The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Progressives launch ‘Justice Democrats’ to counter party’s ‘corporate’ legislators

Cenk Uygur, center, of the Young Turks, after speaking at a Bernie Sanders rally on  May 23 in Santa Monica, Calif. (Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)

Cenk Uygur, founder of the Young Turks video network that has become virally popular among progressive voters, is launching a project called Justice Democrats to defeat members of the Democratic Party who have cast votes seen as unacceptable.

“The aim in 2018 is to put a significant number of Justice Democrats in the Congress. The aim for 2020 is to more significantly take over the Democratic Party,” Uygur said. “If they're going to continue to be corporate Democrats, that's doomed for failure for the rest of time.”

Justice Democrats cohered after the 2016 election, when Uygur began talking to veterans of the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) about ways to challenge Democrats from the left. The Justice Democrats project counts Saikat Chakrabarti and Zack Exley, two tech veterans of the Sanders campaign, among its founders; their first goal was to provide the infrastructure and resources for progressives who wanted to challenge “corporate Democrats.”

In the near term, that meant finding people who could run against the 13 Democratic senators who opposed a Sanders-backed measure to make it easier to import prescription drugs from Canada.

“Some members of the party that are already in the Progressive Caucus, we're unlikely to primary. We want to focus on getting strong progressives into Congress,” Uygur said. “What's the point of primarying Representative Raúl Grijalva [D-Ariz.] if you want to do that? There will be a small number of people who ran once before, and we can look at them again. But do we want to challenge Senator Cory Booker [D-N.J.]? That's a no-brainer.”

The Justice Democrats platform mirrors much of what Sanders ran on, some of which had been adopted into the 2016 Democratic platform. Where Sanders called for renegotiating trade deals, the platform doubles down. Democrats have called for infrastructure spending; the platform calls for the party to “invest billions in rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, schools, levees, airports etc.” It goes even further than Sanders, however, in asking candidates to ban foreign aid to human rights violators.

All of that builds on what had been a time of expansion for the Young Turks. After the election, the site crowdfunded nearly $1 million to expand its team and roster of contributors. The Justice Democrats would follow the same model.

“I was hoping someone else would do this, but when no one else was,”  Uygur said, “somebody had to do it.”