The Star-Ledger has a fantastic write up of New Jersey Working Families, along with a great profile of our new executive director, Analilia Mejia. Read the whole thing:
January 19th, 2014
By David Giambusso
NEWARK — At the turn of the 20th century the cause of progressivism in America had one of the strongest advocates a cause could get: The president of the United States.
“A great democracy has got to be progressive or it will soon cease to be great or a democracy,” said Theodore Roosevelt.
The progressive movement then came as a response to rapidly developing technology and was meant to level the playing field between a group of uber-wealthy capitalists amassing breathtaking amounts of money and most Americans, who were struggling to pay the bills.
“The reality is that the economic downturn hit the working class and the middle class very, very hard,” said Analilia Mejia, the new executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, a coalition of progressive groups that is gaining a foothold in New Jersey.
“The supposed comeback or economic upturn hasn’t really resonated with working families and middle-class families in New Jersey or across the country,” Mejia said in an interview.
The Working Families Alliance began in 2007, roughly the same time as New York’s Working Families party. Mejia, who took over from William Holland as the group’s director this month, hopes to build on progressive momentum in New Jersey by drawing a direct line between New Jerseyans’ bank accounts and the voting booth.
“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,” Mejia said. “We need to engage people to start challenging their elected officials to do more for them and not just corporate interests.”
A quick look at income inequality in America paints a harrowing picture.
The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans now own roughly 73 percent of the nation’s wealth, while the bottom 90 percent own only 27 percent, according to 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.
New Jersey’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation, ranking 41st, according to the most recent numbers published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Working Families Alliance wants to translate those numbers into political action as more and more working class New Jerseyans see their paychecks stagnate, dwindle or disappear altogether.
So far, they see reason to hope.
New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, was elected on a wave of progressive support, 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 has its headquarters, is expected to pass a similar bill this week.
The Working Families Alliance has more than a dozen affiliates, including labor unions, New Jersey Citizen Action and Garden State Equality.
Rather than simply endorsing candidates, though, Mejia said the group wants to start fielding their own.
Making headway could be more difficult for the group in New Jersey than it was in New York, though.
“Election rules in New Jersey really constrain the effectiveness of third-party advocacy,” said Ben Dworkin, a political science professor at Rider University. 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.”
Still, Dworkin said like the tea party on the right, progressives can effectively pull the Democratic party to the left if they are effective.
“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,” Dworkin said. At any given moment, some subset of these voters can organize and push for change.”