With Bernie Sanders all but defeated and Joe Biden a near lock for the Democratic presidential nomination, the American left should be inconsolable right now. But these are not normal times. Instead of despairing, leading progressives say they are invigorated, and eager to use the coronavirus crisis to convince Biden—and millions of other Americans—that major reforms are necessary.
“These ideas we’ve been touting for a while are quickly coming to fruition as great policy measures to tackle [in] this moment,” Varshini Prakash, a co-founder and the executive director of Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group advocating for climate action, told me. A great many significant social reforms have been triggered by periods of intense economic upheaval. The Tea Party seized the Great Recession in 2008–09 and its aftermath, for example to reshape the trajectory of the Republican Party. Progressives argue that the next few weeks and months present a similarly crucial juncture during which they can galvanize the American public behind their causes.
“Now is our time,” says Matt Morrison, the national director of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.
Progressives’ optimism could be misplaced. Social scientists have found that economic crises often benefit far-right parties. Americans may well emerge from this pandemic with increased hostility toward the government and its societal interventions; after all, failed leadership helped get us to this point. And progressive activists are still figuring out exactly how to mobilize Americans when social-distancing guidelines prevent in-person gatherings and most people are more concerned with staying healthy and employed. But already organizations say they’re working to engage Americans virtually, calling for them to pressure their members of Congress, and encouraging fellow progressives inspired by this crisis to run for office up and down the ballot.