Democrats, stand up for your party

T.A. Barnhart

Democrats, stand up for your party

Keith Ellison, next DNC Chair?

Now is the time for all good Democrats to come to the aid of your party.

Allegedly first uttered by Patrick Henry, many of us learned the actual phrase – Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party – as keyboard practice. I cannot find an actual attribution to Henry, but I am happy to repurpose the phrase whatever its source.

Democrats need to stand up for the Democratic Party. Failure to do so is a commitment to failure.

Caveat: As we stand for the party, we must ensure we have a party worthy of our stance. And I think we’re getting there.

Here in Multnomah County for the past few years, we’ve not had that party. People have been leaving all political parties for some time, of course, but the Mult Dems made that leaving easier. In fact, it almost seemed as if the party was helping people to the door. The leadership of the past few years has been abysmal, reflected in shrinking active membership, dwindling contributions, and amendments to the party’s Bylaws that put power into the hands of a few officers while telling many of us to go straight to hell.

(Disclosure: I ran for Chair of the Mult Dems in 2015, losing in part because my then-state representative was contacting people to inform them that the Dems would lose elections in Multnomah County if I were elected Chair. He then repeated that in front of the voting Dems at the February 2015 officer elections.)

Last month, we replaced that entire officer team. A clean sweep, led by our new Chair Lurelle Robbins and a group of candidates that was largely, but not entirely, Sanders supporters. There’s a long background story about how new PCPs were recruited last year, new District Leaders stepped up, and Democrats of all kinds came together to restore democracy and openness to the county party. If you want to hear it, let me know.

But for now, this is what matters: In Multnomah County, the Democrats are committed to a progressive, community-oriented politics that is pretty much what people across the country are demanding the Democratic Party should do. And we’re doing it because that is the party we believe in, the party we want, and the party we will support.

Unfortunately, when the phrase “the Democrats” is used, both the media and citizens make the mistake of thinking this means members of Congress, some big-money backers, and insider hacks at the state level. Granted, there are Democrats in Congress, there are Democrats with access to big money, and there are hacks in the party. But the Democrats, and the the Democratic Party, is much bigger than these few who get the spotlight and notoriety.

In Oregon, we’ve seen progressive Democrats stepping up into leadership positions at the county level. A number of these Dems are also attempting to move into statewide party leadership. Dozens, if not hundreds, of Democrats have taken the step to become a PCP – precinct committee person, the people who are the official members of the party – and take ownership of the party. People in Multnomah and Clackamas County can expect to see those county parties step up in unprecedented ways, not just to promote the party but to resist the extreme anti-democratic party in power nationally while fighting for progressive outcomes at the state and local level.

Democrats in Oregon need to pay attention to what their party is doing. Not what the few Dems in DC are doing, although that is important. (They forced Pence to break a tie to confirm DeVos Secretary of Education, a huge symbolic victory.) No, the party that demands the attention of local Dems is the one in their community: the county party.

Under state law (ORS 248), the Central Committee of each county party is the ultimate authority of that party – and the Central Committee is made up of PCPs. Party officers have powers and responsibilities under each county party’s bylaws, but each county is “ruled” by the rank-and-file Dems who are their PCPs. The Mult Dems Bylaws state it thus:

The Party shall have and may exercise all powers needed to manage its affairs and transact its business consistent with law, the bylaws of the DPO, and these Bylaws. The Multnomah County Democratic Central Committee (“Central Committee” or “MCDCC”) shall be the governing body of the Party.

At the state level, the DPO is governed by the State Central Committee, the members of which are elected by county parties. So, at both the county and state level, the Democratic Party is ruled, not by a few elites but by rank-and-file Democrats, ordinary citizens who are registered Democrats and have also become PCPs.

The opposite of the popular, and misleading, characterization of the party and of “Democrats”.

This isn’t to say that Oregon Dems have achieved enlightenment and are walking in hallowed political grounds. Far from it. Those in established positions of authority and power (ie, access to resources such as mailing lists and money) can, to a large degree, ignore popular calls for change and action. Senate President Peter Courtney pretty much does as he pleases, with zero regard that I can see for the beliefs and priorities of grassroot Democrats. DPO Chair Frank Dixon is absent from most county party activities. The professional staff at the DPO itself is too often focused on outward communications and actions, which, while vital, are not the only purpose of the DPO.

But this is part of what we are working on to fix. This is the challenge and the opportunity. Democratizing the party is happening. Focusing on the needs of those most desperate for help and relief from government is now, I believe, the top priority at the county level – and among members of the various caucuses that hold much of the progressive potential for the state party. Refusing to accept “this is the way it is done” and insisting, as some of us have done since the heady Deaniac days of 2003 (and others well before that), that we must and will do better is the new normal for the Democratic Party.

So if you are a Democrat, do not sit silently as your party is trashed for being out-of-touch, for not caring about working Americans, for being beholden to corporate interests. That is not the Democratic Party; that is certain people within the party, and they are the party’s past. Next month, Democrats from across the country will select the first truly progressive DNC Chair since Howard Dean. I am hopeful that Chair will be Keith Ellison, and I am looking forward to him restoring a program similar to Dean’s wildly successful 50-State Strategy.

For that is the progressive, democratic future of the Democratic Party: grassroots organizing and activism, from sea to rising sea. This change in the party is, of course, a response to the shock of November’s election and the horror of the first few weeks of POTUS* presidency. Complacency has been shot to hell. Resistance to progressive change in the party is crumbling like a Portland street after two weeks of ice and snow.

Ordinary citizens are taking control of the Democratic Party, and they are uniting to resist the extreme conservative attack on democracy and civil rights. They are focusing on their neighbors, not merely winning elections. They are standing up against corporate bullies, racist thugs, and the lies spewing out of the White House like the toxic sludge the GOP Congress is approving to return to rivers and coastlines near you.

The Democratic Party has not given us a lot of reason for pride in recent years. This is no longer true. If you are a Democrat, or wish you could be (“If only the Dems would…”), pay attention to the changes. Pay attention to the new leaders. Pay attention to what we are doing. We are becoming, and in many places already are, a progressive party dedicated to the common good on behalf of us all, and especially those in the most need.

Do not let this newly democratized and increasingly progressive party be undermined by popular assaults based on the past. The Democratic Party is not only our party; it is us: ordinary citizens who have joined the party and are making it the political party America, and Oregon, needs.

Now is the time to stand up for your Democratic Party. You own this party; be proud and be strong – as a Democrat.

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