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.