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Progressive group making traction in New Jersey

The Working Families Alliance is looking to become a strong progressive outlet for the Democratic Party in New Jersey.
The Working Families Alliance is looking to become a strong progressive outlet for the Democratic Party in New Jersey.

In New York and Connecticut, there is a progressive voice beyond the Democratic Party reaching out to voters as well as holding politicians to a certain standard. While New Jersey has had it's own similar voice; its structure has not been as expanded when it comes to the ballot box. The Working Families Party has nominated candidates in a few states including New York and Connecticut. The Working Families Alliance in New Jersey has continued to gain steam in the state and hopes to have the same level of success and influence in the Garden State.

Over a hundred years ago, the leader of the Republican Party; President Theodore Roosevelt; began a major push to guide the country down a more progressive path at the dawn of a new century.

For Roosevelt,

A great democracy has got to be progressive or it will soon cease to be great or a democracy.

Roosevelt's biggest cause during his time in office might have very well been his efforts at "trust busting" the big banks. He squared off at times with multiple key figures in the business world like J.P. Morgan.

The progressive movement would begin to take off as there was an increase in developing technology and an attitude in the country led by Roosevelt was growing towards leveling the playing field between a group of super wealthy capitalists amassing ridiculous amounts of money and most Americans who were battling to get by. The script of today's conversations was taking place as far back as 100 plus years.

As Analilia Mejia, Executive Director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, would voice;

The reality is that the economic downturn hit the working class and the middle class very, very hard. The supposed comeback or economic upturn hasn’t really resonated with working families and middle-class families in New Jersey or across the country.

The Working Families Alliance started up in New Jersey in 2007 at around the same time as New York’s Working Families Party.

Mejia took over from William Holland as the group’s director recently. She hopes to build on progressive momentum in New Jersey by drawing a direct line between New Jerseyans’ bank accounts and the voting booth.

For Mejia,

We really want to get people to think through why we are not doing as well as we could be or should be and how can we actually address this. We need to engage people to start challenging their elected officials to do more for them and not just corporate interests.

A quick glance at income inequality in this country shows a rough picture. The wealthiest 10% of Americans now own roughly 73% of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 90% own only 27% based on statistics from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Since the 1970’s, the share of annual income going to the top 1 percent has doubled to 20 percent, according to the same data.

According to the most recent numbers published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, New Jersey's unemployment rate ranks 41st.

The Working Families Alliance wants to utilize these numbers into political action as more and more working class New Jerseyans see their paychecks stall, dwindle, or disappear altogether.

So far, they are optimistic of the future ahead. New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, was elected on a wave of progressive support and promising to help abate income inequality in New York. The New York City Council’s progressive caucus doubled in last year’s elections. And the city’s public advocate and comptroller are both staunch progressives.

In October, Jersey City was the first New Jersey city to pass a paid sick leave bill, mandating that private sector employees be given sick days if needed. Newark, where the Working Families Alliance is centrally located, followed suit shortly after.

The Working Families Alliance has more than a dozen affiliates, including labor unions, New Jersey Citizen Action and Garden State Equality.

Rather than just endorsing candidates, Mejia is aiming to have the group start fielding their own candidates. Making headway could be more difficult for the group in New Jersey than it was in New York, though.

For Ben Dworkin, a Rider University political science professor,

Election rules in New Jersey really constrain the effectiveness of third-party advocacy. The progressive groups have a strong ability to organize and lobby and involve themselves in races and thereby have an impact in promoting their agenda but New Jersey’s not set up like New York where you have multiple parties and candidates can run on multiple lines.

Dworkin sees progressive groups having the ability to reach out to Democratic elected officials and pull them more to the left and potentially have negative affects similarly to the Tea Party and similar groups on the right.

As Dworkin would add,

America’s two party system by definition means that the Republicans and the Democrats are large umbrella organizations for a whole host of different voters and constituencies. At any given moment, some subset of these voters can organize and push for change.

With a Republican governor in Chris Christie in Trenton and issues like education, property taxes, and pension reform being discussed the last few years; the Working Families Alliance has had an avenue to voice their support or opposition on legislation and agenda items being presented by the governor or the State Legislature. The Working Families Alliance is looking to become the leading progressive voice in the state. Their efforts can go a long way in paving the road for that. A road that could include a third party candidate on ballots at some point. For now, they will look to at least make a dent in the political conversations in the state.

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