Earlier this week, I wrote an “open letter” to newly-elected Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson. My primary goal with the piece was to start a conversation with Chair Johnson and among Michigan Democrats across the state about the future of our party. There’s no question that we must evolve as a party in order to retake control of our state from the overreach of our drunk-with-power, ideologically-corrupt Republican opponents. From new ways of engaging activists to improved communications with the citizens of our state, if we’re not moving forward, we’re losing ground.
It is my opinion that Lon Johnson gets that. However, there are many across the state who are reluctant to adopt new ways of doing things. Perhaps they are fearful of change. Maybe they enjoy the voice they have and the power they have now and don’t want to challenge the status quo. Whatever the reason, change is hard and will not always come easily. The first step is to have the conversation.
I was thrilled, therefore, when Chair Johnson took time from his crazy first-week-on-the-job schedule to respond to my letter. His response is below as is the full text of his acceptance speech, delivered one week ago today at the Cobo Center in Detroit. I am thankful for his response and it gives me even more confidence that Michigan Democrats made the right decision at their statewide convention last weekend. I agree with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, who told Michigan Radio this week that the election of Lon Johnson as MDP Chair is “a smart move for the Democrats.”
Dear Chris and Eclectablog readers,
It’s been a busy first week. I’ve been on the phone talking with party leaders, activists, and elected officials all week. Last night, Julianna and I spent some time at the Michigan Political Leadership Program Dinner where Robert Gibbs spoke, and we went to a fundraiser for our allies at Planned Parenthood. I also taped “Off the Record” this morning and it will air on local PBS stations this evening and Sunday.
I can already say that I’ve got the best job, in the best state, for the best party in the country.
I want to address your ideas and questions one by one.
Broad Coalition of Supporters Who Were for Our Team
On the issue of representation and influence let me first talk about what our coalition looked like and second let me refer back to my speech.
Of the folks identified as supporters who were coming to the convention, there was a broad and diverse coalition. Additionally, we received hand counts from our team for most of the 97 floor divisions — those are the divisions where floor votes happen and from which delegates are allocated. Those hand counts showed that we were going to do very well because of our broad, diverse coalition. Not just demographically though, we were also going to do very well in every area throughout the state from Houghton to Allegan and from Detroit to Flint.
Who made up our coalition? Young people, progressives, African Americans, numerous labor organizations and their members, folks from the LGBT community, along with many others. We didn’t win all these communities with 80% or 90% of the vote, but we knew heading into convention day that we had brought new people into the process and that we were going to win big majorities in these key communities.
This is important, but what is more important is unity going forward. We are a big tent party, and we must be open to and welcoming to communities and individuals across the state.
The second point is a reiteration of my speech. In my speech on Saturday I said:
“Winning matters. And to win, we need to change. We need to practice the politics of addition.
“Because we are the ‘U-A-W,’ the ‘I-B-T.’ We’re the ‘M-E-A’ and the ‘M-F-T.’ But most importantly, we’re the ‘M-D-P.’ And when we are the ‘M-D-P,’ we ‘W-I-N.’ We win!”
I meant every word of that. That means more MDP members, so individuals have more influence; that means more small dollar donors, so that we are less dependent on a few donors; and that means a party that more effectively and creatively uses the resources we have.
Getting OFA Folks Involved in the Democratic Party
I agree that grassroots and online organizing are both keys to our success. We have begun the planning process, and I do not want to pre-empt that process.
But, I can say that there will be a field team. Its size and the exact roles are still to be determined, but that’s why feedback from you and other Michigan Democrats is so important.
On the issue of how we engage OFA activists and teams, I think first and foremost, we ask. We ask, and we make the case like you did on your blog.
In addition to asking, we have to listen. We are a diverse party, and our ideas are better when they come from every corner of our coalition and every corner of the state. So, I believe getting former OFA folks engaged in our effort will be about both asking and listening.
Competition for Activists in Michigan
I agree that we have to make compelling case to activists because they have so many options, but I think we can make case that we need to work toward winning in 2014 on the state level.
Also, it’s a fact that everyone has different interests, and we cannot get everyone. That is fine. But, we can get a lot of progressives engaged if we ask and make the case.
I can also promise that we will find and create ways for every Democrat and every progressive across Michigan to take action. Like the Obama and Stabenow campaigns, we will make it easy to engage and take action.
Working on Issues
I do not want to go into deep detail on which issues we will engage MDP members in because I want to hear feedback from folks across the state first. I will say that at the federal, state, and local level, there will be many opportunities for us to engage voters on key issues. We will go on offense and stay on offense. Governor Snyder has shown us that he is an out of touch corporate CEO, and we all need to fight for the middle class because he isn’t.
