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How the Elizabeth Warren Wing Shifted Tuesday's Democratic Debate (Video)

As Democrats get ready for a presidential debate in Las Vegas, it's clear that the Elizabeth Warren wing of American politics has fundamentally shifted the ground on which candidates will stand Tuesday night.
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As Democrats get ready for a presidential debate in Las Vegas, it's clear that the Elizabeth Warren wing of American politics has fundamentally shifted the ground on which candidates will stand Tuesday night.

Economic populist issues that no politicians were talking about a couple years ago are now front and center. Instead of a debate about which direction to go, Democrats are having a debate about how to best achieve big, bold, economic populist ideas.

A few stories sum up what the Warren wing did in recent years to get to this moment. And the new video in this post is the most comprehensive compilation so far of the impact of the Warren wing on 2016 presidential candidates.

Story #1 - Expand Social Security

On June 22, 2013, a group of progressive leaders met in a side room at the Netroots Nation conference in San Jose and made a joint decision.

After more than a year of fighting a Democratic White House that was proposing cuts to Social Security, we would work to shift the national debate by calling for expanding Social Security benefits to meet seniors' true needs.

Represented in that room were the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), Social Security Works, Democracy for America,, Progressives United, CREDO Action, Daily Kos, Netroots Nation, Color of Change, the AFL-CIO, and the Working Families Party. Dozens of other organizations, ranging from the National Organization for Women to Latinos for a Secure Retirement, would later mobilize on this issue, which was previously written about by progressive writer Duncan Black in 2012 and echoed by progressive writers such as David Dayen, Howie Klein, and Heather Parton (Digby).

The following month, several organizations began jointly polling Social Security expansion and cuts in states such as Texas, Kentucky, Iowa, Colorado, and Hawaii. Expansion was 2-to-1 popular and 3-to-1 popular everywhere, while cuts were supported by no more than 15% of voters anywhere. Years of on-the-ground organizing, media work, congressional lobbying, and online mobilizing would ensue.

Story #2 - Wall Street criminal accountability, big reform, and presidential appointments

In that same polling, we threw in what seemed like a crazy idea at the time - Wall Street bankers who broke the law should go to jail. So obvious, but so unsaid in Washington DC. But in Iowa, this idea was 20-to-1 popular. Breaking up Too Big To Fail banks was also very popular, including in Iowa by 60% to 17%.

After years of politicians hiding behind Dodd-Frank as an excuse to close the book on Wall Street reform, Elizabeth Warren put fresh oxygen in the room for reform and accountability - from grilling regulators to popularizing the term "too big for trial." This allowed many of the same progressive organizations who worked together on expanding Social Security to organize on Wall Street issues. Recently, Warren added another Wall Street issue to the national conversation - calling for the next president to appoint a Treasury Secretary, Attorney General, SEC Chair, and economic advisors who would hold Wall Street accountable. Progressive organizations echoed her call and urged presidential candidates to take a stand.

Story #3 - Debt-Free College

After the failure of Democratic messaging in 2014, the Progressive Change Institute launched the Big Ideas Project, where thousands of people across the nation submitted ideas they thought progressives should focus on in 2015 and 2016. Over 30 members of Congress pre-committed to take a serious look at the issues that received the most votes, and over a million votes were cast.

Progressive think tank Demos submitted the idea of debt-free college, which they had written up in an important white paper (and which progressive activist Melissa Byrne had advanced previously). It received thousands of votes.

The Progressive Change Institute commissioned GBA Strategies to do a national poll of likely 2016 voters and tested a lot of the top Big Ideas. Expanding Social Security was popular by 70% to 15%, and debt-free college commanded a similarly huge 71% to 19% super majority. Of all the issues polled, debt-free college was the #1 most motivational issue that Democrats who did not show up in 2014 said would have inspired them to vote if politicians had talked about it last election.

Armed with these numbers, months of outreach by the PCCC's congressional team between February and April 2015 led to a debt-free college Senate resolution from Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and a House resolution by Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) as well as Katherine Clark (D-MA). There are now 23 senators and over 70 House members on board, and growing.

As part of a "Ready For Boldness" campaign, the PCCC also announced 200 Iowa and New Hampshire political leaders who called on Democratic presidential candidates to embrace debt-free college and other big ideas like expanding Social Security and Wall Street reform.

And a coalition of groups began grassroots mobilization on this issue, cultivating hundreds of thousands of petition signatures and calling for debt-free college. This included Democracy for America, Daily Kos,, the AFL-CIO, the Working Families Party, Demos, Student Debt Crisis, the Courage Campaign, Americans for Democratic Action, Campaign for America's Future, Young Invincibles, CREDO Action, and the American Federation of Teachers.

Watch this video and remember that vision, activism, and teamwork got us to this point. Candidates enter the debate stage having firmly embraced popular Warren wing ideas - and will benefit if they continue elevating these issues loudly and clearly for voters: