It’s Time The Democratic Party Stood For Something
Why I Decided to Run for California Democratic Party Delegate
I don’t know what it means to be a liberal anymore. When I was younger, I used to think I did.
I grew up on tales of Martin Luther King Jr, the fearless socialist at the head of the Civil Rights Movement who stared down fire hoses and police dogs until the day he was assassinated. He fought for black Americans but he also advocated for the working class and stood against Vietnam, all while fiercely denouncing the evils of unfettered capitalism.
Alongside him was JFK, a massively popular president with 70% approval ratings throughout most of his presidency. But he also understood that what is right is not always what is popular. His speech against racial segregation was controversial, and after the March on Washington his support had slipped to 59%. Ultimately he was assassinated.
Before them, Franklin Delano Roosevelt negotiated a New Deal for the American people, using his presidency to create well-paying jobs so that average workers could afford to fuel the American economy. He also connected, sitting down for his Fireside Chats to talk directly to the American people.
Without FDR, the Democrats would never have become the party of the working class. Without the Civil Rights Movement — punctuated by JFK and MLK’s assassinations — and the subsequent party realignment, Democrats would not have become the party of racial justice.
The Democrats in those stories fought for the little guy in a way that was romantic and principled. I believed in them, respected their bold decisions, and shared their forward-thinking ideals, even though I was never alive to see them.
They knew that they had to protect the vulnerable — women, minorities, and those in poverty — from the exploitation and abuse of the powers that be. The Democrats were the watchers on the walls that held the powerful at bay and kept them from trampling on everybody else.
Something is rotten in the state of America. The 1% and the upper-middle class have decided that America’s promise of security and a shot at success belongs to them, and everybody else can fight over the scraps. Worse, the Democratic Party has started to take on that rot. If we cannot stand up for our ideals within our own Party, how can we possibly do so against Republicans?
The recent party establishment belief appears to be that Democrats need to trend towards the center to win elections in purple and red states. We can see this in compromises on pro-choice candidates (Sanders backing Heath Mello or Hillary Clinton picking Tim Kaine as her VP), as well as in the many compromises made in passing Obamacare.
Let us be abundantly clear: this electoral strategy has not worked for Democrats. Over the last 8 years we have lost seats in every election where Barack Obama did not head our ticket, leading to overwhelming local control by Republicans over most of our government.
Running Diet Republicans as Democrats has depressed turnout from our base and also doesn’t draw moderate Republicans (hint: they vote Republican).
Instead, we need to follow the example of Chokwe Lumumba and stand for something. Chokwe Lumumba — a leader in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and a co-founder of the Mississippi Human Rights Collective — is anything but a moderate, with news stories reporting him as a “Progressive Attorney” and “Left Radical”.
He was recently elected Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi with 93% of the vote and has promised to build “the most radical city on the planet”. Trump’s election has fired up a base of progressives who want to see a Democratic Party which represents them, and Lumumba is only the beginning.
After the general election, I decided to put aside my distaste for insider politics and make the transition from activist to politician by running for Assembly District Delegate to the California Democratic Party.
Turnout was up nearly 300% from the last CADEM elections, in the 54th AD and across California. With no political experience, few connections in the area, and little more than an aggressive Facebook campaign, I took home the most votes of any male candidate in my AD.
Why? I can only credit my success to one thing: resonance (ok and also general aptitude with social media but that’s a topic for another time). I took strong stances on everything from wealth inequality to climate change to police brutality, and I compromised on absolutely none of them. I endorsed the Labor Party’s Call for Economic Justice. And it paid off. People were hungry for bold visions and aggressive progressivism, and I advocated earnestly and without reservation for issues they cared about.
I entered politics because I believe the Democratic Party has lost its way. It has become the Party of the upper middle class, not the people. It doesn’t fight for minorities or the LGBT community or for women, merely their token inclusion in the upper middle class.
Democrats need to return to being the party of the disenfranchised, a party with a strong ideology that is easy to understand and takes powerful stands on issues of inequality.
Let’s start with Single Payer healthcare, something which 58% of Americans and 73% of Democrats support. Even more interestingly, while 80% of Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, 41% would support a single payer system (and recent conservative support for single payer has surged in 2017).
Senate Bill 562 (The Healthy California Act) would establish a single payer system in California, and it has already passed the State Senate. And yet Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon has refused to bring it before the Assembly for discussion or a vote. If Rendon is going to stand in the way of that, it’s time for the progressive base of the Democratic Party to oust him.
And who is that base? It’s the same groups Obama earned unprecedented support from: young voters and black Americans. Turnout from both of those groups both dropped 5% in 2016 (with Obama off of the ticket), and it’s quite probable that cost Clinton the election.
What issues do they care about? Student debt. Income inequality. Climate change. Black Lives Matter. Immigrants rights. Closing the gender wage gap. Prosecuting sexual assault. All firebrand progressive issues.
To repeat the success of Obama’s elections, we in that base need to feel engaged and heard. The only way to ensure that happens is to fight for an Democratic Party which is not just progressive but aggressive in standing for its ideals.
We cannot be the party of the 1% but we also cannot be the party of the 20%. We must be the party of the downtrodden — of minorities and immigrants, of women and the LGBT community, of the poor and working class..
We must — once again — be the watchers on the wall, holding the powerful and wealthy at bay and preventing them from trampling everybody else.