Early last month, the Michigan Democratic Party State Central Committee (DSCC) met to choose its delegates to the Democratic National Committee [full disclosure: I am a DSCC member]. The afternoon of the meeting, the Chair of the Young Democrats of Michigan Sam Pernick spoke to a group of Senator Sanders and Jill Stein supporters in the hallway outside of the meeting room, telling them that “backroom deals” were being made behind closed doors and “that wasn’t right.” He then led his followers into the meeting chanting “Whose party? OUR Party!”, disrupting the meeting that was already underway. What Pernick didn’t realize was that he was leading the group, not into the DSCC meeting but, rather, into a closed meeting of the MDP Labor Caucus who had the room reserved just prior to the DSCC meeting itself. UAW leader Mike Stone grabbed Pernick by the jacket and pushed him back out the door.
Pernick then proceeded to file charges against Stone which resulted in Stone receiving a ticket. Pernick took to social media to describe the “assault and battery” as a violent attack, blowing it up in an apparent attempt to obscure the fact that he stupidly led dozens of his followers into the wrong meeting.
Here’s video of the event. The group enters the room at around the 7-minute mark:
A supporter of Pernick’s wrote an absurdly inaccurate op-ed for The Observer titled “Michigan Dem Meeting Breaks Into Violence as Clinton Fans Repel Sanders Partisans”. I suppose there are some who consider being pushed out of a room as violence but I am not one of those people. In the piece, the author says that Mike Stone was issued a ticket for “assault and battery”. In truth, Mike Stone was issued a ticket for “Assault-Simple” and the police officer described the situation that occurred in this way:
Subject physically escorted an unwanted protestor out of the room who refused to leave.
Click the image to the right for a larger version of the ticket given to Stone.
The fact is, if you watch the video, you’ll see as much pushing and shoving coming from Pernick and his group as you see from Mike Stone and the other Labor Caucus members trying to get them out of the room where their private meeting was taking place.
Pernick has since dropped his ridiculous charges but would not do so “with prejudice” suggesting that he may come back to file charges again at some later date. My sources who know the judge who oversaw the hearing tell me that this he is quite unlikely to allow Pernick to use the courts to further his own political agenda.
Lena Thompson (aka “Lena Danger”), a self-described “Berniecrat”, participated in the protest led by Pernick and came away pretty upset that the young organizer had basically made them all look like fools. Here are a few of her comments from her piece “So, we marched into a closed-door meeting… and oh by the way, it was the WRONG meeting” and I encourage you to read her entire essay:
Mistakes should be admitted to, not used to mobilize progressives.
Instead, the piper is blaming people and dragging down the whole Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) into the gutter, because he was wrong to march us into a closed-door, Labor Caucus meeting, where he was physically assaulted because of it. And of course, I don’t condone physical violence or unwanted shoving.
During the actual Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC) meeting, the doors were wide OPEN and remained OPEN. If we had marched through that meeting, they may or may not have objected. But we marched into the wrong meeting.
Why can’t the leader of the rally and march, that was supposed to support Keith Ellison, own up to THAT mistake? […]
About that so-called “Backroom Deal”
Here is Sam talking about the 6 people on a piece of paper, that NONE of us can vote for, because we are not DSCC delegates. Only the DSCC delegates are allowed to speak or vote at this meeting. This is part of the rules of the MDP that were sent out before the meeting. Below is an excerpt.
Also, I was nodding along with Sam about the 6 names, but I have done further research about this process. The 6 names were an endorsed slate, by Labor. This is NOT against any rules or bylaws of the MDP. Anyone can seek endorsement from Labor when running for positions inside the MDP. […]
Sam likes to make up rules and hold MPD accountable for a rule(s) that does not exist. I am writing this article to explain the real rules, not the fake rules.
Lena has it entirely right. Sam Pernick may claim that the Democratic Party is HIS party but he doesn’t even know the basic, well-publicized rules about that party and ended up making a fool of himself and of the other people who followed him, believing he had some clue about what he’s doing.
I want to address this idea of “backroom deals” that Pernick and his followers seem to malign so deeply. At the moment, Pernick is working day and night to turn out people to this weekend’s MDP Convention where leadership for the constituency caucuses and Congressional District organizations will be chosen. His goal is to “take over” the MDP by getting his folks elected to leadership positions. He’s lining up candidates (he’s not one of them, by the way, I am told) and he’s lining up votes. This exactly the same sort of thing that Pernick describes as “backroom deals” when people he doesn’t like do it. For most of the rest of us, it’s called “politics”.
The irony in all of this is that Pernick came to me late last year as the Chair of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party to help him get word out about efforts he and other employees of the Ann Arbor People’s Food Co-op were taking to form a union. We supported his efforts and now Sam is going to be a union member. But, at the same time, he’s working double time to make union members sound like goons who fix elections.
UPDATE: After further checking, I realized that I mistook Sam Pernick for another person who organized the Food Co-op workers. I apologize for the error.
Pernick has a LOT to learn about “taking over” a political party. Taking over a political party isn’t done by disruption and protests and temper tantrums. It’s done by learning the rules, working them to your advantage, and getting yourself and people who agree with you into positions of power. It’s a process – called “democracy” – and it can be done. The Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party is our most recent example.
And here’s the thing: I support it. If people like Pernick think they have a better way, can organize more effectively, and win more elections, then more power to them. Use the democratic processes laid out in the MDP rules and make it happen. Create change. What you’ll likely find is that you’ll be welcomed. When I took it upon myself to join with like-minded organizers in Washtenaw County to make the County Democratic Party more focused on grassroots organizing, I wasn’t shunned and pushed out. I was welcomed. Six years later I’m the Chair.
THAT is actually what democracy looks like.
When the ACTUAL DSCC meeting took place on December 3rd, not only were Pernick and his group (none of whom was actually a DSCC member) allowed to speak, they were allowed to speak BEFORE the election of DNC members and for a longer period of time than is normally allowed. They were there largely to support Keith Ellison as DNC Chair and large numbers of us, myself included, agree with them. And one of the top Sanders organizer in the state, newly-elected Washtenaw County Commissioner Michelle Deatrick, was overwhelmingly voted to be one of the six DNC delegates. You can watch the meeting on video HERE.
It’s possible to shift the direction of the Democratic Party. It takes effort. It takes coalition building. It takes the formation of relationships. And it requires ideas that can work. What does NOT work are petulant displays of hostility toward the group you’re trying to convince.
If you need a poster child for how NOT to take over the Democratic Party in Michigan or anywhere else, that child is Sam Pernick.
Oh, and one more thing: Thanks to Pernick’s blunder, our true enemies on the conservative right are are having a field day. Nice job, Sam. Way to elevate “YOUR” party.
[CC Facepalm image credit: Cesar Astudillo | Flickr]