Nina Turner: My Love Letter to Our Movement

Nina Turner reflects in Jacobin on her recent congressional campaign, the importance of continuing to fight for Medicare for All, and how the Left can still win real change.

No one person, not even the greatest candidate, ever runs for office by themselves.

Dear progressive movement,

As I reflect on the past few weeks, I am filled with pride and gratitude for the incredible strides our progressive movement has made and continues to make. Our collective impact in improving the material conditions of working families of all races and from every walk of life in America is unmistakable.

After all, that is the entire reason for this movement. We are on a journey — united on a mission to center the poor, the working poor and the barely middle class. I call that journey our “justice journey.”

Just look around and see how far we have advanced the needle on policies like Medicare for All, a $15 an hour minimum wage, the Green New Deal and canceling student debt. These policies are more popular than ever, and we have successfully elected progressive candidates who are advancing these and other people-centered policies in the Congress. We cannot overstate the role that our progressive House members and Senators are having on the transformational legislation moving through the Congress right now. In addition, we have seen a growing influence of the dozens of organizations that share our mission.

We have made this progress because we have stood together against the enormous odds arrayed against us, and we have stayed the course.

I liken the members of our movement to twenty-first-century freedom fighters. We are courageous, determined individuals committed to centering the needs of everyday people in the political and legislative process. We believe it is time to end an approach to governance where the wealthy and well-connected are first in line and working people are an afterthought.

When the opportunity to run in Ohio’s Eleventh Congressional District presented itself, I saw a chance to leverage our movement to help reduce poverty in my hometown of Cleveland, the poorest city of its size in America, and to elevate our progressive vision. In a state with a minimum wage of $8.80, the average income in Cleveland is only $30,907, and 32 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty, our fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage, Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and canceling student debt would make a transformational difference to its residents.

No one person, not even the greatest candidate, ever runs for office by themselves. I want to thank everyone who gave of themselves to support our campaign. We’ve seen our movement win in places like Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and you stood with me in Ohio to cross uncharted territory and show that our policies can continue winning multiracial, working-class voters in the heart of the Midwest.

Our campaign attracted incredible volunteers for a field program that knocked on some 70,000 doors, sent over 1 million volunteer texts, and made tens of thousands of volunteer phone calls — work done by some 5,000 volunteers (half of whom, I am proud to say, were Ohioans). All of that work was done before our GOTV program ever began.

I share your profound disappointment that we did not get the outcome we hoped for during this special election. But we did see our movement widely embraced by the working people of greater Cleveland and greater Akron. And that, my friends, is a win we needed.

Nina Turner on the OH-11 campaign trail (Nina Turner for Congress).

Ohio’s Eleventh is not New York or California. It is the heart of the Midwest. Our work proves that progressive ideas are popular even in the center of the country — a critical lesson as we expand geographically in our work to bring working people, young people, people of color, and so many others who have given up on politics into the political process.

We always knew, whether we won or lost, that the election of one person would not erase the systemic suffering of working families across this district or this nation. So the mission remains the same today as it would have been if we had prevailed on election night.

This election’s outcome does not change the importance of our efforts to transform this country so that the needs of working people — not just the donor class — are what matters. It does not change the fact that we have so much more work to do, so many more fights to wage, and so many more victories to achieve.

Let there be no doubt that our movement is stronger than ever, thriving, and more prepared to take on the special interests that protect the status quo. Our opponents would not have felt it necessary to dump millions in corporate and Republican–aligned money if they did not see our strength. Progressives have the energy, and we are ready to roll up our sleeves to keep building our movement — especially in places where we have never competed before.

Preparing for Elections Is a Year-Round Effort

The progressive movement is already taking the lessons learned from this race and preparing for future opportunities. Our Revolution and People’s Action, organizations that supported me and many other progressives candidates, have begun mapping out ongoing organizing plans. This will lay the groundwork and create the infrastructure earlier than in previous cycles to prepare for the tough contests ahead.

In my race, at the drop of a hat, corporate interests and even Trump-aligned donors dropped millions of dollars to oppose us. In response, we had the support of so many small-dollar grassroots donors. But we cannot ignore the fact that our opponents’ ability to write massive checks whenever they wish is an advantage for them.

So our job is not just about supporting a candidate one election at a time; it is also about supporting the organizing for elections of the future. We can defeat the corporate big-money advantage by organizing year in and year out.

This ongoing organizing will give us the capacity to support progressive candidates and help communities engaged in struggles outside of elections. It will empower our movement to protect our candidates when the establishment inevitably lines up dark money and resources to battle us.

Growing our network of volunteers, donors, and organizations is just as critical as growing a roster of elected officials. We will not grow the number of progressive elected officials fighting for freedom without building this network of activated everyday people.

If this race has taught us anything, it is that corporate interests will stop at nothing to blunt our momentum — even if it means aligning with Trump-connected Republicans to do it. That means we must also be willing to work in alliances with others outside of our movement when possible. In my race, our message of lifting working families attracted the support of local council members, mayors, state representatives, and state senators — including many who do not align themselves with the progressive movement.

We also need to employ the talents of all those who will stand with us. It takes a rainbow mosaic of not just volunteers and supporters, but organizers, operatives, staff, and consultants to make it happen.

I am proud of the multiracial staff and consulting team we assembled for my campaign — led by women and people of color — for this phase of our journey. Their collective experience, expertise, and perspectives made us a richer and more effective campaign. We must continue to be intentional about ensuring that all campaigns are reflective of the full diversity of our movement, and build up local talent and capacity to support progressives at every level of government.

The Progressive Movement Is Power Through Love

While winning elections is one concrete metric for judging the success of our movement, it is only one. Just as important is advancing the policy agenda we all support. You see the impact of our movement in Congress right now. As we speak, incredible members are showing up for the people and pushing to make sure no one is left behind.

Nina Turner speaks to a crowd of volunteers before a Get Out the Vote canvassing event on July 30, 2021 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. (Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)

On the day of our election, Rep. Cori Bush slept on the Capitol steps on behalf of people facing eviction. An incredible example of what this movement can be, she is just one of many great leaders walking the walk. Her actions helped lead to the extension of the eviction moratorium. Without her courage to demand more, millions of people would be facing immediate eviction from their homes.

I ask you not to lose sight of our mission. No matter how you support the movement — as a volunteer that travels from state to state helping candidates, a virtual warrior texting and phonebanking each week, a donor of $3 or $27 or a supporter of your local progressive organization — stand fast in your work within this movement. We need you in this fight.

We are guided by our love for humanity to do this justice work together. The words of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr remind us that “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

We seek to root out the reckless abuse of the working poor and to implement the demand for justice through love for our common humanity. As our justice journey continues and we look to our next chapter, know that I am eternally grateful for your continued support of me and this movement.

We are tilling the soil of progress, and we will continue to see our work bear fruit. Together we will support courageous future candidates, organizations, and operatives to be persistent and determined to change the material conditions of the people.

Making good trouble and telling radical truths matter. As we build our collective power to tackle the work ahead that we will do together, my heart is full of love for you and our movement. Thank you for the support you gave me in this campaign — my gratitude for each of you is beyond what words can convey. I look forward to seeing you on the road to progress.


Nina Turner