California is a curious place - full of dreamers, boosters, garrulous grifters and raconteurs. Many are madly striving, in search of Wallace Stegner’s infamous “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” Many more are lost in the shuffle and grind, ebb and flow at the Western edge of the Western World. Among these earnest seekers and sinners are the various members of the Left Body Politic. They range from conservative Blue Dog corporate enablers to the end of the world Socialist, Communist and Anarchist monkey wrench gang. Somewhere, lost in the mix, are the Democratic Party regulars and pusillanimous Progressives. As the sun rises in the east, over the majestic Sierras, they find themselves in the same boat, drifting down the river of no return, in the midst of a thick San Francisco fog. Sideways is the new direction for this bundle of believers, these frustrated yet sunny souls. Status quo has wrapped its stony fingers around the electoral apparatus of each ardent constituency. We are in a stall, a dead calm sea. And the natives are restless, very restless. But before we muster up the courage for a new direction, let us take a deeper look at the state of the State.
The California Democratic Party, the Progressive Caucus of the CDP as well as Labor, Environmental and other factions within the broader California Left have divided along regional lines, North and South. This was the inevitable stepchild of success in the 2006 and 2008 electoral cycles plus the simmering disputes from the last decades, like Water policy. All of this internal strife, such as the Union’s ongoing Civil War, has degenerated into turf battles and been exacerbated by the disconnect from the National Democratic Party - DNC, the various National Progressive Movement Organizations with their East Coast orientations and our general malaise brought on by little progress on Big Ideas across the board. Let’s face it folks - we’re in a funk.
The past is very persuasive; it is comfortable in expectation and in outcome. Better to wrestle the demons we know than to venture out to meet new demons, putative leaders of the factions sing in tremulous chorus. That is the conventional wisdom, which is the refuge of the rear-view mirror crowd. But that tired cant is insufficient to buoy this coterie, to bring us out of these doldrums. The future, as frightening as it has become, like true democracy, beckons. And the future requires a new organizing principle - since the mechanisms of the past are stuck in the mud of ladder climbing and feather fluffing, while the cities crumble. I put forward to all concerned that the current Marshall McLuhan predicted globalization, stealthily achieved by the virus of the Internet infecting every form of communication, has wrought a new possibility; change the world without leaving home.
Now, take a deep breath and consider this; there is a simple and bold way to go further. Remember - the future must never concede to the past what it knows to be true; and that begins with the cure for what ails us - Action & Change! We must act in a manner that will realize tangible results not bogged down by endless procedure and committee examination or the overreaching control from larger aggregations. Ergo, we must discover the scope or range of manageable expectations and coalesce around them to create progress that is achievable. The most direct route to that outcome is to act locally. The pawns must wake up and realize that old street saying - We Got The Power! - right in our own back yards, right down to your very own purchasing power. Don’t let the man get you down has morphed into don’t let the struggle get you down; act in a brand new and curiously old-fashioned way - act for change in your neighborhood.
Here in Southern California, we have come to know each other through the last decade of organizing; that includes, elected officials, their staffs, Democratic Party leaders from every level, grassroots activists, clubs, chapters of national Progressive organizations, Labor leaders and members, writers, artists, environmentalists, entrepreneurs and a cross section of citizens from every demographic description. It is time to form a coalition, here in SoCal, among ourselves, to work on the local issues that most vex us and that we can directly influence and change - energy policy, conservation, water policy, transportation etc. Change begins here, with each other, in our daily lives that are inextricably connected. Let us come together, as John Lennon proclaimed, and demonstrate to the world what local action can achieve. Then we can hook up with like-minded individuals, groups and regions, through the Internet, and across the state, nation and planet to create a vibrant grid of citizens in action.
Although this essay blooms from the California scene its solution can be applied around the world. The globalization of the Internet gives us all access to tools locally that were unattainable heretofore. The Democratization of Information broadens each individual’s reach. We can now affect our local politics, development, economics and environmental interests in concert with our statewide, national and global interests. And more importantly, the process can and should begin at home - locally first.
So, embrace your frustration, and do something about it. Imagine a new local, sustainable, renewable and humane life. Then, join with your neighborhood and create it. Don’t go Loco - go Local!
The LTO book tour continues with stops in Santa Barbara, Davis, Benicia, and Sacramento. Please join me at one of these Left Turn Only book signing and discussion events this February. Ahjamu Makalani will be joining me for the NorCal swing. We’ll be discussing the Power of the Positive Progressive Proposal including “How to Renovate the Democratic Party” and “Progressive Economic Principles.”
~ Many thanks to Jeeni del Rio Criscenzo for the SRO at UCSD and to Paul Burke, Dana Dean and Shirley Hunley for the NorCal events. Also, thanks to Lois Hamilton and Jon Williams for the PDASB gig!If you would like us to come to your hood let me know and we’ll see what we can hook up…
I hope to see you on the road with LTO!
Left Turn Only
Dispatches From The Progressive Underground
Progressive Democrats of Santa Barbara
Wednesday ~ 6:30 pm
Venture Tech Building
402 E. Gutierrez Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
The Avid Reader
Friday ~ 7:30 PM
617 Second Street
Davis, CA 95616
Saturday ~ TBD
Benicia CA - before the Solano County Dems Crab Feed
The Avid Reader at the Tower
Sunday ~ 2PM
Sacramento, CA 95818
Tel: (916) 441-4400
(If you have the book already :: Please consider writing a review on Amazon ~ http://bit.ly/1vOyjG ~ many thanks!)
