Guernica Magazine

Meaghan Winter: Progressives Can’t Give Up on the States

The political journalist on the timidity of liberal foundations, the peril of ignoring local reporting, and whether organizers have succeeded where party politics has failed.

In February 2018, journalist Meaghan Winter was in the Colorado State Capitol building, sitting in on a hearing for what was known among Colorado politicos as a “kill committee”—properly, the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee—put into place by Republicans so that leadership had a method of killing progressive bills even as the minority party. For hours, Winter observed a cycle that repeated itself bleakly: impassioned, deeply informed citizens would share painful stories or argue for needed policy solutions; the committee chair would say thank you; someone else would have their turn; all until the committee voted to “postpone the bill indefinitely” and move on to another one. Some of these citizens were teachers, students, and parents hoping for a grant for public schools to spread awareness about mental illness and warning signs for self-harm and suicide. Others wanted safe injection sites and other community harm-reduction programs for drug abuse. A physician, who was also a state senator, wanted to prevent pharmaceutical manufacturers from price-gouging. “I was struck by the futility of…political theater,” Winter writes in All Politics Is Local, the book documenting her tour of state legislatures and the lawmakers and organizers who do battle in them, “but also the ordinariness of personal courage.”

During her hours in the hearing, one group did successfully advance their bill—gun owners lobbying for concealed-carry without a permit. As the cycle repeated into the evening, Winter texted a progressive lawmaker she had accompanied that she had seen enough and was preparing to leave.

“A miracle is about to happen though,” he replied.

“I can’t tell if you are joking,” she texted back.

“I stared down nihilism while writing this book,” Winter told me during a recent phone call. “I saw things I could not believe I didn’t know as someone who reads the paper every day. These libertarian strategists chose to push their agenda in those rooms because they knew we weren’t going to be able to see it, and they were right.” In hearing after hearing, like the one described above, conservative lawmakers made decisions about Medicaid expansion, gun rights, and voting rights, with little or no attention or comment from the national press.

Across the US, Republicans have seized control in statehouses to quash progress and entrench right-wing agendas, even as public opinion moves slowly left, and even in swing states or states that were once Democratic strongholds (see: Wisconsin). All of

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