The symbolism and significance of Joe Biden selecting Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as the first Black woman and first Asian American on a major party ticket matters to progressives. Still, it’s an open question how committed a Biden-Harris administration would be to real structural change. Biden has never been a particularly progressive politician, and in choosing Harris, he has selected a second-in-command with a similar tendency to align with the establishment. In a crisis moment that calls for bold reform, chances are that reform won’t happen if progressives simply wait for a Biden-Harris administration to take charge. Instead, progressives will have to push hard — in the streets, on the campaign trail and in the halls of Congress.

In recent years, we’ve seen a rebirth of major protest movements — from the grass-roots groundswells for Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal, to the massive Women’s March and March for Our Lives, to nationwide walkouts for climate justice and mass demonstrations against police brutality. These movements were mostly aimed at Republican policies and politicians. But they resulted in real change on the Democratic side, too — evidenced by this year’s party platform, which is more progressive than some thought possible.

To be sure, some have noted that the 2020 Democratic platform falls short in not endorsing Medicare-for-all — and some convention delegates, such as Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), will vote against the platform for this reason. In a statement, Khanna and the other co-chairs of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign argued, “By voicing their dissent, these delegates have ensured that the call for a humane, rational, cost-effective healthcare system will be heard during the convention — and this will benefit the Democratic Party.”

At the same time, the platform, heavily influenced by a Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, sets aggressive goals to combat climate change, calls for increased gun control, a federal jobs guarantee, promises to end “forever wars” and “regime change,” and demands policies that “reimagine policing for the benefit and safety of the American people.”

Still, even if the daily outrages from the White House come to an end, it’ll take constant vigilance to turn these planks into reality. One way to do that would be to get more progressives elected to Congress. Over the past few years, insurgent candidates, backed by grass-roots progressive and democratic socialist organizations, have run to the left of out-of-touch incumbents and won, demonstrating the power of more progressive representation. From “the Squad” in 2018 to 2020 candidates such as Missouri’s Cori Bush and New York’s Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, and Zohran Mamdani, we’re learning how big a difference it makes when organizers, nurses, educators and, yes, bartenders take charge — and the people fighting for everyday Americans are actually everyday Americans.

Once they’re in office, progressives must let other lawmakers know that they need not wait for a green light to push for change. In the most recent Democratic administrations, the party’s priorities have typically been dictated from the top down. But it wasn’t always like that. The Second New Deal — which gave us labor protections, Social Security and more — was spearheaded not by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt but by the most progressive members of Congress and activists. Now is the time for their successors to remember that it’s not only Biden and Harris who set the agenda; the left, too, can lead the way.

After the ticket was announced, the leaders of RootsAction.org and Progressive Democrats of America said that while Harris’s “penchant for taking positions broadly palatable to the corporate donor class raises concerns about her progressive principles, her habit of aligning her stance with the prevailing political winds gives us hope.” They added, “We will fight every day to hold Vice President Harris to the higher ideals she often espouses.” These progressives have set a clear goal: “to get rid of Trump, [and] keep pressure on Biden.”

As progressives work to elect the Democratic ticket, they should remember: Putting a Biden-Harris administration in power will not guarantee the change this country needs. It will simply make this change possible. As Working Families Party national director Maurice Mitchell put it in the party’s endorsement last week, “Electing Joe Biden is a door, not a destination.”

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