For the status quo, it was another great week in politics. The Democratic National Committee — long controlled by the corporate-friendly Clintons and their pals on Wall Street — elected Tom Perez over Keith Ellison as the new Party chair.
Some of my friends argue that Perez has a progressive track record as former Labor Secretary under President Obama and is now the first Latino to lead the Democratic Party. So what’s the fuss?
They miss the point. What’s now known as the Bernie Wing of the Democratic Party (what Sen. Paul Wellstone called the “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party” and what used to be known simply as “The Democratic Party”) backed Keith Ellison — a solid, independent-minded progressive who made no bones about challenging the Party’s establishment.
By all accounts, the establishment knew it couldn’t control Ellison. So it cleverly picked a candidate who, despite a reasonably progressive history, would make sure the Party’s status quo went unchallenged.
Symbolically, if not functionally, the election of Perez as chair is a disaster. It sends the message that the DNC is about business as usual. Sure, Perez attempted to throw the Bernie Wing a bone by appointing Ellison as deputy chair of the Party. But few believe this token gesture will have any effect on altering the Party’s direction.
Here in Iowa, we were shocked that all five of Iowa’s voting delegates supported Perez. The new chair (Derek Eadon) and new vice chair (Andrea Phillips) were swept in on a wave of reform. Eadon beat the establishment’s darling, former State Senator Mike Gronstal, handily. And yet the new leadership’s first significant action is . . . what? Vote against the candidate universally endorsed by reform Democrats? Take that, you Bernie people!
So, what’s a reform-oriented, progressive voter to do? Well, you can stick with the Democratic Party and try to reform it from within. I admire your perseverance and hope you prevail.
Or you can register as a Green or Libertarian, work to start a new party, or campaign for people who run as third party or independent candidates. Yet, I’m not convinced that any existing third party has the gumption and diligence to do the grueling, voter-by-voter groundwork needed to become a serious threat to the two-party monopoly. Prove me wrong.
Or you can choose to remain unaffiliated, and hope that the Democratic Party again finds the soul it abandoned back in the 1980s, or that a new Party becomes strong enough to emerge as a viable alternative.
My path, for now, is to continue to hammer away at the critical issues through building strong, broad grassroots coalitions that bring together voices and interests that haven’t traditionally worked side-by-side, but need to if we’re going to see success at the ballot box and in policy debates in city halls, legislative chambers and the U.S. Congress.
At all costs, soldier on. There are so many ways to make a difference. Even if while trudging along your chosen path you feel like a voice crying in the wilderness, you’ve gotta persist. The stakes are too high to sit back and do nothing.
While your one voice may seem weak and frail even though you scream at the top of your lungs, when that voice unites with dozens, hundreds, thousands and eventually millions of other voices, it becomes a clamor for freedom and justice that cannot be ignored.