Looking to unite and mount resistance against a Republican majority Congress and an unpredictable president, progressive Democrats are pushing their party to adopt more of their policies. Students and community members at UMKC saw this sentiment in action via a discussion with Dr. Stephanie Kelton in the Student Union.
Kelton is an economics professor at UMKC and a former economic advisor to Bernie Sanders, the former presidential candidate who will be visiting Topeka Feb. 24 and 25 for the Washington Days convention.
Questions were posed by Natalie Kane, a Ph.D. student of economics, and Pat Hayes, editor of First Local News and a member of the Union Advisory Council. Those in attendance totaled 150-200 members of the community.
In some ways, the event was a rehash of Bernie Sanders’ progressive manifesto. Dr. Kelton criticized the Republican model of trickle-down economics as well as the Trump administration’s promise to roll back regulations. Kelton proposed what she called a bottom-up economy, where citizens willing to work were guaranteed a job with a livable wage.
“Businesses hire and invest when they are swamped with customers,” Kelton said. “This comes from workers with good jobs and money in their pocket willing to spend it on products.”
The idea of a job guarantee was a recurring theme of the evening, as was a reluctance to say the words “President” and “Trump.” The job guarantee and livable wage are in line with Sanders’ campaign rhetoric and with the message of Fight for 15, an activist group that spoke at the event. Two speakers told personal accounts of working for up to 72 hours a week on meager pay that left them unable to care for themselves or their children.
On the topic of education, Kelton said that pushing an emphasis on STEM education for more students is misguided.
“Not everyone needs to have a college degree to make a valuable contribution,” Kelton said.
As a way to fight recent budget cuts, Kelton told the audience that the people need to fight for bigger allocations from Congress.
“Unless and until there is awareness that money comes from congressional authorization by a number of people in the community and policy makers, we’re never going to get the allocations we’re looking for,” Kelton said.
Kelton’s advice to Democrats was to push for local progressive candidates and programs, and “when the time comes, scale things up.” She warned against blatant obstructionism, and suggested that Democrats need to support legislation that will further their goals but only in a way beneficial to the majority. Her example was the infrastructure stimulus proposal that has bipartisan support but has potential to mostly benefit corporations and create only temporary jobs for a predominantly male construction workforce. Kelton made clear that the party should carefully review proposed laws without being purely obstructionist.
“Make clear that when we say no, that people know why we say no,” Kelton said. “You need a well-articulated argument if you’re telling constituents, ‘I’m not voting for this.’”