As I have worked this summer at the Center for American progress, I have noticed some interesting if not contradictory phenomena. As has been reiterated countless times, this election cycle has seen partisanship increase at a level previously unseen. Bitter rivalries and polarizing candidates have made it seem impossible for Democrats and Republicans to compromise and collaborate. Especially given the dedication and attention that committed Republicans have for hating Hillary Clinton and anyone she associates with, it’s almost inconceivable that policies would gain more traction if they were more centrist in nature. To my surprise, much of my work at CAP has been on projects that are more center-left than would be expected of an organization that has such close and influential ties with the Democratic party. Our team has formed a coalition of organizations to work on education reform that spans the range of the ideological spectrum. As rare as it is to find, when working toward the same goal ideology becomes less important that policy based in commonality. CAP has published products that have sway over both liberal and conservative policymakers. Making change is about making friends across the aisle, and that’s a political strategy that’s beginning to become a little bit of a lost art. I was honestly shocked at the centrist mindset of my coworkers and the organization’s unwavering support for the Democratic Establishment. As someone who identifies as very liberal on many issues, it was surprising to me to interact with coworkers and superiors that held views that I considered to be less progressive and decidedly more moderate. For me, this was more a point of interest than a source of conflict. In a surprisingly competitive primary, Bernie Sanders took positions so far to the left that the juxtaposition left Hillary Clinton looking very moderate. The millennial voters that formed the foundation of Bernie Sanders’ success are considerably more liberal than their predecessors, especially on social issues. In order to attract their support after effectively securing the nomination, Hillary Clinton effectively had to shift further left on many of her policies. While this shift has far reaching implications for her candidacy and the future of the Democratic party, I remain unconvinced that it’s enough to repair the rift that the energy that surrounded the Sanders campaign caused.
After the media spotlight on the tragic murders of unarmed Black men at the hands of police intensified during the week of July 4th-8th, going into the office was challenging. To have to process the trauma of watching Philando Castile get shot in front of his partner and child during a traffic stop was overwhelming in a predominately white corporate space. To their commendation, my white coworkers were empathetic and many tried to be supportive of the space necessary to begin to grieve. To my dismay, the space where the community was supposed to come together and heal was taken over by those who did not share the same mission. Too often what happens in places like CAP in the face of tragedy is that well-meaning white people come together to start thinking about solutions to policy problems. The issue I take with this is that these voices can dominate a space and begin thinking in an abstract, detached, way about a systemic issue by beginning to address them through the lens of policy. Spaces that are supposed to be for processing raw grief and deeply personal emotion can too quickly be turned into a seminar for policy wonks. What was upsetting to me was that immediately after the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, the first instinct of my coworkers was to tackle ideas for gun violence prevention policies that affect everyone. It was the embodiment of the think tank equivalent of #AllLivesMatter. In a very centrist approach, my coworkers threw their support behind a bipartisan gun reform bill. I wanted to see more directed policy solutions that would seek to address the systemic racism and police militarization that lay at the heart of the issue, but that would have alienated more conservative coalition partners. This is an increasingly frequent occurrence as policymakers work to craft legislation that is more center-left in an attempt to build more broad support. It’s an admirable approach that in theory would lead to more reforms being passed but in execution is harmful to those with marginalized identities that suffer under the status quo. I fully support cooperation across the aisle, but not at the expense of those who are oppressed. On some issues, compromise is not acceptable, and center is just not enough.