The process of how something happens within the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has caught the attention of many Bernie delegates and supporters in their attempts to gain traction during the Democratic Primary. From Roberta Lang and the infamous throwing of chairs at the Nevada caucus to the closed primaries, Bernie supporters often felt slighted by the process. The challenge to the status quo was seen at meetings and events across the country. Some local and state organizations welcomed the newcomers into the process while others were all but ignored.
Vivian Queija of Seattle Washington (LD43) felt first hand the frustrations both inside and outside of the Democrat National Convention in Philadelphia. After participating in the Bernie Sanders delegation in her precinct and legislative district caucuses she was ultimately elected as a national-delegate-at large for Bernie Sanders at the Washington State Democratic convention. All this work put in only to boil over in frustration in Philadelphia. In spite of the disappointment Vivian tells me:
Our WA Bernie Delegation has remained in contact and have been supportive of one another. We are developing a statewide strategy. We realized we had to stay engaged if we wanted to enact change. Like it or not, we knew no Third Party option has ever succeeded in America. We decided to roll up our sleeves and are running for various positions in LD 43 to bring Progressive voices into the mix. The current LD 43 Chair has been welcoming and sees the value of adding our voices. He has been active in the Dems since the early 90s and has seen good people join and then leave. He doesn’t want to see that happen this time.
Vivian herself was elected Precinct Committee Officer and is running for Treasurer of the LD43 Democrats (the election is January 15th). This is an important step, she feels, to paying her dues by holding the position of Treasurer, being an active progressive member moving the party in the right direction and getting a seat/vote on the LD43 Democrat executive board. Being an optimist in the face of the huge task she and her party have ahead of them, she relishes a recent victory their team, working with City Council members on a recent budget proposal, has achieved. Vivian declares:
We managed to get a much needed resolution passed in support of the city of Seattle budget proposal and worked by Direct Action to see it through. With this victory behind us, we see the true power that Bernie Sanders spoke of, “change starts at the bottom.”
State Democrat organizations must also reflect on the past primary and how they’ll respond. Noel Frame, State Representative in Washington State, outlines the importance of local reflection and elections in a letter signed by local volunteers, members of the state central committee, candidates, and elected officials, including supporters of both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Instead of having everyone making a preliminary endorsement for state chair, she urges everyone to give the candidates a chance to make their case in upcoming local and state meetings. This highlighting of the process shows that perhaps those in the Democratic Party are aware of the importance of making people feel as though they have a voice and belong. Something that many Bernie delegates including Vivian Quieja missed out on at the DNC convention in Philadelphia. Lastly, newly elected state chairs will have a vote on the big ticket, DNC chair making the position battle even more contentious.
In the recent past, most DNC chairs have been appointed by or requested by the sitting Democratic President/White House and then confirmed by the DNC. In 2000, Terry McAuliffe was asked by Vice President Al Gore to take the position as chair of the Democratic National Convention due to his fundraising abilities, which were desperately needed at the time. He became DNC chair shortly thereafter. In 2005, Howard Dean became chairman of the DNC, following a race in which he had several rivals. He consolidated support over the course of the race and appears to have been chosen due to his affinity with grassroots support, Internet efforts, and fundraising. In late 2008, Tim Kaine was asked to be DNC chair by President Obama and accepted. He was confirmed shortly thereafter, with no competition. In 2011, Obama picked Debbie Wasserman Schultz to follow Tim Kaine and she was confirmed, again with no competition.
So how will the DNC fill their national chair vacancy?
Step One: The Executive Committee Meeting/Rules committee meeting will take place on December 2-3, 2016. The Rules Committee will draft a report on the rules as well as set the DNC winter meeting agenda to take place in late February. Rules the committee may consider should explicitly detail how the next DNC chair and future officers will be elected. For example, will voting be done only be DNC members physically at the winter meeting to allow for official credentialing of those attending? Will the vote be by straw poll or voice vote? Will proxy voting be permitted? The location of the executive meeting, as announced by Susie Shannon during the last California Democrat meeting, will take place at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego. She urges those in the area that can make it attend the meeting.
