But progressives are adamant that the only way to win in November and beyond is to be about more than economics, and that the right message—the one that will appeal to progressive whites, as well as turning out more people of color to the polls—invokes both race and class equally. Two Netroots trainings on developing a “Race-Class Narrative” were completely filled this weekend, with activists and organizers participating in mock-canvassing sessions in which they practiced delivering lines that contained both racial and economic messages. “The status quo has been not to talk about race, and there’s a myth out there is that if you talk about race you’ll lose,” said Causten Rodriguez-Wollerman, one of the leaders of the training and a strategist with the public-policy organization Demos. “You cannot build a multiracial coalition by being silent on race.”
Some Democrats have poked holes in this “emerging majority” strategy on logistical grounds. “I don’t think there’s a secret progressive nonvoter bloc that, if we just say the magic words, is gonna show up and, voila, fix the Democrats’ problems at the polls,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, the vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way, a think tank advocating for center-left ideas. Nonvoters, she said, are going to be hard to engage. “Is it easier to activate a whole bunch of people that haven’t voted in 20 years or persuade the people who are already showing up?”
To counter that, though, progressives offer up Alabama as a test case: In December, Doug Jones became the first Democrat elected to the Senate from the state in 25 years with the help of 96 percent of black voters. They also point to the Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, an African American woman who structured her campaign around minority empowerment and outreach in order to beat her more moderate primary opponent. To defeat the Republican Brian Kemp, Abrams is attempting to do what Obama did in 2008: build a coalition of progressive whites, but also turn out minorities to the polls at far greater numbers than usual. If Abrams can pull that off, writes Time’s Molly Ball, “the implications would be profound, not just for Georgia but for the whole region and potentially the nation.”
On Saturday, the final night of this year’s Netroots conference, a small group of young protesters from the “Black-Ass Caucus” took to the stage. “We will no longer be tokenized by so-called white allies,” one man shouted to the audience. Another protester, a young woman, criticized progressives who speak about economics and class without mentioning race. “Everything—including class issues—are built on race issues!” she yelled into the microphone.
“I’m a woman of color and people do not pay attention to us, even in the littlest things, but we are always the ones saving the Democratic Party,” the 27-year-old Ianthe Metzger, a staffer for the Human Rights Campaign and a Netroots attendee, told me earlier in the weekend. “Finally it feels like we have a say … It’s like finally, this is our moment.”