Sunday, May 29, 2016

To the Drafting Committee: Build a Strong Party

Earlier today I sent the following to the Democratic Party platform drafting committee:

Concerning the platform, I recommend:

  1. Make It Binding. Establish in the platform that the Democratic National Committee will only back candidates who support the platform.
  2. Keep It Short. Make the platform concise so the general public will more likely read it.
  3. Organizing Tool. Commit the Democratic Party to fight for its platform year-round with the following methods:
    1. Distribute It Widely. Print, post, and widely distribute the platform throughout the country.
    2. Monthly Forums. Encourage Democratic officeholders to hold monthly public meetings with their constituents to dialog about their efforts.
    3. Precinct-based Clubs. Encourage local Democratic parties to form self-governing precinct-based clubs committed to nurturing face-to-face community, building the Party, and advancing the platform.

There’s no good reason to forget about the platform after the convention. Americans should know what the Party stands for.

Help build the Democratic Party into a stable, strong, coherent organization with clear goals.

Thank you for your consideration and all that you do.

I will also apply to testify in person at the committee’s Phoenix hearing, where I hope to present these (and perhaps other) ideas.

NOTE: Last week I addressed those issues in the following posts to Wade's Wire:

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Don’t Follow Leaders

By Wade Hudson

Blind loyalty to Trump is scary. But the reluctance of Bernie’s followers to criticize their candidate is cause for concern.

In New York magazine,” Andrew Sullivan writes:
It is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment....  He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.
...What mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin.
...The more emotive the candidate, the more supporters he or she will get.
...Sarah Palin emerged as proof that an ardent Republican, branded as an outsider,... could also triumph in this new era.
...In Eric Hoffer’s classic 1951 tract, The True Believer, he sketches the dynamics of a genuine mass movement.… Hoffer’s core insight was to locate the source of all truly mass movements in a collective sense of acute frustration. Not despair, or revolt, or resignation — but frustration simmering with rage.
...These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”
...Mass movements, Hoffer argues, are distinguished by a “facility for make-believe … credulity, a readiness to attempt the impossible.”
...The most powerful engine for such a movement — the thing that gets it off the ground, shapes and solidifies and entrenches it — is always the evocation of hatred. It is, as Hoffer put it, “the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying elements.”
...What makes Trump uniquely dangerous in the history of American politics — with far broader national appeal than, say, Huey Long or George Wallace — is…the threat of blunt coercion and dominance.
...Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.
That analysis struck me as compelling. But Sullivan also included a provocative assertion that caused me to pause and reconsider my thoughts about the election. He declared:
Those still backing the demagogue of the left, Bernie Sanders, might want to reflect that their critique of Clinton’s experience and expertise — and their facile conflation of that with corruption — is only playing into Trump’s hands.
His statement prompted me to post some specific criticisms of Bernie on Facebook and Wade’s Wire (I’m posting 300-word pieces there daily), including:

Though my criticisms were within the context of overall strong support for Bernie, a number of readers objected. Some replied with non sequiturs that merely praised Bernie and avoided the issue. One said my point was so obvious that stating it was a “jab.” Another insisted Bernie’s record is “impeccable.”

Some of those and other Bernie supporters display a bothersome cult-like loyalty. His campaign has some of the same oppressive characteristics seen in Trump’s, as described by Plato, Hoffer, and Sullivan. All forms of populism are dangerous. On Wade’s Wire, I address some of those dangers.

Who’s elected President is less important than developing an inclusive, bottom-up, national activist organization that can effectively pressure Congress and the White House.

I’m still hoping that Bernie will help build that organization. The door is open.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders

Bernie, you’re doing great. Keep pushing.

Win as many delegates as you can and, if the time comes, sit down with Hillary to rebuild the Democratic Party into an activist organization that serves local needs and fights for its platform year-round.

There’s no good reason to ignore the platform after the convention. It should be concise, clear, and powerful and the focus for organizing throughout the year throughout the country.

Get the strongest possible platform.
Make the Party more democratic.
And beat Trump.

Organize small precinct-based clubs that:
  • Nurture face-to-face community.
  • Work together to make the world a better place.
  • And organize their own activities to advance the Democratic Party platform.

