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Ellison’s DNC Platform: Progressive Fluff With Little Substance

Platitudes Sound Nice But Won’t Change The Hearts And Minds Of Voters Without Action

Keith Ellison is running for chair of the DNC.
Keith Ellison is running for chair of the DNC. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

On December 1, 2016, Keith Ellison released his platform for what he hopes to accomplish should he become DNC chair. His platform has a broad focus on the grassroots, local level organizations, not just from state to state, but from county to county. There is an emphasis on working people and involvement in the party for everyone.

“Our Party is right. Our values are just. Our future depends on grassroots organizing. When Democrats champion the challenges of working families, voters will have a reason to show up at the polls in 2017, 2018 and beyond.”

To get the voters to the polls, Keith Ellison and the rest of the Democrats must not just pay lip service and buzzwords. To that point, Ellison must lead the way in showing regular working people that their allegiance is with working people and not Wall Street and big money interests.

The platform briefly outlines why Ellison is the right man for the job. His skills as an organizer and advocate; his networking with progressives and labor leaders; his participation with both the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns (demonstrating his ability to unite the party); his fundraising abilities; and his “war-room mentality” for taking on Trump — all are cited as reasons for Ellison to be the next DNC chair.

Below is a brief summary of his platform.

Putting voters first

Ellison wants to make the DNC more efficient and help work with various party committees to organize and train grassroots and progressive efforts on the local level. He wants to boost voter turnout by 3-7%, in part by boosting voter registration, improving voter enfranchisement, and protecting voters against voter suppression.

My first thought when reading this section is that a 3-7% increase in voter turnout shouldn’t be that difficult and thus, not that weighty of a goal. You have a pool of 41.4% that didn’t vote in the last election. If Ellison truly wants to make the Democratic platform a reality and prove to working people that the Democrats are a party that holds their interests first, this goal of 3-7% is weak. It may be what they have calculated that they need to win future elections, but if Democrats truly echo the ethos of the platform and not simply provide lip service they should shoot for a 20-30% increase.

Beyond the beltway

This part of Ellison’s platform focuses on state and local levels of the Democratic party. He wants the DNC to increase funding, to develop an “aggressive strategy” for redistricting, to focus on training diverse and qualified candidates for office, and to facilitate better communication between regional and national staff. He also wants to create a “state and local toolkit” to give those regions the tools they need to succeed, such as research, technology, fundraising, surrogates, and more.

Republicans did an outstanding job with congressional district redistricting and Democrats have been handicapped for some time because of it. As far as focusing on a diverse group of candidates at every level, this could also be a great place where the DNC could partner with groups like Brand New Congress to streamline a lot of the national goals at the local level around a common core of issues.

Focus on working people

Again, the emphasis on working people. Ellison wants to improve relations with labor and facilitate “direct engagement with working voters” in those areas where Democrats underperformed this year. He also wants to increase grassroots fundraising with a goal of low-dollar contributions accounting for 33% of DNC revenue.

However, the Democratic party can’t simply have working class placeholders that are only present at media events in symbolic gestures of support. For too long we’ve heard the buzzwords of being for the working class while the actual legislation and actions of the Democratic party have proven otherwise.

Accountability and inclusion

This plank addresses a key criticism of the DNC lately — that it is corrupt. Ellison wants to have two-way communication between national, state, and local level members; regular briefings and updates from the DNC chair and committees to state party chairs; metrics developed to measure the DNC’s success; and to enable youth voices to be more readily heard and involved via the Young Democrats and the College Democrats. He also wants to diversify the DNC staff, improve constituency outreach, and lessen the use of external vendors in favor of internal staff. Finally, he wants to improve the neutrality of the DNC by setting the primary debate schedule early, communicating weekly with all presidential candidates, and institute superdelegate reform.


Ellison wants to ensure that state parties have access to the Clinton campaign and future presidential campaign data and voter file data. He also wants to improve cybersecurity, “tap the talents” of Silicon Valley, and lower costs of hardware and software via bulk purchases and sharing.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

While a brief skim through Ellison’s platform makes it seem really promising, with buzzwords like “grassroots,” “voter outreach,” “voter turnout,” and the repeated mentions of state and local parties along with working class voters, a closer look at the fine print reveals a more hollow picture. His platform is focused on making the DNC work more efficiently and improving communication between the levels of the party. He does want to provide the parties with improved tools for success, but many tools mentioned, such as the voter file data, research, and other data, are already typically available to state parties.

Additionally, involvement with the working class and youth also starts to ring hollow when you read the fine print. For working class voters, Ellison’s platform says, “Roundtables, listening sessions and direct voter contact in areas where Democrats underperformed in 2016 compared to previous elections.” While it is perhaps easier and more efficient to target underperforming areas (particularly in light of Donald Trump’s victories in crucial rust belt states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio), will an Ellison DNC ignore the working class voters in other states?

As for the youth voters, they need more than just an assurance “that groups like Young Democrats and College Democrats have a seat at the table, DNC financial support, and an expanded voice in decision making.” Young voters are notorious for having low turnout numbers, but this year’s Democratic primary showed that they could be turned out in force with the right leader to energize them. Young Democrats and College Democrats have limited outreach capabilities; the DNC needs to expand its focus more.

Cornel West, on Democracy Now!, claims that the Democrats re-electing Nancy Pelosi is “a sign that neoliberalism is still hegemonic in the party.” Evidence of this is that only 5% of congress signed a letter penned to President Obama in solidarity with the water protectors in North Dakota. If the Democrats don’t start actually standing up for the people they claim to represent then they will be left wondering why they lost again in the upcoming elections.

Written by Raven Payne

Recently awakened progressive in pursuit of truth in all things.

Raven Payne is an Editor and Writer for Progressive Army, and a member of its Editorial Board.

Written by Andre Roberge

Father, Husband. Went to school for philosophy (university of WA) and now I work for a train company -- Interests include Labor Law, TILA, Unions, Paid Family Leave, Healthcare, Philosophy of Science, Fantasy Football and Open Government-- Fanboy of The Take Down with Nick Nowlin and The Way with Anoa. Follow Andre on Twitter @SubvertingPower.

Andre Roberge is a Researcher and Writer for Progressive Army.

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Keith Ellison is running for chair of the DNC.

Ellison’s DNC Platform: Progressive Fluff With Little Substance