By Karen Stokes
The Working Families Party (WFP) is a left-wing minor political party in the United States, founded in New York in 1998 by Dan Cantor. WFP has roots in Wisconsin. The party first known as New Party started by Cantor and Joel Rogers who is currently a professor at UW-Madison.
There are active chapters in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Maurice Mitchell, National Director of the Working Families Party became national director in 2018, has been involved with them for years.
“I came up in New York politics. I got involved with WFP by working on elections up and down the ballot and then I worked on grassroots organizing on the local level, Mitchell explained. “When I went to college at Howard University, I worked on a range of issues including police brutality and getting private money out of jails and prisons. I did work on the ground for the Black Lives movement after Michael Brown was killed in St. Louis and when Donald Trump got elected that really was concerning to me. I was looking for a venue to engage in bigger politics, a multi-racial working class politics to push back on the politics of division that Trump was advancing and I found out about the Working Families Party.”
On the party’s approach to racial and social justice Mitchell said, “We believe that there’s no separation between economic rights and economic justice and racial justice. We think that this is the history of this country. So if anybody wants an economy that works for everyone then we have to confront racial justice.”
The party believes that the United States should join most of the world and have a universal healthcare system. The WFP supported Bernie Sanders and before that supported Elizabeth Warren, both believed in Medicare for all.
“The costs of healthcare are driving higher and higher, the thing is everybody has a body and the condition of living is your wellness and the idea that that is a commodity to be bought and sold we think is a farce, we think your healthcare is a public right,” Mitchell said. “We believe in creating a system that treats healthcare as a public right. Because we know Black communities are more proportionately working class. A significant percentage of our income is going to healthcare costs. If those care costs were taken away, think of all of the space it would leave for us to invest in other things that we care about in our lives, it would dramatically change our lives.”
Another Wisconsin connection to WFP is Former Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.
“Mandela had the audacious idea that he could run for Statewide office. A lot of people didn’t believe that a young Black man with the name Mandela could win a statewide office in Wisconsin. We backed Mandela and he became Lieutenant Governor of the state. Another example is Letitia James, attorney general of New York started her career as an independent city council member in New York and rose through the ranks and then to the office of attorney general. We have many examples of our organizing or starting political careers of people who are not coming from the traditional sort of pipeline, are coming from outside, are coming from grassroots organizations, from labor organizations or educators.”
“We also have concrete issues and victories. The fact that a $15 an hour minimum wage through our work in the state legislatures and winning elections based on a $15 an hour wage we were able from state to state to secure those victories. Living wage ordinances in states and cities and paid family leave were ideas that were considered fringe ideas. Our organizing has made things that were once politically improbable, politically possible. That’s what we do,” Mitchell said.