Among other options, club members could devote at least a few hours a month to:
  • Share a meal.
  • Turn off phones.
  • Discuss issues.
  • Listen to and learn from one another.
  • Get involved in the local Democratic Party.
  • Meet up to call voters in swing states.
  • Go together to volunteer at a soup kitchen.
  • Register voters.
  • Organize a picnic and invite neighbors.
  • Develop friendships.
  • Acknowledge mistakes and help one another become more effective.

Maybe Hillary will join you in getting the Party to organize precinct clubs. If not, you and your supporters can organize a Precinct Organizing Caucus within the Party and elect representatives to develop proposals for the 2020 Democratic Party platform.

Your platform is excellent, but it can be improved. You can do more to address racism, for example. Lead with humility.

The Democratic Party is already a remarkably democratic, inclusive, bottom-up coalition with a relatively solid platform.

Let’s transform it into an activist organization that promotes evolutionary political revolution.

With your leadership, we can do it.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Bernie's New Organization: A Democratic Party Caucus?

Comments by Jane Sanders, Bernie’s senior adviser, on the April 28 Rachel Maddow Show led me to a new idea: Bernie could form an organization dedicated to rebuilding the Democratic Party. That group might become an official Party caucus. Regardless, it could retain some independence, while working within the Democratic Party.

When asked if Bernie will pursue his commitment to revitalize the Democratic Party if he doesn't get the nomination, Sanders replied:
We want to change the agenda of the Democratic Party. Let's have an open Party. Let's have open primaries and same-day registration…. We need real electoral reform. Bernie has brought millions into the process, but with closed primaries, the Democratic Party is closing the door on them. If the Democratic Party wants to grow, I don't know why you would do that. 
Maddow then asked, “Do you see an organization being formed?” Sanders responded:
Yes. That has always been the intent. Right from the beginning it has been a two-pronged approach: Run for President, and the most important thing is not electing Bernie President. The most important thing is starting a political revolution. That will have to continue..... If he's not the nominee, it becomes even more important. We have to make sure that the agenda moves forward.... There are a lot of things that could be changed pretty easily if people came together and focused on them one at a time.
I find those comments encouraging. As I’ve argued in “Bernie Can Do It” and elsewhere,  I believe Bernie should push to transform the Democratic Party into an activist organization that serves local needs and fights for its platform year-round.  

Toward that end, it needs to be bottom-up, democratic, and inclusive, while providing members the opportunity to shape the organization’s goals. The Democratic Party already meets those criteria to a considerable degree. Bernie and his supporters can make it even more so. They can push to democratize the Democratic Party, help make its platform as strong as possible, actively support that platform, and grow relationships that nurture evolutionary revolution.

Building a democratic, member-controlled national organization is not easy. When Jesse Jackson formed the Rainbow Coalition after his campaign for President, he insisted on appointing the leaders of state chapters, which discouraged participation. After his election in 2008, the Obama campaign decided against either reforming the Democratic Party or encouraging the development of local, self-governing units with considerable latitude to shape their own activities. 

But some unions, activist organizations, and the Democratic Party have established structures that empower members. One option is for rank-and-file members to elect leaders to local bodies, who elect statewide leaders, who elect national leaders. The organization can then establish national policies and authorize local bodies to be self-governing so long as their actions are consistent with national policies. Another option is for the members to elect national leaders directly.

Hoping that Bernie will eventually support their effort, some former Sanders staff members have formed Brand New Congress to support candidates in 2018 Congressional elections. But their approach seems too top-down. Their website is not transparent. It does not describe the organization’s structure, identify who is making decisions, or indicate if the leadership is inclusive and broadly representative. They declare their intent to support candidates in 2018 who back Bernie's 2016 program. But that platform is not the final word. Over time, it will need to be improved. Who will make those decisions? They’ve apparently already decided to back one candidate in every race. Focusing on certain races might be more effective. They will “in general” only back individuals who “have never held or sought public office.” That decision seems questionable. They say they will handle “the logistics of running a campaign [and] let candidates focus on the issues.” That centralized approach could dis-empower local activists. They envision challenging Republican incumbents in Republican primaries. A focus on Democrats seems to hold more potential. They say they will only support incumbents who are “already on board” with Bernie’s platform. But Bernie and his supporters may persuade the Convention to adopt a strong platform that still falls short of everything that Bernie is proposing. It’s not clear if Brand New Congress would support that strengthened platform.

An inside-out strategy requires a delicate balance. We need a powerful, independent force that pushes reform without burning bridges. We cannot insist on getting everything immediately. Persistence, negotiation, and compromise are required. I fear Brand New Congress will not engage in the kind of collaboration that is need to rebuild and reform the Democratic Party.

