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WEINSTEIN: Ahead of 2024, Disunity Breeds Apathy — and Dictatorship

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t left enough for some progressives who think Bernie Sanders shouldn’t be supporting President Biden. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? How small can the liberal tent get and still win?

It’s the old question in politics and public policy: Unity or purity? Are so-called “purity tests” — whether for progressivism or conservatism — worthwhile, or are they counterproductive and ultimately self-defeating?

The way I see it, as a longtime progressive in the public health space, democracy is more a tender sapling in need of constant care than an immovable oak. Currently, nations worldwide — including the United States — are learning the true fragility of democracy. From the attacks on LGBTQ people to government censorship, freedom is at risk in more ways than one. Freedom-loving people have a wide variety of interests beyond the conventional political process. Freedom haters, conversely, have the single-minded purpose of wiping out fundamental human rights, and their unity in that pursuit gives them power.

Despite often representing a minority of the population, the opponents of freedom tend to win because of their dogmatic commitment to stand as one. They are determined to unite as allies. In contrast, the lovers of freedom often dissipate their energy through infighting, which eventually breeds apathy. Purity tests create frustration, rapidly sending classical liberals running for the exits.

On the progressive side, too many believe that only the purest belong in their movement. The haters keep it simple: If you hate the same people we hate, you’re in.

Consider 2016, when Donald Trump united even skeptical Republicans by railing against common “enemies” — from the mainstream media to what he perceived as the political establishment. In truth, it happens on both sides, with Biden courting initially dubious Democrats during the 2020 primaries by identifying the “MAGA” movement as a common enemy. The Biden campaign is doing the same now, urging unity within his party.

Unity breeds more unity, while division creates more division.

For progressives, why isn’t it enough to coalesce around the common enemy of hate? Once progressives defeat hatred, we can empower each individual or group to pursue their unique agendas according to their priorities and beliefs.

The Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 — inspired by George Floyd’s murder — offer a viable case study in unity, at least when they first took place. The largest sustained civil rights marches in American history welcomed all people who opposed police brutality. But once the protests subsided, the initial unity eventually fractured over purity, creating — in part — a cautionary tale.

LGBTQ Pride presents another case study. Pride events are unifying because every stripe of the rainbow has a place in the line of march. Means of expression vary wildly, but most marchers celebrate diversity and inclusion that uplift us all. There are strong shows of communal unity until one stripe attacks the other instead of strengthening the alliance.

I see the consequences of the ideological purity test in my work. Our advocates, who are working to rid the world of AIDS, are often forced to spend more time fighting supposed allies than those openly hostile to our movement. Needless squabbling over strategies, tactics and funding risks the viability of our movement rather than expanding it for the sake of HIV medical care and prevention everywhere.

Because loud dividers drown out unifiers, unifiers must take a stand. If they don’t, they surrender the movement for freedom and democracy — first to the dividers and then, ultimately, to the haters.

It is fashionable to believe that movements can thrive without leadership. There is a healthy distrust of leaders based on bitter history. Nevertheless, how successful has any movement been without leadership that preaches and practices unity?

The key is holding leadership accountable without attacking leaders at every turn and fueling more division. Those who support unity should be celebrated, not condemned, even if they don’t answer every question right on the purity test. Americans should apply that logic in all political and policy contexts, whether the 2024 election, the push for affordable housing or LGBTQ rights.

These are sobering times in America. Our impulse to debate every issue until exhaustion is a distraction. The natural skepticism of any leader is self-defeating. We desperately need trusted leaders to go head-to-head successfully with the haters. And once we identify them, leaders need to be trusted to lead.

You are either pro-freedom or not. You are either pro-democracy or not. Muddying the waters with unnecessary purity tests only ends up eroding both.

As She Leads in Latest Poll, Locals Ask: What Would Mayor Gym Mean for Suburbs?

A recent poll shows that Helen Gym is ahead of the field — slightly.  What would a Philadelphia mayor who is an unapologetic progressive mean to the businesses and families in the suburbs?

The Emerson College/PHL17 Poll has “Gym at 21 percent, followed by Cherelle Parker with 18 percent, Rebecca Rhynhart with 18 percent, and Allan Domb with 14 percent. Jeff Brown trails with 10 percent.” The poll showed that 15 percent were undecided less than a week from Election Day (May 16).

“When these voters are asked which candidate they lean towards, and that is added to their total support, Gym’s support increases to 23 percent, Parker to 21 percent, Rhynhart to 20 percent, and Domb to 17 percent,” the poll stated.

“This is an exciting race where there is no clear frontrunner,” said  Spencer Kimball, Executive Director of Emerson College Polling. “The top four candidates are within the poll’s margin of error and could receive the most votes depending on demographic turnout.”

Gym could win the Democratic nomination with fewer than a third of the electorate because so many candidates are running and dividing up the vote totals. And with a 7-1 Democratic voter registration, the Democratic nominee will likely be the next mayor, barring a major upset. Republican David Oh, a former city councilman, is unopposed in the GOP primary.

“Like many Chester County voters, I am concerned about the rising crime in Philadelphia and its spread to the suburbs. As I write this, Helen Gym is holding a campaign rally with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, which tells me everything I need to know about whether she will hold criminals accountable. There’s only one candidate in the Philadelphia mayoral race that I trust to make the city and its suburbs safer, and that is City Councilman David Oh,” said Eric Roe, a former Pennsylvania state representative and candidate for Chester County Commissioner.

Guy Ciarrocchi, former president of the Chester County Chamber of Commerce, said, “I think the big unspoken and unwritten story is the number of businesses making plans to close or relocate to the suburbs. Almost no one will talk on the record, nor will the chamber or other business leaders.  How many chose to close matters, and how many relocate to the suburbs matters. And in my opinion, it’s no victory when a major employer leaves center city or Port Richmond and relocates to King of Prussia.

“But the issue is that many are preparing for the worst—higher taxes, increased crime with little or no consequences, and underperforming schools.”

Pat Poprik, chair of the Bucks County Republicans, believes a Gym mayoralty will not be good for the suburbs or the city.

“I think she’s very progressive, further left than Mayor Kenney.” Poprik said, noting that Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to rally with Gym on Sunday.

Gym tweeted: “I am honored to stand with two of the most inspiring political leaders and fiercest fighters for working people. The eyes of the nation are on Philadelphia because we are going to make history this Tuesday.”

Sanders tweeted: LIVE from PHILADELPHIA: Join @aoc  and me as we rally to make @HelenGymPHL – a true fighter for the working class – the next mayor of Philadelphia!”

And AOC retweeted Gym: “Everything must change. On Tuesday, vote for courage and transformation. This is our moment to build a Philadelphia where public schools are strong, communities are safe, workers are protected, and young people have a future to believe in. We get the city we fight for.”

Poprik says this is the wrong message for suburbanites who are increasingly concerned about the state of the city.

“That doesn’t bode well for the city. Bucks Countians don’t want to go there. You don’t feel safe there,” Poprik said. And that will only get worse if Gym takes over and drives more left-wing policies. “Philly has so many problems that could bleed into our counties,” she said. More Philadelphia residents will move to the suburbs. “They’re fleeing California (because of progressivism),” she said.

“It’s too much,” she said. “It’s out of control. I don’t think it’s best for the city to have somebody that liberal.”


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