Matt Brown, Democratic candidate for governor of Rhode Island, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, overnight political superstar from the Bronx, have a lot in common. They both want America to make a major investment in renewable energy. They both think $15 an hour is a fairer minimum wage. They both believe in Medicare For All. And neither is willing to accept corporate money in order to win an election.
In other words, they are both Justice Democrats.
Justice Democrats is a new national political action committee, started by Bernie Sanders staffers, that is helping the left win elections in 2018. “We have a national goal of electing a slate of progressive candidates,” Alexandra Rojas, one of the founders of Justice Democrats, told RI Future.
So far, Justice Democrats have endorsed about 70 candidates across the country. The most famous of which is Ocasio-Cortez, who pulled off a stunning upset of one of the most senior members of the House Democratic caucus recently. “I am proud to be a Justice Democrat,” she tweeted earlier this week. “JD’s effort to support working class, non-corporate candidates is how I got here.”
Brown is one of just three gubernatorial candidates nationwide to win their endorsement, joining Ben Jealous, of Maryland, and Abdul Al-Saed, of Michigan. He is the only Rhode Islander who can call himself a Justice Democrat.
“In particular, his very, very exciting green ‘New Deal’ for Rhode Island,” said Rojas, when asked how Brown earned their support. She also mentioned his support for a $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, and his primary opponent, Governor Gina Raimondo. “He’s going up against a corporate Democrat, and a woman who isn’t 100 percent behind women’s rights.” (Raimondo pushed for a state law protecting abortion right this year, but allowed for more abortion-free healthcare plans than required by law)
“It’s significant because we believe Justice Democrats represent the real values of the Democratic Party,” said Ron Knox, a spokesman for Brown. “We think of it as traditional Democratic values.”
There are more tangible benefits to the endorsement, too. “It puts us into a network of other like-minded candidates,” said Knox. Rojas added that the Brown campaign can use the group’s “Justice Dialer” phone banking software. “It’s huge,” Knox said of the “technical ways” Justice Democrats will benefit Brown’s campaign. “We’re not having $1,000 fundraisers,” he said. “Shared resources and the use of collective power will be important.”
Like Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders, Justice Democrats represents a new era for progressive politics in the United States – more progressive in their policy proposals and less compromising in their politics.
“All candidates are required to pledge not to take any corporate PAC or corporate lobbyist money,” according to Justice Democrats’ webpage. “Additionally, they will be progressive candidates who generally agree with the Justice Democrats platform,” which includes banning superPACs, abolishing the death penalty, regulating guns, reforming police, reducing homelessness, ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and ensuring every employee has paid time off.
And Justice Democrats, as seen in Rhode Island and the Bronx, are more than willing to take on Democrats. “We won’t run against candidates that fully support the Justice Democrats platform, but we also know that challenging incumbents in primaries is the best way to make them start to listen to people over corporate donors,” according to their “About” page. Of the more than 70 candidates endorsed by Justice Democrats, only 15 don’t have primary opponents and only three are incumbents themselves.
In fact, Justice Democrats say a long-term goal is more third party candidates. “We want our democracy to work for Americans again as soon as possible,” says their website. “The best way to do this is by working to change the Democratic party from the inside out. Once Justice Democrats take power, we plan to implement electoral reform like ranked choice voting so third parties can have more power in our democracy.
Rojas said they want to help “working class candidates that can relate to the people they will be serving.” She expects Ocasio-Cortez’s win was just the first win of this cycle for Justice Democrats. “What Alexandria did was prove to America that the impossible is possible. I think we are positioned to do extremely well.”
Knox certainly hopes so. “They are at the forefront of a national movement to take power away from narrow corporate interests and put it back in the hands of the people,” he said.