My hope is that Bernie’s new organization will avoid those pitfalls and adopt a more democratic approach. Shifting from an electoral campaign, which is necessarily top-down, to community organizing, which needs to be participatory, is not easy. But Bernie needs to do it, with humility.

Given the surprises we’ve witnessed this campaign season, trying to predict the future would be foolhardy.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bernie Can Do It

It's not too late. Bernie may still lead a revolution. What he does with his database will indicate his direction and our prospects. 

A revolution needs an organization with a clear mission, a long-term strategy, short-term victories to build momentum, the ability to modify methods as conditions change, and  a structure to involve members in key decision-making. And to sustain itself over time, it can’t be dependent on any one leader.  

By rooting itself in small, self-governing clubs, Bernie’s revolution could enhance its effectiveness by nurturing face-to-face community. By serving local needs -- personal, social, and environmental -- it could build loyalty to the organization. By being member-run, it could enable members to “own” the organization. By authorizing members to define their own activities within the framework of the organization’s goals, it could deepen member involvement, enhance self-empowerment, and provide the opportunity for meaningful engagement. By growing supportive communities, it could aid members in helping one another become more effective. 

Electing Congresspersons who support Bernie’s platform, as some former Sanders staffers are preparing to do, could be beneficial. But it is not sufficient. We also need a broad, inclusive, democratic organization with the muscle to fight for its platform, regardless of who is elected.

After the Convention, Bernie may decide to use top-down methods to continue to push his own agenda. Hopefully, he’ll take a different path, because his “single-issue” platform, with its economic focus, is limited. 

When other non-economic issues are raised, Bernie quickly shifts to his “more serious” issues. In fact, however, non-economic issues are integral to the social system that we must transform. 

Our primary problem is not the concentration of wealth and power. Rather, it is “the system,” which is woven into our entire society -- our institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals. The system leads most young people to believe they will be rich some day. The system produces a growing gap between the top 20%, for example, and everyone else (“the 1%” and “billionaire” thresholds are arbitrary). The system instills selfishness, materialism, and a widespread desire to climb the social ladder and lord it over others (who are deemed less worthy). With what we buy, what we think, and what we do, each of us reinforces that system daily. 

Bernie’s approach discounts non-economic issues and pushes away people who are primarily concerned about those other issues. But countless issues are also serious. We can focus on our primary concern without discounting those who choose a different focus. 

Transforming the system will require evolutionary revolution throughout society and within ourselves as individuals. 

By addressing internalized oppression and affirming intersectionality, holistic politics, social transformation, spiritual politics, and spiritual activism, Bernie could avoid the legitimate criticism that he arrogantly treats non-economic issues as a distraction. And he could dampen his bombastic, self-righteous tone that alienates many people, including some who support his program.

The desire to be recognized as superior fuels the system. Transforming that system will require learning how to collaborate as equals. And it will require a new, more humble definition of leadership that involves leaders facilitating collaborative problem-solving rather than merely mobilizing people to do what the leader wants them to do.

Bernie’s “class warfare” reinforces economic determinism, selfishness, and materialism. “The 99% for the 100%,” as proposed by Van Jones, is a more effective frame.

Prospects for a never-ending revolution will be enhanced if Bernie continues to push his principles within the Democratic Party, negotiates compromises with Hillary and her supporters, wholeheartedly supports the platform that emerges, and then urges his supporters to help transform the Party into an activist organization that meets neglected needs and fights for its platform year-round. 

As I have argued in "Bernie's Revolution," "Dear Bernie and Hillary: Transform the Democratic Party," "Proposed: Year-Round Precinct Organizing," and "Winning Is NOT Everything," I believe precinct-based clubs could cultivate cost-effective, person-to-person, neighbor-to-neighbor relationships that would maximize our effectiveness.
The Democratic Party is already a broad, inclusive, democratic coalition -- probably more so than any new organization that Bernie might initiate. But the Party needs new energy, new ideas, and new leadership.

To motivate participation in an effort to rebuild the Democratic Party, rank-and-file Democrats would need to know that large numbers of other Democrats were involved in that effort. Bernie could inspire many of his supporters to make that commitment and develop that critical mass. 

We could then join with Hillary’s supporters to defeat Donald Trump, who is in fact a serious threat, and eventually transform this nation into a compassionate community.