Nina Turner’s defeat by Shontel Brown is being styled as a blow for progressives. But is it really?

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Nina Turner speaks during a ‘Get Out the Vote’ canvassing event in Ohio (Getty Images)
Nina Turner speaks during a ‘Get Out the Vote’ canvassing event in Ohio (Getty Images)

Nina Turner — a progressive candidate for Ohio’s 11th congressional district primary — has conceded defeat to Shontel Brown, a candidate championed by conservative moderate politicians such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC). Turner had been endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and the Justice Democrats, an influential progressive PAC that has been instrumental in getting progressives elected to Congress. When the Associated Press called the race, Turner was behind Brown at 44 percent to 51 percent.

Directly calling out the Super PACS that worked against her — one controversial Super PAC spent nearly $1 million on TV ads for Brown alone — Turner pledged to keep going during her concession speech. “I am going to work hard to ensure that something like this never happens to a progressive candidate again,” she said. “We didn’t lose this race — the evil money manipulated and maligned this election.”

Turner’s loss was a deep blow for many progressives, who were hoping to get more representatives in Congress who would fight for Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal. Considering the wildfires and record-high temperatures that ravaged the American West in the past few months, decisive climate action feels more urgent than ever; and considering the ongoing pandemic, universal healthcare seems like more than a sensible aim. Unfortunately, establishment Democrats don’t seem to agree. President Biden, for example, remains opposed to cancelling student loan debt, the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-All, and defunding the police.

Turner, a former Ohio state senator, was a chief surrogate for Senator Bernie Sanders, whose run for president was also a beacon of hope amongst progressives hoping for a more just world. Like Turner’s loss, Sanders’ loss to President Biden dealt the leftist Democrat movement a crushing blow, forcing us into a choice between a candidate who didn’t stand for our values and a candidate (then-President Trump) who seemed he might soon become an uncontrollable dictator.

But Trump is gone, so it’s more important than ever to stress that for progressives, conservative Democrats are not our allies. Our solutions, ideologies, and commitments are actually quite far apart and candidates like Turner have never been afraid to say so.

One could say that Turner’s willingness to call out Democratic conservative moderates for their inaction and unjust policies was what actually lost her the race, as she became too polarizing of a figure. But we are in a fight for our lives, and such fights will be polarizing. Is the answer to stay silent? I don’t believe that.

The burden is on progressives as much as it is on the other side. We need to do better at reaching the people who have the most to gain from progressive policies and organizing them against the leviathan that is our corrupt political system. And there are many fights we are winning, like Rep. Cori Bush’s (D-MO) victory on the eviction moratorium, after she went above and beyond by sleeping on the steps of the Capitol this week.

All of us who can must go above and beyond, as well. We must learn from our failures and learn from them quickly, because we are running out of time. We can’t wait for climate justice. We can’t wait on the end of police brutality and the prison-industrial complex. We can’t wait to make sure every single person in this country has access to free healthcare. We can’t wait on aggressive policies (including mandatory vaccination) that could end the Covid-19 pandemic.

Turner’s loss is a loss for us all — yes, even conservative and moderate Democrats, even right-wing Republicans. Because while all candidates have flaws, progressive policies are the only thing that will make America a better place. We must learn from this defeat and push forward, determined to create the world we want to see.

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