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Le Parti est Nous! Let’s Take It Back!

Should socialists and progressives work to move the Democratic Party to the left or focus on building a new party?

While I consider both endeavors worthy goals, I have decided to focus my energy, once again, on working within the Party. I made the same decision in 2011, when I first moved to Delaware, and I had a number of disappointments with party operatives there — and also with the DNC.

Now that I’ve moved to Florida, I face that same question again, and have decided to give the Democratic Party another try.

Right before I moved to Florida, I engaged in a discussion on a DE political blog, during which I criticized the Democratic committee in my (now former) district for endorsing a candidate in the 2016 primary, instead of letting the voters decide – in particular for endorsing a DINO incumbent (who holds a powerful leadership position) over a progressive challenger. Regular readers of my blog have heard this complaint from me before. I continue to voice it, however, because of the principle at stake: In a democracy, the people should decide who gets elected – not party operatives, moneyed elites, or good ole boys.

In addition, however, I view endorsements as strategically problematic for the success of the Democratic Party. Endorsing in a primary creates splits within the party, which is why my district committee had a policy prohibiting endorsements. And indeed, their (pointless) endorsement – was it really needed? – caused a painful split. Perhaps those who stayed on the committee were glad to be rid of us progressives, but in the long run, being insular and exclusionary weakens the Party. The Democrats simply can’t win without the Left.

That endorsement also raised the issue of basic fairness. In Delaware, getting a primary endorsement means the non-endorsed candidate gets cut off from access to party resources. So, for example, even if a filed candidate paid money to have access to the Vote Builder database, and even if he had entered his own data, that he collected himself, into that database, he could be cut off and lose everything, as a consequence of not being endorsed. That’s not fair.

Moreover, it’s just plain rude to completely ignore a candidate, pretend he doesn’t exist, and rescind his invitation to speak at a meeting. Who acts like that?

When I posted my opposition to endorsement on the DE blog, an anonymous contributor accused me of being naïve. “Of course, the County Party is going to endorse an incumbent, especially if he’s a party leader,” he proclaimed, “and anyone who thinks otherwise is dumber than I thought they were,” or something to that effect.

I responded that my position has nothing to do with naivete. If I were to say the DNC should stop catering to its big donors, that would be naïve. But on the local level, the party is nothing other than the people who operate it. It’s a question of leadership.

For example, if I had still been chair, there never would have been an endorsement. And if my successor had followed the policy unanimously passed by the committee people in 2010, there never would have been an endorsement. The decision to endorse was made by people, people we know, and they could have chosen to act differently. They should have chosen to act differently. But they didn’t.

In other words, “The Party” is not some autonomous entity with its own will. That’s an abstraction. The Party is the people that comprise it.

The idea of “The Party” as some kind of impervious monolith came up again today in conversation, not in Delaware but in my new hometown in Florida. A local progressive argued that “The Party” doesn’t want progressives, doesn’t want to address our issues, and so we should stop wasting our time.

Here again, it’s not a question of what “The Party” wants. “The Party” doesn’t make decisions; people make decisions. If progressive people write the platform, the platform will be progressive.

Progressives should not wait around hoping the Democratic Party will accept us. Instead, we should occupy the Party and make our voices heard.

Remember: We are the Party – or we could be. Let’s take it back.

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