On the Future of the Democratic Party: We Won't Go Back
I have been a registered Democrat since I became a US citizen well over a decade ago. I have been a delegate to the California Democratic Convention, served on the executive committees of two local Democratic clubs. I have campaigned on the streets, written to defend Democratic policies, phone-banked with Labor and Planned Parenthood.
I believe that I have earned a right to have a say in the future of my party.
Let me begin with what I believe should not be involved in considering the future of my party: myopic rants about how Bernie Sanders would have won the election against Donald Trump and why, therefore, the Democratic party must now fire anyone disloyal to Sanders during the primary and install an all ideologue hierarchy.
First and foremost, we must all keep in mind, remind ourselves and our friends often, that Hillary Clinton did win the vote of the people. Significantly. In any other democracy, that would have been enough. The reason it isn't enough to win the presidency in what we like to fancy the greatest democracy on earth is a remnant of the three-fifths compromise. The electoral college was created in place of popular election of the president because a popular election would have been weighed towards the free states, as slaves in the slave states could not vote.
The people spoke, and they picked Hillary Clinton to be president. Her winning coalition of voters came from every color, every background, every race. A heavily white and rural minority used the electoral college, originally designed to give slave states an outsized say in electing the president, to invalidate the choice of the people and hand the levers of power to the man they viewed as one of their own.
This fact has a corollary in the debate about the path forward for the Democratic party. If you argue that Democrats have lost this election because they "didn't know how to talk to the 'white working class' ", you are, if inadvertently, accepting the legitimacy of a racist system; you are accepting the legitimacy of slavery.
Democrats, and the Democratic nominee for president, spoke to the needs of the majority. They, and she, spoke to the hopes of women, people of color, working people, disabled people, LGBT people, immigrants. As a matter of fact, it is partly because she and they spoke so effectively to the issues of institutional racism, equal opportunity and diverse multiculturalism that the alt-right was able to use it to cause a white backlash among a minority of voters.
We must remember what we did right in this election. Our candidate spoke out for the marginalized, and she received more votes for president than anyone in history except our current president, who is made from the same cloth. Our candidate spoke out against hate, and she received more votes than the person the system is about to install in the White House. Hillary Clinton stood up for the values of inclusion and pluralism, and she has won the vote of the people.
We did that right. Anyone who tells you that it is unimportant, that it wasn't worth it, that it doesn't matter is a con artist worse than Donald Trump.
That is why step one as we decide how to rebuild our party should be an abiding commitment to the principle of One Person, One Vote, and thus the effective abolition of the electoral college. It can be done through the National Popular Vote initiative where states comprising a majority of the electoral votes decide that the winner of the national popular vote would get their electoral votes, it could be done through a Constitutional amendment, or yes, even through the leverage of threats from states like California declaring independence (I know this one will not meet with everyone's approval).
Did we do something wrong, too? We did, and that is where some reform of the DNC comes in. Since 1992, there has been only two elections in which Democrats assumed control of both houses of Congress and an increasing number of governorships and state legislatures: in 2006 and in 2008. Both of those elections took place as Democrats engaged in state-by-state ground level organizing that lasts all year.
Howard Dean's 50 state strategy has been the only one proven effective at raising Democratic representation at every level of government in recent history, in addition to President Obama's appearance on the ballot. This should tell us some things:
One, the chair of the Democratic National Committee must be a full time job. As much as we all like Keith Ellison, members of Congress barely have enough time to do their Congressional jobs given the heavy burden of fundraising for re-election, let alone take on the gargantuan task of rebuilding the Democratic party on the ground everywhere.
So we need a party leadership with the full focus on infrastructure. But that's not enough.
Once we start to rebuild the infrastructure, what we will do with it is a most important question. If this election's narrative, the importance of "white working class" as the all-important demographic, takes hold, all the infrastructure in the world will not be able to rescue our party. Our infrastructure must talk to everyone, but it must understand that our future is rebuilding the Obama coalition, not in stoking the white egos of the white working class. If we do not, if we tone down our defense of the marginalized, we will not only have lost an election but our moral bearings.
Our party must be everywhere, and it must take everywhere the message of inclusion, equality, and expansion of rights to everyone. Yes, we should talk to white factory worker in the industrial rust belt, but we cannot stop talking to the Latina caregiver in Arizona, the black substitute teacher in Mississippi, or the Asian administrative assistant in Nevada. And we must talk to all of them in a way that makes clear that only with the liberation of civil rights will we see economic opportunity return.
Our party must concentrate on not just talking but acting. We must make sure, every single day, that every voter who wants to vote in a state with a voter ID law has a proper ID even as we continue to fight this modern day poll tax at the courts. We must make sure that wherever voting by mail and early voting is possible, that our voters take advantage of it to avoid long lines on election day.
I don't think too many people will disagree on these basic needs for our party. And if we can agree on this being our goal, then bringing everything else into it - the primary fight, the Bernie or Bust, the condemnation of the candidate who convincingly won the popular vote and her supporters - is irrelevant and harmful.
We can work together. We must work together.
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