By Maurice Mitchell and Nelini Stamp for WFP
The last few days have been a whirlwind since we announced our endorsement for Senator Elizabeth Warren for President in the Democratic primary. We were immensely proud for WFP to have the opportunity to introduce Senator Warren at her 20,000-person rally in Washington Square Park, and to speak about our endorsement and the work ahead to CNN, the New York Times and many other outlets. We’ve been thrilled to see the response from thousands of WFP supporters who have already signed up to organize with WFP and Senator Warren.
Senator Warren is putting forward bold ideas to rewrite the rules of our rigged system and transform the nation to work for the many. Her proposals will make a difference in the lives of millions of working people. And she is an unrivaled storyteller and teacher who can explain to America how the system got broken, who broke it, and how to fix it. We’re eager to build a grassroots army for her.
We also have immense respect for Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been a trailblazer in so many ways. WFP was an early endorser for Sanders in the 2016 primary. Both Warren and Sanders are fighting for the world we want to see, and both have brought new and vital ideas into the political debate. Our endorsement of Senator Warren does not diminish our respect for Senator Sanders, and to be clear, we’re going to be relentlessly positive about both of them in the months ahead.
Here’s how we see the 2020 presidential race right now. The white nationalists have their own candidate, obviously. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party has theirs too. That’s why we felt it was so important to weigh in at this moment, and to get involved and start organizing. For us, the way to do that was to set up a fair endorsement process that reflects the Working Families Party we are building together.
We want to address that process and the outcome, since our decision has disappointed some Bernie supporters and also left people with some questions. We stand behind it fully. Let us tell you why.
The process was designed to create a balance between our online supporters and members on the one hand, and our WFP National Committee on the other. Each side of that equation received a 50% share of the overall vote. That arrangement is now getting characterized in some places online as “members vs. leadership”—and that’s simply a gross misunderstanding of the WFP and how it works.
It was through a similar process in 2015 that Bernie Sanders won WFP’s first-ever national presidential endorsement. The biggest change to the process from four years ago is that this year, we substantially increased the voting power of online supporters and individual members — from just one-eighth to a full half of the total vote share — balancing it equally with the National Committee delegates. It’s worth noting that the WFP National Committee approved the process that expanded the membership share of the vote.
The WFP National Committee is our governing body. The votes on that committee are not individual big donors or bigwigs. They are delegates representing the many WFP state chapters, local branches, and grassroots organizations and movements that are core parts of our party — which have their own processes to arrive at their decisions on their vote in the WFP endorsement.
Any given state chapter is comprised of individual activists as well as progressive organizations, including community organizations and unions who are dedicated to building the WFP. Let us give you a specific example of how they are represented:
When a delegate representing the New York WFP cast their vote on the WFP National Committee, it was the product of hundreds of New York WFP State Committee members deliberating and debating and voting to come to a position for themselves. The National Committee delegate then carried the state committee’s vote. Those state committee members are the lifeblood of the WFP in New York; they carry petitions, door-knock to help elect WFP candidates, attend candidate endorsement screenings, and more.
Many of those state committee members themselves represent more people. They may lead a local WFP club, or a community organization that ran its own deliberative process to inform their state committee vote. And while New York is our most well established state chapter, versions of that played out in some form in chapters and branches around the country.
Over the last few days, the activists and leaders who make up WFP’s state committees or represent them on the national committee have been maligned as so-called “superdelegates” or worse. But they’re actually more like regular delegates in any political party; they are the people selected to carry the votes of the bodies or constituencies they represent. They are a beautiful mix of working people of every experience and every race who come together to struggle to build and win a common political agenda. They don’t get paid for that role; and generally are responsible for carrying the decisions and preferences of the members and activists they represent.
The national committee delegates, who are majority women and people of color, are some of the most dedicated, principled organizers we’ve ever encountered, who’ve done more than anyone to bring people into the party.
Many organizations don’t engage in this type of internal democracy because it means big questions on strategy can’t be prefigured or determined by a small group of people. That’s exactly why we are committed to it. This is one of the aspects of the vote we’re most proud of.
But the contention we’re seeing about “leadership” overturning the “membership” is fundamentally an argument that only some voices inside the WFP are legitimate; that only the online member vote should count, not the delegates serving on the WFP National Committee. But these delegates representing state chapters and branches, these community groups and unions and movements that participate in the WFP, are vital and democratic — and they’re the Working Families Party too. They are not SuperPAC donors. They are not “superdelegates.” They are made up of and fighting for working class people in communities around the country.
Further, the implication that the National Committee could “overrule” the online membership vote is simply incorrect. It suggests a group of people looking at the membership vote and rejecting it. In fact, the National Committee vote and the online membership vote ran during the same timeframe. And like the member and supporter vote, each WFP National Committee delegate voted by secret ballot. WFP decided at the outset to put process first, define it clearly, and respect whatever verdict that process delivered. And we did.
When we first announced our 2020 process back in June, we were transparent about how we were going to arrive at our decision. We posted details of the process on our website. We restated it at the start of every one of our candidate live-streamed Q&As. All the candidates who participated in our process were aware of the rules and agreed to abide by them. No candidate suggested that we’d need to show internal breakdowns of component parts of our process to satisfy them.
We announced the results of our process as a single number that incorporates all the elements of our party. And that’s raised some questions. It’s even caused some people to make wild and unfounded speculations and accusations.
But we want to tell you why we’re committed to expressing the result as a single number.
Because we are building a single party. One that values all of our component parts for the unique role they play and refuses to drive false wedges between them.
Organizing across difference isn’t easy. Sharing power means you don’t always win. But it also means you’re more powerful. And it’s also how we’ve been able to bring together an increasingly diverse working-class base.
To WFP, those organized groups matter, the delegates carrying state chapter and local branch votes matter, and so do our individual supporters and members. But the demand to reveal subtotals for each specific subcategory seems to be about making one part seem more legitimate and one part seem less. That’s not the party we’re building.
If you don’t want to be in a party where individual grassroots activists and community organizing groups and organized chapters and progressive unions share power, the WFP might not be for you. But if you do, no matter which presidential candidate you support, we want to keep building with you to transform this country.
We want to thank all five candidates who participated in our process. We want to deeply thank all the WFP staff who executed it, and all the members who participated in it, whether they engage with WFP through chapters or branches or affiliated organizations or online.
We also want to acknowledge that a significant number of people who love WFP wish the vote had resulted in a different endorsement. We understand that, and no one wins every time. In this party, we might not always agree, but we hope we continue to treat each other with respect, compassion and integrity. WFP is a big tent with many opportunities to get involved beyond the presidential race — for example, supporting our down-ballot candidates. Let’s work together where we agree, and if you choose to spend time supporting a different presidential candidate than Elizabeth Warren, we respect your choice. We hope you’ll do that by making the case for your candidate and organizing for them.
Now, it’s time to get to work. For WFP, that will mean organizing the Democratic primary voters who haven’t already gotten behind one of the two leading structural change candidates currently in the race. If you support another progressive candidate, then get to work organizing for them. If you want to help WFP build a multi-racial movement of working people to transform our country, get to work organizing with us.
This election is too important for progressives and working people to allow ourselves to be divided, too important to engage in caustic fights among progressives, and it’s too important for any of us to just sit on the sidelines.