Michigan Democrats — November 11, 2017

The Michigan Democratic Party State Central Committee seems intent on driving away new and younger Democrats


This afternoon there was a meeting of the Michigan Democratic Party State Central Committee, the group that is essentially “the boss” of the Michigan Democratic Party. One of the items on the agenda was for the Executive Committee to vote in a new representative to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to replace someone who resigned. Two people were nominated. One was the current president of the Michigan Education Association, Paula Herbart. The other was, Theresa Gallivan, a fellow MEA member and a grassroots organizer for Sen. Sanders’ presidential campaign. After the nominations were made, a committee member moved that, rather than just giving the candidates two minutes to speak, we should have a fifteen minute Q&A session so that those of us voting could hear their positions on topics of interest.

The State Central Committee members voted no by a 2-to-1 ratio.

It was then moved that the Q&A period be just ten minutes. This, too, was defeated.

It was quite clear that the mostly-union committee members in attendance had already made their choice – the head of a major union in Michigan – and had no interest in hearing discussion and spent more than the fifteen minutes under discussion to make that point.

Both candidates spoke for about five minutes each and I was equally impressed by both. We had a seasoned veteran, someone who has been organizing for many years and has a great deal of experience. We also had a grassroots organizer with new ideas and a passion for expanding our Party.

In the end, Paula Herbart was chosen by a similar 2-to-1 margin.

I have a new mantra lately. It’s “Let the best organizer(s) win”. To me this is sort of the essence of democracy. The people who can best organize people and get the widest support should be our leaders. The reason I am myself a UAW member and that I am such a vocal and consistent supporter of the labor movement is that I understand that, without the organizational power of working men and women who come together in a union, their views will never be heard, represented, or reflected in policies and laws that impact their lives. Simply put, we NEED strong unions who organize effectively for these things.

It’s quite clear that Ms. Herbart had done her work organizing. As an Executive Committee member, I received at two-page color flyer in the mail this week from “Herbart for DNC”. The flyer made clear that it was not sent using union funds. But it’s also very clear that this was something that cost a significant amount of money to do given that it was likely sent to the homes of several hundred members. While that’s a bit of a red flag for me, it shows that Ms. Herbart is able to organize – in the case through fundraising and building a committee to promote her candidacy.

While I firmly believe that in a true democracy we should “Let the best organizer(s) win”, I also believe that once we have power, we have an obligation to use the power wisely. That’s particularly true within the Democratic Party at this moment in time. We face an unprecedented national emergency under the presidency of Donald Trump and we are reeling from the internal divisions that arose during the Democratic presidential primary. It is essential that we work together in fighting our political opponents who make that more and more difficult through gerrymandering and voter suppression. We have to win by bigger margins than ever before just to squeak out a victory.

So, I was sad watching things unfold today. I watched as my fellow State Central Committee members shut down debate and refused to hear from people who simply wanted the chance to ask a few questions. It was, in a word, cowardly. It did, however, accomplish two unfortunate things: It communicated that they were afraid of even fifteen minutes of debate and it said that they aren’t interested in bringing new ideas and new people into our so-called “Big Tent” Party. Whether or not they intended to communicate these things, it is precisely what they DID communicate. Perception is everything and they either were oblivious to this or just did not care. They should be proud of neither of these.

I can almost guarantee you that nearly every person who voted against 15 minutes of Q&A has at some point in the past few years said something along the lines of, “We need more young people in the Democratic Party,” and have asked “Why don’t more young people vote?” The obvious answer to that question is that young people, by and large, don’t believe their vote or their ideas matter. Today, the Michigan Democratic Party State Central Committee members confirmed this. They had an opportunity, even if it was only for fifteen minutes, to listen to the concerns of young and new Democrats. They would have had a chance to show these young people (and older people who are new to the Party, too) that we are a democratic institution that does everything it can to elevate the views of its members.

And then they voted to do just the opposite. Instead of wielding their well-deserved power benevolently, they silenced people, many of whom are the next generation of Democratic leaders.

