November 2005 and Howard Dean

Right after Tuesday's Democratic trifecta in California, New Jersey and Virginia, the airwaves filled up with pundits who started discussing how it was either a year of the status quo being preserved, or a year when voters put their foot down on the right wing hijacking of America. I believe the latter. But one thing everyone is ignoring is how the Democratic party has been re-energized, re-organized, and revitalized under the leadership of a chairman elected to head the Democratic National Committee just 9 months ago. Yes, his name is Howard Dean. I want to stress that Tuesday's victories had a lot to do with Howard Dean's management of the party (and the movement that is Howard Dean), and that's why it is the beginning of a new day. First, I will try to give the broad picture, then a short look-back at what's been happening since Dean took over, and lastly the grassroots movement's role in all this. The broad and big picture is this: a year ago, Terry McAuliffe was the Chairman of the Democratic Party and the DNC was nothing but a mouthpiece and a second arm of the Democratic Presidential nominee. A year ago, we had the weakest possible incumbent president in office, and yet failed to oust him from office. A year ago, among all the distrust on the Iraq war and the Plame case looming on the Republicans, they still turned the tables and actually gains seats in Congress. A year ago, Democrats were running around the country like chickens with their heads cut off. A year ago, Californians passed all the initiatives on the ballot backed by Schwarzenegger. And a year later? A year later, California told the governator to shove it. A year later, Democrats just successfully blocked the Republican attempt to deliver tax cuts to the wealthy by taking food away from the mouths of America's children. A year later, not only did Democrats win the governorship of New Jersey by 10 points, they also gained seats in the State Assembly. A year later, a Virginia progressive running on sensible gun legislation and smart investment of taxpayer dollars who openly campaigned proudly on raising taxes on the rich to pay for schools, beat a conservative Republican - in a red state - by 6 points. 6 points might not seem like much, but remember that Bush won the presidential election by a mere 2 to 3 point margin in the popular vote and Republicans called it "historic." A year later, a deep red (70% of the voters are registered Republicans) Pennsylvania school district saw all 8 Republican members of it who supported teaching creationism in science classes thrown out and replaced by 8 Democrats. And oh, a year later, a new chairman reigns in the Democratic National Committee, and the DNC has put paid organizers on the ground in every state. But what has happened in the 9 months since Dean took over that, for a change, gave Democrats a night of victory? Let's look. On February 12, 2005, Howard Dean was elected Chairman of the Democratic party. Dean had run for Chair on a platform of reforming the party and making the Democratic party the party of reform. He promised to put organizers paid by the national party (but working for the state and local grassroots) on the ground in every single state. In the National Organizing Kickoff less than a week away, Dean will announce that he has reached this goal in less time than he was targeting (he promised to have it all up and running in one year, and he has done it in 9 months). Since coming into office, Dean has transformed the DNC from a presidential campaign organization to a grassroots political powerhouse. He instituted Democracy Bonds, a way for rank and file Democrats to contribute $10, $25 a month to build the party and free it from the grips of big money dependency. Using it, ordinary Democrats are coming back in financial control of their party. Dean also revamped the DNC website. Instead of just a website-in-name-only with a shopping cart, the site is now full with a kick-ass blog, focus on constituency communities, an action panel write a letter to the editor, invite your friends to join, even register to vote. The DNC got rank and file Democrats excited and engaged by asking them to take action in emails rather than just donate money. Emails asked us to sign a petition, to volunteer, to write letters to the editor about the outrage of the Iraq war and the Katrina disaster. When Dean asked for money, he told us how he was going to use it: give us 25 bucks now and in a week we will put organizers in 10 more states. Dean became chairman by promising to return the control of the party to the grassroots. And he is delivering on it. The national party is providing resources, and letting local Democrats take the lead in organizing. Under Chairman Dean, the DNC is transforming into a temple of democracy from a bank account. But it isn't just Howard Dean's management. It is also the inspiration that he naturally is. Howard Dean and his team at the DNC has been working hard at it since he took over in February, and us folks in the grassroots in every state that got Dean elected chair never let up for a moment. Dean told us when he was elected chair that he will transform the party from the top down if we will reform it from the bottom up. Grassroots folks took that to heart and got ourselves elected to Assembly District Democratic committees, Democratic County Central Committees, and as State Democratic Delegates and Executive Board Members. And we continue to push for that change from the bottom up. We became active in local campaigns, be it city council, school board, or county commissioner. We organized, wrote letters, we got trained and trained others in campaigns, we started a national conversation, and we showed up everywhere. Even the little red Pennsylvania town named Dover. We are on track to realize Dean's call for us to leave no ground uncontested. This is Howard Dean. As we often said during the presidential campaign, Howard Dean is not just a person. Howard Dean is a movement. It is a movement to change the Democratic Party and making it stand for reform and to take our country back. This is the movement that started with Howard Dean's campaign for president, took new life in his election as DNC Chair, and continues to this day. It is that movement that, at least partly, is responsible for what happened on Tuesday. But this is only the first step. If we have learned anything, it is that in the battle for the country's soul, you can never give up. Eternal vigilance *is* the price of liberty. We have to organize even better, stronger and more trained in order to win compete and win everywhere in 2006, and then in 2008 and beyond. So if you are still sitting their trying to decide what to do, get up and contact your local DFA chapter or a local Democratic club and join in. Transform your party! Take your country back!!


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