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Chicago ‘lefties’ still feelin’ the Bern, but not looking to burn Biden — see Dem nominee as stepping-stone to progress

“I fully expect our movement to continue once Joe Biden is elected,” said progressive firebrand Stacy Davis Gates. “Donald Trump is a fascist that has to be put down. We have to focus our attention on removing him from the White House. That’s not in argument.”

CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates speaks to thousands gathered at a Bernie Sanders rally in Grant Park in March.
CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates speaks to thousands gathered at a Bernie Sanders rally in Grant Park in March.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

While the Democratic Party rallies around presidential nominee Joe Biden, some of the Chicago area’s more liberal activists and politicians are taking a “we’ll see” approach to the middle-of-the-road candidate.

Democratic socialists and other activists told the Sun-Times that Biden “represents a door, and not a destination.”

They’re counting on him to beat President Donald Trump and open that door to a future with more progressive policies.

“This election is totally about just Trump — it’s not about Joe Biden,” said Ja’Mal Green, a Bernie Sanders supporter. “That’s just a hard part because Joe Biden has to take the reins, but it’s totally about getting Trump out of office. No one really cares about the change that Joe Biden is talking about because they don’t really believe in it.”

Activist Ja’Mal Green and representatives with Good Kids Mad City speak to reporters near the statue of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park in July.
Activist Ja’Mal Green and representatives with Good Kids Mad City speak to reporters near the statue of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park in July.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Democrats around the country have rallied around Biden during their national convention this week, lauding the longtime former senator and vice president over the course of their four-day virtual convention for his listening skills and his knowledge of “what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic, and lead our country,” as former first lady Michelle Obama said Monday night.

Ald. Daniel La Spata, who represents the 1st Ward and is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, said Biden’s going to have to put those listening skills to work should he be elected president.

“I think we’re going to need him to do some really critical listening to the needs and the vision of America,” said La Spata, who endorsed Sanders’ presidential candidacy early on. “When we talk about the Green New Deal or Medicare for All, we’re not talking about these things just because they’re radical or left ideas, They happen to also be the most efficient and effective paths to providing for the basic needs of all Americans. That’s what it really comes down to, and I’m counting on him for that.”

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) speaks at a rally for striking Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 members last year.
Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) holds up a copy of the 2020 Budget Recommendation as he speaks at a rally for striking Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 members outside the Thompson Center last year.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

While Biden hasn’t fully adopted many of Sanders’ ideas, he has inched to the left.

Biden’s health care platform now expands government-run health insurance. Eliminating private prisons is part of his proposed approach on criminal justice issues. And he’d also set bench marks to achieve net-zero carbon emissions before 2050.

Those policy points were a result of a task force between allies of Sanders and Biden.

Progressive firebrand Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said Biden, “for the lefties, represents a door, and not a destination.”

“I fully expect our movement to continue once Joe Biden is elected,” she said. “Donald Trump is a fascist that has to be put down. We have to focus our attention on removing him from the White House. That’s not in argument.”

Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, speaks during a rally in Federal Plaza in June.
Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, speaks during a rally in Federal Plaza in June.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Davis Gates said the party is “holding onto the empty promises of neoliberalism” at a time when “it is clear the progressive movement has captured the imagination of our country.”

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, who represents the 25th Ward and is a Sanders delegate, said he thinks people “need to continue to push [these] issues” because having a platform that is broadly supported gets people to vote.

“People want to see a bold and meaningful platform,” said Sigcho-Lopez, also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. “Making sure that this platform speaks to these issues is fundamental to making sure that we earn every single vote, [and] we convince people across the country that this is the platform that is going to turn things around. We not only need to rebuild our economy, we need to address structural issues, and we don’t have a lot of time.”

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) speaks out against the planned closure of Mercy Hospital & Medical Center during a news conference last week.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) speaks out against the planned closure of Mercy Hospital & Medical Center during a news conference last week.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Green, an organizer and surrogate for Sanders, said people have to “keep fighting” and keep organizing and putting up progressive candidates to keep pushing the party to the left. He also said progressives will have to fight “some of the powers of the Democratic Party and start to get progressive champions to lead the party” in the future.

Davis Gates said the convention and the Democratic party are “at a tipping point with how they welcome in new voices and new leadership.”

“America is transforming, and it is an America where the majority of voters believe that Black lives matter and that the policies that support Black lives mattering,” Davis Gates said. “It cannot be documented in flashes, but it has to be documented in who gets to speak, who gets a prime-time slot and what they get to express.”

Kofi Ademola, an organizer within the Movement for Black Lives, said people are “just fed up” with the response of “so-called progressives” to the pandemic, to the “climate crisis” and the unrest that has gripped many cities throughout the country.

Ademola doesn’t see Biden’s “neoliberal politics” as helping to address those issues. “I don’t have any faith in him whatsoever and even though Kamala [Harris] has cleaned up her record within the senate, and she voted on some progressive stuff, she still also backed bolstering the military budget,” Ademola said.

“For a lot of us that are fighting to defund the police … we also want to defund the military.”