Some have characterized these new folks who are largely aligned with the Sanders campaign as “anti-union”. This isn’t true. What they are “anti” about is the fact that union power within the Democratic Party is wielded like a cudgel to silence anyone with opposing views. While my union brothers and sisters probably reject this characterization, it the perception of many people (and not just these new Democrats) that this is the case and we need to start asking ourselves why and then do something about it

I urge my union brothers and sisters as well as Democratic Party leaders across the state to rethink this profoundly damaging strategy and to wield your power with compassion, care, and empathy. Now more than ever union members need widespread support. When you act and interact, think long about how your actions and interactions are having an impact that is too many times exactly the opposite of accomplishing that.

I have found in my position as a County Party Chair that transparency and intentional efforts to bring in new ideas and new people has only been a benefit to our County Party organization. I can’t think of a single example where this was not the case. It makes us stronger, it forges important alliances, and it makes us exponentially and collectively more effective. Instead of rebuffing new ideas and people, welcome them in, hear their voices, and make the changes needed to strengthen our Party. If you’re hanging onto power simply for power’s sake, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

For the folks who are trying to have a bigger voice in the Democratic Party, I say this: You got out-organized today. In fact, you got out-organized last year when the members of the State Central Committee were chosen. However, despite the “Revolution” moniker many of you ascribe to, democracy in America is not revolutionary. It is, by design and for very good reasons, evolutionary. While no victory is forever, neither are defeats. It is essential to stay in the game. Unions didn’t spring up overnight and the power they have was achieved over many years and with immense effort, sweat, blood, and tears. I urge you to read about Walter P. Reuther, the grandfather of the modern labor movement, a man who was physically beaten and even shot in his own home for standing up for his values. There are lessons to be learned from his life that will serve you well. Above all, don’t walk away. Change doesn’t come quickly in large organizations but it can come with determined and committed organizing.

The two groups that see themselves as foes inside the Democratic Party are, in fact, ideological allies. What we are all fighting for is, in the end, the same. Our differing opinions on how we get there, the methods we use, the policies we enact, and the individuals we choose as leaders are differences we should all be able to work through.

And frankly, my brothers and sisters, we don’t have the luxury of not working through these differences and soon.

One final note: I have nothing but admiration with MDP Chair Brandon Dillon and his staff. Chair Dillon was fair today and did everything he could to do things by the rules and with fairness. The way the vote went had nothing to do with his efforts. The message sent with that vote was completely on the voting members of the executive committee. THEY are the ones with whom I am most profoundly disappointed.

  • Martha Cooper

    Out organized? You refer to union people like they are in competition with grassroots organizers who brought Bernie a win and every superdelegate in the state voted against the wishes of the people. We were organized enough to win the primary, and you all weren’t organized enough to bring the state to Hillary. Unions are under attack and they cling to power in a party that is drowning from lack of care toward people who don’t have the benefit of a union. We don’t just want you to listen and care, Lady. We want your sorry asses to move over. Return your party to the people, or don’t be surprised at low voter turnout.

    • Jim Sanders

      I agree with Martha and she makes
      an important observation that while it’s true that unions are under attack and should be supported when reasonable and just, the Democrats should never ignore the non union people because my experience has shown me that unions do not fit all circumstances and Dems need to appeal to those people also.

  • Sharyn Radke

    When you send this person to the DNC what exactly do they do? Did you talk to the people who chose the more experienced person and find out why they chose them? I think you said they were pretty closely matched. If they were, then why is it causing infighting? It shouldn’t. This is not, contrary to the republicans talking points, a fight between the old and the young Dems. BUT THEY WANT US TO START THINKING THAT WAY. It also shouldn’t be a fight between the union and non union people. Though I have often heard people working in non union shops bad mouth the unions and their members. I’m not sure why since the people who fought for and won organization rights is why even non union people have some things today. Take the unions away and we will be working for peanuts, and have no benefits and horrible treatment from greedy factory/business owners. Make no mistake, if there are no unions or even the possibility of the people bringing one in, your employers will be walking all over you and you will have no recourse. Especially in this current administration, I know trump claims to support the working person, but he does not. He would take your last nickel just because he could and walk away laughing like he did with the subcontractor on his casinos. AND finally this should NOT be a fight between the Bernie supporters and the other Dems. There is just not the ideological difference there to support such a divide. There is no reason for it other than not voting on issues but on emotion.

  • gregsullmich

    From the craft guilds of the 17-18th centuries, to the Knights of Labor in the 19th, to the AFL approach and then the CIO approach in the 20th century, Labor has re-invented itself through succeeding generations in order to be effective in ever-changing times.

