We are Democrats for Education Reform and We Aren’t Going Anywhere
By Shavar Jeffries
Consistent with efforts we’ve seen from the last presidential election to the present, some Democrats are intent on civil war. Instead of coming together around the broad majority of issues that unite us, some would rather impose purity tests over disagreements on a handful of issues, and some would suggest they have a monopoly on what it means to be a Democrat.
I have been a proud Democrat my entire life, inspired by the party’s commitment to equal opportunity, tolerance, equity and diversity. From President Roosevelt’s New Deal to President Johnson’s vision of a Great Society to President Obama’s pragmatic progressivism, the party’s core values have anchored my work over the last 20 years as a civil-rights lawyer, civil prosecutor and senior advisor to a Democratic governor, elected official, and nonprofit leader.
And in fighting for justice and equity, I’ve often found myself in intense battles with opponents, and from time to time, allies. Some moderates have said I’m too radical because of my unyielding commitment to racial equity; some progressives have said I’m too moderate because I believe in many areas the best solutions involve a balancing of government power with the agency of individuals, families, and communities.
These fights within the family are constructive when designed to achieve outcomes that best reflect our party values, but they can be destructive when they become zero-sum, rooted more in personal demonization than substance, and in so doing sow seeds of disunity that cause us to overstate our differences and under-value our similarities.
This, unfortunately, is what we saw last weekend when a Colorado party assembly voted to distance itself from my organization, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). DFER has fought for core party values on equal opportunity, racial and gender equality, and economic opportunity for more than a decade.
We only support Democrats and have supported many hundreds of Democrats throughout the country in fighting for these values. We understand that on some issues, some in our party disagree with us. We welcome that disagreement and we welcome the debates that ensue periodically. We stay true to our principles because we believe our vision best reflects the values of the party and the outcomes we seek for young people.
But we will fight — when fights are necessary — anchored in the understanding that this is a family fight and thus we will not engage in the politics of personal destruction against those with whom we disagree.
Some in the party do not offer us the same courtesy, and that is unfortunate, as our disunity only empowers Trump Republicans. Trump is president to a large degree because progressives and liberals engaged in a civil war over the 10 percent of policies where we might disagree, as opposed to uniting around the 90 percent where we agree. Hillary Clinton was booed at the DNC convention in 2016 by the same forces that still seek to sow division within our party. Our unity is our best weapon against the ongoing assault to our democracy visited upon the country each day by Trump.
As we engage collectively in the mid-term elections in November, and as we set the stage for 2020, our party faces a choice: unite around the broad consensus we share on core principles and take back our country, or continue to engage in the circular-firing-squad of false charges, conspiracy theories and baseless claims that will guarantee another four years of Trump.
At DFER, we’ve made our choice and, even as we fight some in our party who we think are wrong on education policy, we will continue to pursue the unity required to overcome the Trump onslaught.
We hope the rest of the party will join us in this commitment. But if our intra-party opponents would prefer counter-productive family warfare as opposed to unity around shared values, this should be clear too: we stand with the millions of families across our country demanding access to high-quality public schools and the thousands of elected Democrats who fight tirelessly to ensure they get it. We are not going anywhere.