Beyond the Bubble

The Democrats’ way back: Meet the activists driving the party left and its leaders nuts

Immigration activists protest against the Maricopa County Sheriff and Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the county jail  Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, in Phoenix.
Immigration activists protest against the Maricopa County Sheriff and Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the county jail Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, in Phoenix. AP

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WASHINGTON — In the second episode of a special five-part miniseries, McClatchy’s national political correspondent Alex Roarty, who covers the Democratic Party, sits down with Sean McElwee, a 26-year-old leader in the movement to abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, to talk about the big ideas rocking the left — and terrifying some party leaders.

McElwee is the co-founder of a liberal group called Data for Progress that’s growing in influence and hosting weekly happy hours with up-and-coming liberal Democrats in New York. He says his effort is well aware of the heartburn it causes Democratic leaders, but wants to shift the conversation in Washington to the left.

“Abolish ICE is really about ending deportation specifically … the Democratic Party has to take danger and threats to American people more seriously,” says McElwee.

“The Republican Party is not a good faith negotiator of immigration policy, and the next chance we have at reform … the progressive argument is we shouldn’t start with Gang of 8 Compromise,” he added, referring to a failed effort on the part of senators from both parties to accomplish border security and immigration reform in 2013.

(Listen to Episode 1 of The Democrats’ Way Back)

Also on this episode, Jess Morales Rocketto, political director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, walks through the realities of turning activist talking points into general election objectives.

The alumna of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election is also pushing the party to aim bigger in 2020.

“Part of what I’m really excited about over the last couple of years we are actually talking about a politics of possibility on the left,” says Morales Rocketto. “We are starting to advocate for things that, you know, a long time ago people said weren’t even possible.”

On the next 25-minute episode of Democrats’ Way Back, available for download Wednesday, November 14, Roarty sits down with the centrists — Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes and Third Way’s Lanae Erickson — for a look at how moderates fit into the new Democratic Party.

Democrats’ Way Back is produced by Jordan-Marie Smith and Davin Coburn. Alex Roarty, a national political correspondent for McClatchy covering the Democratic Party, recorded this episode at McClatchy’s Washington Bureau.
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