    The 21st century Labor Movement is in the process of another re-invention, and we do not yet know exactly what the finished product will look like. The Fight for 15 Movement appears to be a harbinger of new developments, but the vision is still rather fuzzy.

    In Michigan, the MEA, the UAW, and the AFL/CIO each still think they are the “center of the universe” although they obviously are not. They have been disappointingly slow in playing a major role in developing a 21st century Labor Movement. The 21st century Labor Movement is going to happen because, like their historical predecessors, today’s working people face the same old choice between organization and subjection. Working people are just beginning to understand and focus on this.

    The 21st century Labor train is going to head out of the station in the next few years, whether the 20th century big-shots are on board the train, or not.

  • normal208

    You’re absolutely on point, Chris. The Democratic Party may just end before the Republican Party.

  • Victoria Bowman

    I am a UAW retiree, who was disappointed and not ‘on board’ with the Union endorsing HRC during the primaries. I had voted as a democrat for the past 46 yrs, and after the Philadelphia experience in July 2016, then the MDP convention experience with the MI Third Congressional District in February 2017, I was ready to demexit and become an independent. The progressive millennials that are running for local and state offices are the only reason I decided to stay engaged, so I have a vote for them and the hope of changing the party to be truly representative ‘of the people’ and not corporations. I have said that my remaining in this party is dependent on how the DNC, the MDP, and the Kent County Democratic Party suppresses or supports these candidates. It is not looking too hopeful right now, so they best get their support behind these candidates during the 2018 campaigns, or this lifelong democrat will gladly be counted as an independent.

  • Dexter

    I have no idea how this title matches the content of this article. The whole thing is a jumbled mess. I’m glad Herbert won; the Democratic Party apparatus should be supporting people who support…you know, Democrats. That shouldn’t be a controversial idea. This doesn’t preclude new ideas being sewn into the party. Oh, and supporters of Independent Senator Bernie Sanders would do well to stop portraying themselves as the only change agent in the tent. There are tons of folks who didn’t back Sanders – many of them backed Clinton and other candidates – who’ve been working inside and outside the party for change long before Sanders ran for president, and they will continue to apply the pressure for evolution. It is the Sanders folks who set themselves up as the only change agent on the left, not anyone else. You come in here with an attitude during every battle and then you’re surprised when your asses get whacked back down?

    You can come the table with ideas or you can come to the table on behalf of the member of a cult of personality making demands on behalf of your Fearless Leader. I’d suggest that if you wanted to be treated seriously you come to the table as the former.

    You guys know who won that race for Sara Cambensy up in 109, right? That was a feat of organization which had nothing to do with the “revolution” as the organizing force. And they were mostly MIA in Virginia, too. All those people you accuse of “identity politics” – BTW, progressives aren’t supposed to use that term as a slur; crazy right-wingers do – not only signed up as candidates, but their organizing force were mainly members of this “identity politics” movement you slur.

    • Laurie Woodward García

      Excellent blog and observations. Ignore the pissy comments. There are aHoles every where.

  • r2t

    The MI DSCC Old Guard has a LONG history of going against popular democrats.
    They refused to support Bernero in 2010 (not so much as a robocall!) so Snyder won, and Fieger in 1998 so Engler won re-election.

    Unions are valuable at workplace level, but the executives can tend to get out of touch with the needs of the average member and the public as they may become through distance from the workplace and multiple terms of office more bureaucrats than representatives.

    When the in-group refuses to listen to the out-group, it is not a simple difference of opinion.
    It’s the in-group having too high of an opinion of their own value, and opposing any perceived competitors for their status. They ignore the electoral data and their own shrinking influence and memberships as part of this opposition, thus committing political malpractice. It’s we the public who bear the immediate and lasting hardships.

    Give your time and support to good candidates and local organizations where you can be a voice and a force for improving and protecting people’s lives. If you have a union, work to keep it vital and responsive. Forget the MDSCC, the DSCC and the DCCC who seem determined to be lame.

    • Not to nitpick but Virg Bernero didn’t stand a chance. John Cherry, the candidate that was the first pick of the Labor folks waited to drop out of the race until way late in the cycle. He had almost no chance to raise money at that point. That’s hardly the fault of the MDP State Central Committee.