At this particular meeting, there is pause for concern because those directing the rules and agenda are the very same people who directed the DNC into the hole it currently resides in. In particular, Donna Brazile, the interim chair of the DNC, has been implicated in giving the Hillary Clinton campaign debate questions on multiple occasions during the Democratic Primary. It’s hard to imagine a world where the interim chair of the DNC, who repeatedly claims Russian involvement in our election without evidence, is going to be able to right the ship. If the DNC is going to have any chance of moving away from Clinton-style politics they should hope DNC officers such as Brazile are not seeking further positions within the party.
Step Two: As announced by Frank Leone, VA DNC member, “the DNC will meet in Atlanta Georgia on February 23-26, 2017 to elect new officers and conduct other business.” The beginning of this meeting will include a motion to pass the rules and agenda set by the rules and executive committee at the December 2-3 meeting. Look for updates on the Atlanta DNC meeting from Progressive Army correspondent and Atlanta’s own Anoa Changa. (The DNC issued FAQs answering general questions as to what is the DNC and who comprises its body.)
Unity Reform Commission
Sixty days after the new DNC Chair is elected, the Unity Reform Commission is to be established. This commission will have 21 members, including a chair and vice-chair along with nine members appointed by Clinton, seven members appointed by Sanders, and three more members appointed by the Chair. The Commission’s stated goal is to “review the entire nominating process and to make recommended changes to the Charter regarding the nominating process with a specific focus on ensuring the process is accessible, transparent and inclusive.”
In particular, the Commission will be examining the Delegate Selection Rules “with a goal of increasing voter participation and inclusion through grassroots engagement of the Party’s voter base during and in-between presidential election cycles.” They will look at expanding primary elections and protecting “eligible voters’ ability to participate in the caucuses” along with making caucuses more inclusive and accessible, better run, and more transparent.
Another stated goal is to make recommendations about ensuring the participation of unaffiliated or new voters through same-day registration. Possibly of most interest, the Commission will also be looking at changing the superdelegate process, including possibly requiring some of them “to cast their vote at the Convention for candidates in proportion to the vote received for each candidate in their state.”
Additionally, the Commission will look into more general reforms for the party, including broadening their voter base; increasing the party’s influence and competitiveness across the country; bettering grassroots involvement and organization; and expanding the donor base to be “less dependent on large contributions,” more involved in the party, and “to enable the party to support important electoral programs.”
How will we know true reform has taken place?
We’ve outlined the upcoming process of the reorganization within the local and state Democrat bodies as well as the DNC that will be taking place in the months ahead. Alex Press, in her article “The Rich Can’t Save Us” lays out what I believe the mindset is that must be undertaken as we make our way through the process:
Instead of putting our faith in the very group that failed to defeat Trumpism at the ballot box, we must focus our efforts on reviving left politics — genuine left politics, not the wedding of neoliberal economic policies and symbolic concern for people of color and women that the Clinton campaign espoused.
To close out let’s point to a few key signs that Democrats are moving in the right direction.
Those within the party will no longer refer to themselves as Bernie or Hillary delegates/backers. Instead, everyone will be united toward a common goal and direction and be okay with being referred to simply as a Democrat.
The party will grow. Not just in the amount of members and financial contributors but in the amount of local, state, and national engagement. Meetings where the energy is high and there is not an open seat to be found throughout the country, including ‘non-democrat states.’
New faces will not only be members but will be leading the Democrats into the future.
The DNC will be centered around issues, not personalities or figureheads.
Put generally, the party will have to make itself open to new members and allow them to be more easily involved. This includes allowing open primaries, same-day registration, and easier caucus processes (or eliminating them!). Along that vein, the influence of superdelegates must be greatly diminished or even removed. If they do these things and we begin to see signs of true unity around issues of everyday people, the Democratic Party will expand their base and be on thier way to being a party of the people instead of the donor class.