Democracy Spring’s Undemocratic Decision-Making Has Become Painfully Obvious
“ Change never takes place from the top down, it comes from the bottom up.” —Bernie Sanders
Up until early-September, Democracy Spring was doggedly dedicated to building a non-partisan social movement to get money out of politics, end voter suppression and create citizen-funded elections.
The movement began with a bang in April on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, with over 1,200 arrested in America’s largest Civil Disobedience of the 21st century.
It continued with about 100 arrested in a week of protests at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. I was part of the civil disobedience outside the convention that blocked a delegate entrance, which was covered (in a biased manner) by CNN and CBS News.
The CBS News coverage bothered me in particular because they portrayed us as Bernie supporters. Though I personally am one, I was angered that the media would portray a non-partisan movement organization in such a biased way. I feared this twist in coverage would damage Democracy Spring’s ability to appeal to a wider audience.
I expressed these concerns to organizers and they were extremely sympathetic. On the third day of the convention, when we marched to FDR Park to divert attention away from the protesters using Uber to get past security, the crowd and media were regularly reminded of our non-partisan nature.
Then on September 5th, just three days before over 100 activists from across the country would gather in New Jersey for a National Training, Democracy Spring’s 11-member Interim National Coordinating Committee (INCC) released a statement fundamentally changing the organization.
No longer was Democracy Spring non-partisan; now it was progressive. No longer were we neutral in the Presidential Election, now we were advocating a strategic vote for Hillary Clinton, despite the fact she hadn’t signed our EVFA Declaration (more on this detail later).
Widespread outrage followed.
A few people skipped out on coming to the National Training altogether. Others didn’t find out until they got on their flights from the West Coast, and arrived angry. Many of these people distanced themselves from training activities or simply left the training early.
It was clear that a majority of people present at the training disagreed with the decision, some were just more vehement about it than others.
Arguments surrounding the decision overshadowed the next day’s training exercises. Why would a group called Democracy Spring allow 11 people to make a decision for thousands? Why support Clinton if she hasn’t even signed the EVFA? Now that we’re expressing these concerns, can we change this decision to be more representative of Democracy Spring’s members?
Organizers handled the initial backlash defensively, complaining that many detractors hadn’t read the statement. They agreed to give us time to air our grievances, but were reluctant to allow a vote on the topic. They wouldn’t even say whether our time to be listened to would result in any change, making many of us feel tokenized.
The allotted time to discuss the issue began at 8 p.m., but the first two hours consisted of the 11-member INCC explaining their decision, with no responses allowed from the crowd. By the time our concerns were heard, it was 10 p.m. and many people were so exhausted that they went to sleep.
A glimmer of hope came on the final day of the National Training.
The INCC agreed to send out a survey to get feedback from their base of supporters. They said that the data received from the survey would be used to inform their decision.
It is very important to note, however, that they never said their new decision would be a democratic one. Based on the survey results and their subsequent decision it’s clear that it wasn’t, though you wouldn’t know it by listening to the INCC.
A 49% plurality wanted to withdraw the strategic voting support for Clinton altogether. Another 14% wanted to withdraw the strategic voting support for Clinton until she signs the EVFA. That means a clear 63% majority wanted to withdraw the statement urging a strategic vote for Clinton.
The INCC spun this data in the only way that could possibly justify their original statement.
“Our first take-away? Our community is split when it comes to this decision,” the INCC said in their new statement. “A slim majority of respondents supported one of three different versions of strategic voting for Clinton as their first choice, while nearly half opposed any such option.”
Their first take-away wasn’t that a near majority wanted the decision scrapped (by a 10% margin). It wasn’t that nearly 2/3 of Democracy Spring doesn’t want to advocate strategically voting for Clinton right now. No, their first take-away was that the organization is split.
They even went as low as trying to portray their decision as democratic by grouping all options supporting some form of strategic voting together, ignoring the fact that one of those options disagrees with their decision. This made it seem like their new decision to continue advocating a strategic vote for Clinton was supported by a slim 51% majority.
How can an organization trying to fix our democracy operate undemocratically? How can an organization tell us that real change happens from the bottom-up, when they themselves operate top-down?
Before their original decision, Democracy Spring had the potential to unite progressives around a common cause. After their latest undemocratic decision, they have cemented progressive division.
If they had gotten Hillary Clinton to sign the EVFA back at the DNC, there at least would’ve been a good reason to support her. Even though many progressives dislike Clinton, they understand that Democracy Spring supports those who sign the EVFA.
Even though Hillary Clinton’s aides reached out to Democracy Spring organizers in Philadelphia, she was never asked to sign the EVFA. Instead, INCC member Tania Maduro told me they focused on asking her to get rid of superdelegates.
That might be shocking news for many, especially considering Democracy Spring’s lack of transparency regarding the meeting and their stated goal of protest at the DNC.
This image is from the Democracy Spring website’s home page:
If Democracy Spring was engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the DNC to convince the Democratic Party to commit to pass fundamental democracy reforms in the first 100 days of a new administration, why not ask the party’s leader to do the same when you clearly have her ear?
Let me recap the missteps Democracy Spring leadership has taken since the DNC:
- They shifted from non-partisan to progressive. There are plenty of independents, libertarians and conservatives who support the cause of getting money out of politics. Excluding them prevents our movement from being as large as it has the potential to be.
- Even though Hillary Clinton’s aides reached out to Democracy Spring organizers in Philadelphia, she was never asked to sign the EVFA. We had the ear of the potential next president, but we didn’t ask her to sign a pledge agreeing to our policy proposals.
- The INCC (11 people) took an organizational stance to support Clinton, without asking the organization’s base if they agree. This created inner turmoil within Democracy Spring, even though they could have simply waited a few days and asked for input at the National Training.
- The INCC got the base’s feedback, but undemocratically decided against what the majority wanted. When your whole reason for existing as an organization is to fix America’s democracy, it’s absolutely hypocritical to dismiss the opinion of 63% of your supporters.
It is for these reasons that I can no longer consider myself a passionate Democracy Spring activist.
My heart just can’t do it.
The fight to fix our democracy is still deeply important to me. I will likely still reach out to politicians to sign the EVFA and I will definitely still take to the streets to put pressure on our government to enact pro-democracy reforms. I just simply can’t do so under the name of a group that is so willing to disrespect the very same principles they claim to support.
I’m thankful for the insight the INCC has shared with me about social movements and how they succeed, and am hopeful that they’ll see their fatal flaws.
I’m honored to have met so many people in Philadelphia and New Jersey who are willing to put their lives on the line for the cause of fixing our country’s democracy. I really got to see how beautiful all of your hearts and minds are and will always be here for you if you are in times of need. The experience we shared together is very near and dear to my heart.
All I ask is that you never blame me and others like me for our lack of commitment to Democracy Spring.
Blame Democracy Spring for their lack of commitment to democracy.