No, Dr. West.
The Democratic party is not “moribund”.
I don’t claim to know more about politics than Dr. Cornel West. I’m merely an undergraduate writing a thinkpiece on Medium. I, however, am also a progressive, I am a socialist, and I am a proud Democrat, not in spite of my beliefs but because of them. That is to say that, broadly speaking, my politics are more similar to those of folks like Dr. West than they are different from them. The other day, Dr. West published an essay in The Guardian which not only criticized the Democratic Party but in fact called for it to end. Among a number of other things, his article included the following claim:
The monumental collapse of the Democratic party — on the federal, state and local levels — has not yielded any serious soul-wrestling or substantive visionary shifts among its leadership. Only the ubiquitous and virtuous Bernie remains true to the idea of fundamental transformation of the party — and even he admits that seeking first-class seats on the Titanic is self-deceptive and self-destructive.
Frankly, I’m not sure that Dr. West has been paying attention. Bernie Sanders ran last year on a vision of a grassroots takeover, a return of the Democratic party to the days of yore when it truly stood for a leftist, progressive vision, and that dream is not dead. Several weeks ago, the Guilford County Democratic Party had its convention, and let me tell you, not only did we elect a strong contingent of young, progressive folks to the party, we also defeated some truly hateful people — the kinds of folks Dr. West seems to think still hold the reigns up and down the echelons of the organization — in doing so. When the time came during the meeting for those who had never been to a convention before to raise their hands, the room was overwhelmingly comprised of folks who were new to the process. New, progressive Democrats who were getting in at the grassroots to effect the change they wanted to see.
Likewise, earlier last month the Young Democrats of North Carolina had our statewide convention. There, the YDNC elected its most diverse board ever. This youth wing of the party is its tomorrow, and its tomorrow is bright. Its tomorrow will not sit idly by and allow for stagnation, the way that Cornel West claims to see the current party leadership doing. Yet, as I would argue, Dr. West’s impatience — and the impatience of the far left in general — is the true problem here. Politics is the art of compromise, and in politics, fast change is rarely lasting change, and — even if it does last — it is rarely change which has been well-planned and well-thought out. It will take time for this new progressive blood to filter upward. There will be resistance to it. But if we keep at it, we will manage it, no matter what Dr. West thinks.
I admit that in accusing the party’s leadership of being resistant to meaningful change, he is not entirely wrong. Much of the opposition to Trump thus far from our upper echelons has been performative, self-aggrandizing, and done with an eye towards achieving personal glory in 2020. Much of it has been genuine, but we must remain self-critical if we wish to change. Where Cornel West gets it wrong is that he thinks we are beyond hope of effecting change within the system of the Democratic party, simply because the current leadership is not as progressive as he would like it to be.
Why, if only Dr. West could have seen the meeting held just the other week by the county party. What could have been a polite, simple meeting to fill a county commissioner seat devolved into a pitched battle between progressives and moderates, between young and old. It was one hell of an ugly time, to be sure, and I hope we don’t see one like it any time soon, but by God, if Dr. West thinks that this meeting was not evidence of “serious soul-wrestling or substantive visionary shifts”, if Dr. West thinks this is evidence of a party “that lacks imagination, courage and gusto”, then I shudder to think how Cornel West must define these words. For ill or for well, things are being shaken up, and if the more progressive contingent of the party had prepared more for this move, then perhaps they might have gotten a lot further with it.
A political party is no different than a corporation, a city council, or a book club, save in its raison d’être. It is not a person. It does not have goals. It does not have principles. It does not bleed. In any real, tangible sense, there is no such thing as the Democratic party — what exists are the people who involve themselves in it. When West says that, “we must admit the Democratic party has failed us and we have to move on”, he fails to grasp that — if it truly has failed us, which is a subject beyond the scope of the current article — the correct course is not to move on but to move in. Again, I don’t claim to know more about politics than Cornel West, but I don’t know if Cornel West understands that a political party is merely a conglomeration of individuals. If it has leaders who support a specific goal, it is because there are more people involved in the party who support those leaders, and they have voted on delegates who have moved slowly up the ladder from their precincts and counties until they have reached the point of voting on national leadership positions.
West says that, “We progressives need new leadership and institutional capacity that provides strong resistance”. What he misses is that there is already an infrastructure in existence, ready to go, perfectly functional. If he wants to see the goals and leadership of the party changed, this is as simple as finding enough like-minded people to get involved in the process and vote in new leaders. Organize your precincts. Attend your county conventions. Become delegates and state executive committee members. Filter up, and take your beliefs with you, if you want to see them become the beliefs of the organization.
This will take time and effort, to be sure, but if Cornel West thinks that it would take any less time than creating a whole new party infrastructure and getting it to a point of being competitive — least of all in our two-party system — then perhaps Cornel West doesn’t know as much about politics as he thinks. I don’t mean to lump a figure of such a magnitude as Cornel West in with the crowd which uses blind opposition to the Democratic party as a way of feeling good about themselves without having to actually do any work, but if we let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we will achieve neither, and down that roads likes a future which I fear.