Across the country, reorganizational meetings at every level of the Democratic Party have been taking place with the national meeting scheduled for the end of February in Atlanta. At the same time, we have a lot of work ahead of us to combat President-Elect Donald Trump and his administration. Bernie Sanders, having activated and energized a large block of voters, may still be remembered as the match that lit the fuse within the party. In the next few weeks, we will highlight those on the ground getting the work done advocating for progressive ideals in the political arena.
The Progressive Army recently spoke to Joanne Fleming, newly elected State Committeewoman from the 3rd Legislative District in Washington State (Spokane area), to discuss her political journey.
Fleming’s political awakening occurred during WAmend’s Initiative 735 campaign. This was the first time she turned her political knowledge into political action, fully realizing her power to be an active agent of change. The initiative, which states “we need to have control over the money spent in elections and donations must be public” is essentially an attempt to overturn Citizens United at the state level. This initiative passed overwhelmingly with 63% of voters in favor.
“I’ve always been aware of and interested in Progressive politics, but until the WAMend – I-735 movement began, I didn’t realize that I had an opportunity to actually make a difference,” Fleming says.
The connections Fleming made during the Initiative 735 campaign laid the groundwork for her involvement in the Democratic Primary supporting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. She volunteered relentlessly for both the Spokane County Democrats as well as the 3rd Legislative District and eventually became a delegate for Bernie Sanders at the state level.
Motorcade Driver at DNC
After falling a few votes shy of becoming a national delegate for Bernie Sanders, Fleming embarked on a surprising and transformative opportunity. She worked as a motorcade driver for the Sanders campaign at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Fleming explains her experiences as a driver:
I was also fortunate enough to [drive] Dr. Nina Turner around when she came to speak in Seattle at our rally a couple months ago. It afforded me the opportunity to have one-on-one, personal conversations with her, leading me not only to believe that the party can and will eventually change, but solidifying my desire to stay involved with the Democratic Party instead of putting my efforts towards [other] options such as the Green Party or even the Progressive Independent Party.
Fleming Runs For Committeewoman
Following the DNC convention, Fleming chose to run for State Committeewoman of the 3rd Legislative District of Washington State. Even with this being her first ever run at any political position she was able to hold off two other candidates and secure the position at the December 6th reorganizational meeting. All officer positions were filled by Bernie Sanders supporters who, except for the chair, have also never run for a political position.
The position of State Committeewoman gives Fleming a voice and a vote on the LD and Spokane County executive boards and allows her to represent the LD quarterly at the Washington State Democratic Central Committee. Fleming, while always stressing the importance of the grassroots, outlined how she sees her role as Committeewoman:
At the end of the day [as] committeewoman it’s really my job to represent my legislative district. The third legislative district, where I live, [is] one of the most low-income, if not the lowest income, District in the entire state. We have a vast number of people here who need assistance in many different forms and given who our president-elect is, we need to make sure that those who are counting on us to represent them to the WSDCC will do just that. Given that electing the state [chair] is one of our responsibilities, in the short-term, I am very passionate about supporting Tina Podlodowski as our new state chair.
Tina Podlodowski ran for Washington Secretary of State in the 2016 elections but was defeated by Republican incumbent Kim Wyman on November 8. On December 10, she announced that she was running for Chair of the Washington State Democrats.
Talking with Fleming specifically about her support for Tina Podlodowski gave an insight into the kind of leader she will be within the Democratic Party. Fleming highlighted key aspects of Podlodowski’s qualities, including:
[R]ebuilding the party and legislating from the bottom-up (grassroots), building a strong, and deep, group of progressive candidates statewide, putting time and energy, again statewide, into volunteer recruitment and building up progressive movements in rural areas, including, and maybe especially Eastern Washington, which [has] been historically ignored by the state party and written off as “too red to bother”.
But at the same time, Fleming seems to hold fairness in process and inclusion above all else. Fleming told us that regardless of her support and advocacy for Podlodowski, she will be taking a survey of the Precinct Captains in her district to decide her vote. This focus on fairness and inclusion is why people tell her it is because of her personally that they are still a member of the Democratic Party and believe the ship can be righted.
From the first chance meeting with Stacy Cossey, a WAmed Initiative representative, at the Trader Joe’s parking lot to being elected Washington State Committeewoman of the 3rd LD Joanne Fleming has come a long way in a very short period of time. She is a great example of the kind of person Bernie Sanders had in mind when he encouraged his supporters to run for office and get involved.
Update: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that the chair of LD 3 was not a Bernie Sanders supporter. This has now been corrected.