, Bruce Rauner, who has ripped our state apart.

Finally, this is an important race, but it is just one race, and electoral politics aren’t everything. There is the race for mayor ahead, and we will also be looking to replace some on the city council with others who will represent their constituents, rather than big money interests.

Let’s get Biss into the governor’s seat, then pressure him to do the right thing. But it doesn’t end there. We have to do the same thing everywhere else, at every level. The political revolution is not just a lifestyle, or an opinion. It is no longer a luxury or a privilege. It is a movement, and it is every single day. I believe, in these times, it is necessary.

**

Reclaim Chicago Endorsement
Daniel Biss on the issues
List of co-sponsored bills in IL Senate 
(Thanks, Elizabeth Lindquist)

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