Cheryl Harris: Adelante Caucus Founder

By Jennie Lusk

The name Cheryl Harris is not synonymous with progessive politics, though it probably should be.

The former vice president of the Democratic Party of Bernalillo County (DPBC) and chair of the Adelante Progressive Caucus has focused on moving the state and county party forward—and to the left—and she’s succeeding. Her work as one of the founders of the New Mexico Adelante Caucus will have impact for years to come.

And what is a progressive?  At this point, especially in the media, many use “progressive” and “Democrat” interchangeably but, Harris says, it wasn’t always so. In fact, it wasn’t even so in 2016 when Bernie Sanders supporters in the state Democratic party felt sidelined by backers of Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump won the election. At that time, Harris and other disappointed Bernie backers got together, adopting the name “Adelante”—“Forward” in Spanish—and resolved to do all they could to strengthen the State party’s commitment to progressive ideals. The Adelante Caucus’ ideals include social, racial, economic, gender, and environmental justice; ecological care of the earth and all life; and principles and practices of peace in New Mexico, the country, and across the world.

Today, the Adelante Caucus, formally a New Mexico Democratic Party caucus since 2018, embraces diversity and inclusion, small-dollar rather than corporate campaign financing, church-state separation, and vigorous transparency and accountability.  During the last general election, Adelante worked closely with nonpartisan progressive groups such as Working Families and Ole! to identify and eliminate DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) in the state senate. And now the caucus is part of a strong progressive coalition largely unified in ideals and working toward passing progressive legislation. The caucus regularly works with Retake Our Democracy and the Progressive Democrats of America-NM, among others. In January, the issue of paying legislators is among its priorities, and the House of Representatives will be subject to the same sort of scrutiny Adelante paid to the Senate last time around.

Harris has worked with other founders of Adelante in recent years to change the state Democratic Party from the inside out. She quickly names a dozen colleagues as moving the Party forward, beginning with the 2016 presidential election and continuing through today. Their joint work has been so effective, it would be risky to try to name them all and rude to skip a single one. Suffice it to say that many hands have helped turn the state party in a progressive direction.

As they organized to present themselves to the state party, the caucus focused on identifying and recruiting more progressive ward and precinct chairs and State Central Committee (SCC) members. The caucus, now 400 members strong, is expanding nationwide, working to form a national coalition.  The national group, led by Adelante’s first chair Pia Gallegos, is working with other well-known progressive individuals and groups, including “Roots Nation”; “Our Revolution”; Progressive Democrats of America; Karen Bernal, former Chair of the California Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus and Co-Chair of California’s Bernie Sander’s campaign; and Bernie Sanders. Among the immediate goals is getting progressives on the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“The 2016 election drew so many young, so many talented people into the Democratic Party,” Harris said. The controversies within the party and the results alarmed many and energized even more people to join in creating a vision of the county where diversity is valued and even “little people” have a role. “Now, our challenge is to welcome the newcomers and give them the opportunity to become constructively involved,” Harris concluded.  

Even as organizing with Adelante has moved forward, however, Harris is considering moving elsewhere to be closer to her children. “It’s time for me to move on,” she said, “I need a change in my life.  But the friendships I’ve found in this work have kept me alive. The Democratic party is my second home. “ 

The Adelante caucus is electing new leadership this week and welcomes newcomers at—especially “do-ers” as Harris described them—“people who come ready to do this work.” With an influx of newcomers and younger progressives, others will likely become known like Harris for their efforts to improve party participation and progressive programs.