On reinventing Democratic politics
At last night’s meeting of the 41st LD Democrats there was a discussion about how to attract more people to become PCOs and about how to get more existing PCOs to attend meetings and work on campaigns.
The discussion began with the question: what’s the purpose of the 41st LD Dems? One guy said: to elect Democrats. I replied: not just Democrats, but good Democrats; after all, Rodney Tom is a Democrat.
The discussion continued for almost and hour, with several people agreeing with me on the importance of supporting high-quality (progressive) candidates who are likely to defend our values (e.g., on economic fairness). Others were more interested in making the Democratic Party a “big tent”; such people thought the job of PCOs is to knock on doors, make phone calls, and pay their dues.
Most everyone agreed that the org should host interesting speakers and make newcomers feel more welcome.
I said: most people who get involved in the Democratic Party do so because they believe that the Party and its candidates are most likely to support the policies they favor. Very few people will want to become PCOs just so that they can elect Democrats as Democrats. In other words, people support the policies first and the party derivatively.
In fact, I’m sure a lot of people think both the GOP and the Dems are self-serving factions that do little to help them.
Chair Karol Brown spoke on the importance of politeness towards people with opposing views. I said I disagreed: I think good Democrats need to be more vocal and partisan about weeding out marginal and turncoat Democrats who often vote with Republicans. I said we need more accountability. Most people disagreed with me, some vehemently, but I think that if the Democratic Party is going to thrive and recover its soul it needs to turn back to its ideals.
A lot of people in, say, Seattle, regard Eastside Dems as little better than Republicans. Perhaps that’s the best we can do over here given the realities of money and power.
Subsequent events at the meeting illustrated some of my points.
Bellevue City Council candidate Steve Kasner was at the meeting. He is behind Republican opponent Kevin Wallace by about 200 votes, out of about 29,000 validated ballots. Wallace has claimed victory, and Kasner is deciding whether to go ahead with the effort to chase ballots and pursue a recount. Wallace outspent Kasner two to one.
Rebecca Bryant, political director for US Congressman Adam Smith, came to speak briefly at the meeting, as she is wont to do. I sharply asked her why Rep. Smith endorsed Kevin Wallace. She apologized and said that Wallace and Smith had had some sort of past business relationship. Others in the room had worked very hard for Kasner — I too walked my precinct with him — and expressed their displeasure to Ms. Bryant. Someone said that Smith’s endorsement of Wallace probably was enough to cause Wallace to win.
Someone spoke critically to Ms. Bryant about Rep. Smith’s early strong support for the NDAA. Again, Ms. Bryant was apologetic. In recent years, Rep. Smith has made efforts to backtrack from his rather militaristic and reactionary support for defense spending and the security state.
For me, LD meetings are often boring and frustrating because of the (usually but not always useless) formality — “Can I hear a motion to accept the minutes from the last meeting?” — and because of the ineffectiveness and unwillingness to promote progressive values and hold lawmakers accountable. As someone said, lawmakers welcome LDs’ help to get elected; thereafter, they show little interest and often ignore platforms and resolutions.
About 25 people showed up at the LD meeting out of about 101 PCOs — not bad for a post-election meeting in an odd year. Someone mentioned that the 48th LD meeting had only 11 people show up — which is sad, because the 48th LD will presumably be working to elect a replacement for Rodney Tom. I asked and apparently no candidate has yet emerged to challenge Tom in the primary. Perhaps Tom will run as an Independent: it might actually help his candidacy.
A few months ago, the 41st LD elected Tana Senn as a replacement for departing State House member Marcie Maxwell. The meeting was filled with dozens of new PCOs — most of them specially recruited by candidates to vote for them in the election. Few of those new PCOs have returned. One who did said she hadn’t felt welcomed when she first came.
As was pointed out at the meeting, many Democratic orgs are struggling. I personally know a lot of passionate Democrats (not to mention people further to the left) who no longer attend Party meetings or who have dropped out of working with lefty groups, because nothing gets accomplished or because they feel excluded. People rarely work together; everyone wants to lead. The King County Dems have been in disarray since the chairmanship was wrested from Steve Zemke by Karl de Jong; various vice-chairs and council members have resigned; some people circulated angry letters; experienced committee chairs were fired (because they were thought to be loyal to Zemke); and people complained of being ignored and mistreated. Several of the 41st LD reps quit, including the 1st Vice-Chair, Sojna Rossman.
The State Dems are preparing to select a replacement for departing state chair Dwight Pelz. Discussions on facebook are similar to the 41st LD discussion about the purpose of the org. What sort of qualities should the party look for in a state chair? Is it enough that she or he be skillful at managing and fundraising? Or should he be chosen to support certain policies?
In Seattle, long time Democrat Richard Conlin lost to Kshama Sawant in a close race that has become nationally emblematic of the problems facing the Democratic Party. Conlin received the endorsement of numerous Democratic orgs but still lost.
I think the Dems should move to the left and promote populist and righteous policies such as economic justice. But they should not move so far to the left that they lose like they did in 1972 with McGovern. Bit by bit. Strategically.
Will progressives take back the party from the centrists? Will they be too polite and compliant, or too disorganized, to make the effort? Will the progressive and independents be willing to do the work required to fix the party? Can they do so and still win elections?
The left needs better messaging, so the voters stop voting against their own self-interest.
Can the establishment Dems welcome the progressives and disaffected independents?