Ro Khanna and the Audacity Of The Progressive Imagination
Playboy Africa|November 2020
The Silicon Valley congressman, along with other key Democrats, envisions a new future for the working class
Alex Thomas

Though Capitol Hill was empty due to the pandemic, there were rumblings of a legislative uprising outside the old marble halls.

In early April, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a large but loose group of congress members who, to various extents, subscribe to progressive policies, was working legislative tricks hoping to bend the latest coronavirus stimulus bill further to the left. It was hardly a unique move for the group of lawmakers, and it had a predictable end—one in which Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi passed the bill she was aiming to get through. The moment seemed to reckon with a larger understanding of the current attitude in America, an attitude in which occupations like grocery cashier and delivery driver are now essential and even celebrated.

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents a Silicon Valley district peppered with tech giants like Apple and Yahoo, joined Senator Elizabeth Warren in a proposal for an “Essential Workers Bill of Rights,” and called on Congress to include their policies in the next coronavirus relief package.

When Warren and Khanna released their proposal, Khanna highlighted the fights of essential workers, saying “the grocery clerk that packs our groceries behind a plastic shield, the bus driver sanitizing seats between shifts, and the security guard on watch from a distance: these heroic workers are keeping this country afloat. They deserve every benefit and protection we can give them, starting with those outlined in our Essential Workers Bill of Rights.”

Khanna and Warren’s proposed Bill of Rights included some broad statements, such as, “All essential workers should get the care they need during this crisis, including those who are uninsured or under-insured, regardless of their immigration status.”

But there were other, fine-tuned requests, such as, “Any federal funding should be designed to ensure that employers cannot skirt the rules by firing or furloughing workers or reducing their hours or benefits in order to access a tax credit or avoid a worker protection requirement.”

For some, the Essential Workers Bill of Rights was a progressive flag in the ground. Nelini Stamp of the Working Families Party praised the proposal during a conversation with Playboy. “We need an Essential Workers Bill of Rights,” she said. “It’s really, really clear that we need it more than ever to protect working people. And it’s really great that [Warren and Khanna] have been championing that fight.”

Stamp, like many progressives, is frustrated by the pace of change. “We, as the United States, need the level of investment that we’ve put in for things like war,” she added.

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