Everyone Should Have a Voice at the MDP
On this point, I agree wholeheartedly. We must have a two-way conversation. First, I encourage folks to Tweet to @MichiganDems or comment on our Facebook page. Second, in the weeks to come a survey and feedback form will be released. We are starting the planning process, but that process must be inclusive, and must use the best ideas from around the state. Third, we will do some conference calls to engage party members and activists around the state. Fourth, if folks have feedback or ideas in the meantime, they can email us at [email protected].
Thank you so much for the letter, and I urge all Eclectablog readers to take action because only with their work and activism can we be successful in 2014.
P.S. Below is the full text of my speech, which I believe also addresses many of your ideas, questions and concerns.
Today, we REMAKE our great Party, we RENEW our great purpose, and we RECLAIM our great state!
Together, WE will make Michigan … Michigan again!
This has been an incredible journey. And there are so many people I want to thank – starting with my wife, Julianna Smoot.
I want to thank our two great Senators, Senator Levin and Senator Stabenow. And I want to thank our entire Democratic delegation – Congressman Dingell, Congressman Conyers, Congressman Levin, Congressman Peters, and Congressman Kildee. Thank you.
I want to thank former Governor Jim Blanchard, former Lt. Gov. John Cherry, and former Congressman Bart Stupak.
I also want to thank a good friend, and a great Democrat: Mark Brewer.
I know that this has been a spirited campaign. But I – and, I know, WE – have always respected and admired all that Mark has done for our Party. And I hope he’s ready to do more – because we need him.
Most of all, I want to thank all of you.
Some of you came here to stand with me. Some of you with Mark. But now, we must stand together – because when we don’t, bad things happen.
I am honored, and humbled, and grateful that you have chosen me to lead the charge. And I’m ready to get to work.
Let’s start by making one thing clear: This is Michigan. WE are Michigan.
Together, we’ve won six straight presidential contests.
Together, we’ve won six straight Senate contests.
President Obama won here by nine points, spending hardly any money, never coming here – and this was Romney’s home state!
This is Michigan! WE are Michigan.
These victories show our values.
We value diversity. We care about our environment. We believe in people. That’s Michigan. WE are Michigan.
Together, we must build a Party that is more than the sum of our parts.
Our institutional partners and the MDP have done great things together. We’ve changed Michigan. We’ve changed the world.
But now, the MDP must have the courage to change – the wisdom to add new allies and the ability to maximize the power of individuals.
We can value our institutions and value the contributions of individuals. And doing both is the only way we win.
Democrats win when we practice the politics of addition. And we’ve seen it work.
President Obama was the personification of the politics of addition. He was the right man at the right time. But what he had to work for, what he had to build, what he had to maintain, were the tools and technology to take all these new people who he brought to our party, and get them moving in the same direction. He took a supporter and turned them into a volunteer, a volunteer into a contributor, and a contributor into a raiser. Compounding their engagement at every step.
How did he do that? He made it easy. He made it meaningful. And it changed the world.
We can do that here. We must do that to win. Because no one’s going to do it for us.
We don’t believe in trickle-down economics. We shouldn’t believe in trickle-down organizing.
If we want to win, we need to build this ourselves.
Winning matters. And to win, we need to change. We need to practice the politics of addition.
Because we are the “U-A-W,” the “I-B-T.” We are the “M-E-A” and the “M-F-T.” But most importantly, WE ARE the “M-D-P.” And when we are the “M-D-P,” we “W-I-N.” We win!
And when we don’t, bad things happen.
Losing means Michigan discriminates. Winning means equal rights for our LGBT brothers and sisters.
Losing means politicians decide. Winning means women choose.
Losing means our schools suffer. Winning means our kids can compete.
Losing means emergency managers. Winning means local control.
Losing means right to work. Winning means workers’ rights.
Winning isn’t an opportunity. Winning is an obligation.
Winning is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year job. And we need the tools to win.
We need to restructure.
We need to double our operating budget.
We need to increase our commitment to minorities, women, and youth.
And we need the best technology.
We need to recruit, recruit, recruit. When we’re not adding, we’re dying.
Organizing has always about addition, about bringing people together to do big things. Walter Reuther did it in a local. Coleman Young did it at the TULC. Now they’re doing it on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – and we need to meet them there. Same strategies, new tactics.
That’s the politics of addition.
This starts right now.
Take out your phone. Right now. Take out your phone, hold it up, and take a picture of the people in this room.
Post it on Facebook. Put it on Twitter. Use the hashtag #thisismichigan.
Let’s show our state who we are, and that we’re ready to fight.
When Lansing looks like this room…and acts like this room – then we’ll be Michigan again!
This is just the beginning. We’ll have more for you to do. We’re just getting warmed up.
Thank you. Thanks for being here today. Thank you for having the courage to change. Thank you for believing in the politics of addition.
Today, change came to the Michigan Democratic Party. In 619 days, change comes to Lansing.
And that’s when we’ll make Michigan Michigan again. Thank you! Let’s go win.