On Monday, Justice Democrats, the radical party that introduced Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-landmark Cortez’s 2018 campaign, made its first appearance in the 2022 midterms by supporting Nashville activist Odessa Kelly in her Democratic primary challenge to longtime Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper.
Kelly is the co-founder and executive director of Stand Up Nashville, a community-based labour alliance. Kelly would be the first lesbian, Black woman to serve in Congress if she were to beat Cooper, a centrist who was first elected in 1982 and is now in his 10th term after returning to the House in 2003.
“I’ve watched kids grow up in this city and felt their fear when we didn’t know what would come next,” Kelly said in a statement. “We need more pathways out of poverty, and the status quo is no longer good enough. I know how to build coalitions that get results, and I’m running for Congress so that we can make bold, ambitious change at the national level.”
Following Ocasio-election Cortez’s in 2018, Justice Democrats worked to elect Jamaal Bowman of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Marie Newman of Illinois to Congress in 2020. On their way to victory in November, all three first-term legislators defeated a moderate or conservative incumbent Democratic House member.
The 5th Congressional District in Tennessee, with its headquarters in Nashville, is one of the few Democratic strongholds in a state that backed former President Donald Trump with more than 60% of the vote last year, making it a prime target for Justice Democrats, who have mostly focused their resources on boosting progressive insurgent campaigns in safe blue districts.
“As someone who has spent her life as a public servant and a community organizer, Odessa Kelly is exactly the kind of Democrat we need in Congress,” Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas said in a statement. “Our grassroots movement has shocked the nation in two cycles and we are prepared to do it again. It’s time to usher in a new generation of progressive leadership into the Democratic Party.”
Cooper is the brother of Nashville Mayor John Cooper and the son of former Tennessee Governor Prentice Cooper. His political career spans nearly four decades. From 1983 to 1995, he was a member of the House of Representatives. Cooper won the general election in 2020 with no opposition.
Kelly talked about her father’s work at a community centre in East Nashville in her campaign kick-off video.
“The pride my daddy had for his work in this city and the joy I felt growing up in this community — that made me who I am,” Kelly says, pledging to reject corporate PAC money and back “Medicare for All, housing justice and Green New Deal union jobs.”
Kelly chastised Cooper for accepting donations from “corporate PACs representing weapons manufacturers and real estate developers,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Cooper had an estimated personal net worth of more than $16 million in 2018, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Kelly has been at the forefront of several efforts to advocate for more equal representation in city government during her tenure as the chief of Stand Up Nashville. The Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute was established to assist in the development of a pool for a young, more diverse class of candidates.
In 2018, Kelly’s firm negotiated a “community benefits arrangement” as part of a deal to create a new stadium for Nashville SC, a Major League Soccer team in its second season. The deal included affordable housing on the construction site, as well as a starting wage for stadium staff of more than $15 per hour, as well as the establishment of a committee to ensure that the agreement’s various clauses are followed.