Building a Movement Beyond the Elections: Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, Dan Cantor & Steve Phillips

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is the progressive Chicago politician who forced conservative Democrat Rahm Emanuel into the first run-off in that city’s history. Dan Cantor is the co-founder and national director of the Working Families Party. Before co-launching the WFP, he was a union organizer in New Orleans and Detroit; a community organizer in Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri; and Labor Coordinator for Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1998 presidential campaign. The two talk with Laura about how they see a path for progressives to change the Democratic Party, and national politics.

Later in the show, Steve Phillips discusses the importance of cultural competence in electoral politics. Phillips is a civil rights lawyer, co-founder of and the author of his new book, Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority


Laura Flanders: We often talk on this program about how the problems we're facing as a nation, as communities, are structural they’re not solveable with a simple fix. If they're structural, can they still be affected by electoral changes? A lot of people look at an election cycle like the one the United States is going through right now and say “No President can fix what’s wrong in my neighborhood. I’m gonna sit this one out...”

In the struggle between those who say “get involved” and those who say “the problems are way bigger than this election”, live our next two guests. One is commissioner Chuy Garcia who gave Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel the run of his life for re-election last year and forced him into his first ever, the city’s first ever, mayoral run-off.  Chuy, welcome to the program, glad to have you.

Chuy Garcia: Great to join you.

Laura Flanders: Also with us, Dan Cantor. He is the co-founder and director of the Working Families Party which has made itself a force to be reckoned with in New York, and now has its sights set on the national stage. It also had an impact in Chicago, working on the Garcia campaign. Welcome, Dan, glad to have you. 

Dan Cantor: Thanks for having me.

Laura Flanders: So let's start with Chicago, Commissioner, talk about those structural challenges. What're you facing? 

Chuy Garcia: Well, Chicago's a city that is struggling to come out of the age of de-industrialization where massive job losses occurred that really impacted everyone, but especially African-Americans and Latinos. Consequently, as the city moves forward becoming a corporate center, striving to become a global city, you have huge investments in the city center and the central business district, while the neighborhood's suffer. Particularly the neighborhood's where African-Americans and Latinos live, coupled with a pattern where schools have been dis-invested in. In part due to an antiquated state tax system, lack of investment, over-reliance on property taxes. Then you have a wholesale demolition of the old public housing system that existed there, without replacement of the housing. You really have a tale of two cities.


Laura Flanders: New York's not so different from Chicago in its history, what's the challenge look like where you are, Dan?

Dan Cantor: The structural rules of the political game in New York, are better than they are in Chicago. Most primarily around public financing of elections. The whole rise of the progressive caucus in the city council and the election of Bill de Blasio would have been entirely impossible before the arrival of publicly funded elections, because it meant you didn't only have to have a Rolodex full of wealthy contributors. Everybody ran with an adequate amount of money, which were collected in a low dollar contribution. It's one of these rules of the games, one of these structural reforms that seems dry, but is monumentally important.


Laura Flanders: Steve Philips is a Civil Rights lawyer, co-founder of, and the author of Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution has Created a New American Majority, just out from The New Press. Here's Philips.

What do you say to people who say, "There's too much money in politics, what are you talking about?"

Steve Philips: The money is what it is. My issue is how it's actually being spent. The Democrats spent 2.7 billion dollars in the 2012 election, and my concern is that they're wasting hundreds of millions of dollars because they don't understand how the electorate has changed, and they continue to chase the shrinking sector of the electorate, which is the more conservative white swing voter, instead of investing large amounts of money into growing communities of color, which are the cornerstones of a new American majority.

Laura Flanders: What kind of money are we talking about?

Steve Philips: 

Well, 46% of Democratic voters are people of color, so close to half of the money they spend. They're going to spend close to three billion dollars, close to half of that really should be invested in hiring consultants who understand these communities, hiring staff from these communities, go door-to- door, really partnering up with community organizations and churches. Those types of things are much more effective than thirty second TV ads trying to change the minds of conservative voters.

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