Left Turn Only
available on Amazon & Kindle:
and on Createspace:
Change the Rules at the California Democratic Party, the DNC and across the Nation…
Recently, I got this question on a discussion group. here it is with my reply ::
Dante wrote:Brad, just so I know…what Central Committee rules are you specifically interested in changing? Do you mean the DSCC, or County Committees?
Here you go Dante…
Three Important CDP By-Law Changes
As Progressive Democrats we are as interested in getting more
Democrats elected to office, at every level of government, as anyone
in our Party. However, I believe that the processes for crafting
policy, endorsement and democratic representation within the central
committees needs reform.
1 - Replace the appointed members of the DSCC and Executive
board of the DSCC with twice as many delegates elected from the
ADs to both. Selected members with a vote equal to elected
members is undemocratic and amounts to continual rigging of the
votes in favor of the status quo. (We all remember Bush v. Gore)
Elected officials can still vote their 1/3 of the votes and the members
will have 2/3 of the vote. The best idea will carry the vote and this will
create new enthusiasm, involvement and investment of time and
energy from every AD. Also, the composition of the new AD elections
would be: 24 delegates (12 women, 12 men) and 2 E. Bd. Reps. (1
women, 1 man) creating balance and diversity within both the DSCC
and the E. Bd. The current system is undemocratic and non-
representational. It is fostering mistrust and apathy.
2 - Eliminate the pre-primary endorsement system by the CDP. This
system has created huge animosity in every large and most small
districts. It is counter-intuitive to encourage factions within the Party
to fight it out for the endorsement within the Party in the primary and
then expect them to come together in the general - they don’t. This is
fostering deep divisions in every AD. This is not about the
Progressives - it is Party-wide. Let every candidate win on his or her
merit in the primary. Let the voters decide. I would apply this to every
County Central Committee as well.
As proof of the efficacy of this proposal I submit the following:Attorney General Brown and Mayor Newsom have since responded. Both of them have agreed in writing that they will not pursue the Party’s pre-primary endorsement so long as other Democratic gubernatorial candidates play by the same rules. From Chair John Burton to DSCC delegates onBurton Sep. 10th, 2009.
3 - Change the venue for the DNC elections to the DSCC from the
E. Bd. 3000 people would elect and more representative and
balanced board than 300, especially with the first by-law revision.
Again, this change would foster greater interest, participation and
representation on behalf of the entire Party membership. The current
system is stagnant. Millions of Democrats deserve change not the
status quo of the same faces every four years. Even more Democratic and Representational would be to elect DNC members by AD or CD throughout the state.
As for the DNC :: ban any member of the DNC from work as a Campaign Consultant or Lobbyist during their term. There are far too many of these activites by DNC members. To Them, every GOTV effort is a “Profit Center.” To the Party members it is about Policy not Profit. This is a clear conflict of interest.
There are other changes that would of equal value in getting more
Democrats elected, like a minimum contribution from the CDP in
every state level race in the 58 counties but we can save that for
Valley Democrats United, President
Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, Steering Committee
CDP-DSCC, Delegate, 42nd AD
Progressive Democrats of America, Board of Trustees
A.F. of M. Local 47
You may accept the Democratic Leadership Council’s conclusions, assertions, attitudes and game-plans as promulgated by Bill Clinton, James Carville, Chuck Schumer, Rahm Emanuel and any number of growling Blue Dogs but I do not. To me, as a Progressive Democrat and a Liberal American, that is a failure of imagination. Bruce Hornsby wrote, in his song “That’s Just The Way It Is”:
That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them
Now, that’s where I am coming from.
Most of my very large and diverse family comes from and lives in the so-called Red districts. All of my life I have worked on changing their minds about the truth of the Liberal Ideal. It has been and remains fruitful. One by one they have taught me never to concede to the past what the future knows not to be true. One by one they have changed.
As Progressives, we came together to reactivate the oldest and truest American virtues of tough-mindedness and innovation that breakthrough impossibilities and create new realities. We came together for dramatic Change.
The DLC/Blue Dogs make a lot of noise about their version of the facts. They say - That’s just the way it is. They haughtily claim that there are so-called Red districts, where the people are backward, religious, uneducated and prejudiced and that we must concede to that definition of these people and act accordingly. As I have said many times in the Progressive Caucus and anywhere I go - They are wrong, both in their characterization and in their approach to our fellow citizens. Every American has the potential to change. It is the great narrative of our history.
When I was a boy, in the Midwest, Far West and the South, Segregation was “the way it is.” My grandmother was a Suffragette, who was told that Women should not and will never get the Vote in America and that “that’s just the way it is.”
When Barack Obama once famously said that there is no red America or Blue America, only a red, white and blue America, I recognized all of the allusions he was referring to and I agreed. But that remark is only true if we rid ourselves of the illusions promoted and reinforced by Republicans from without our Party or Blue Dogs from within our Party. Among all of those illusions, continuously ginned up by Crony corporate lobbyists, the greatest is, “That’s just the way it is.” Say’s who? The men and women behind the curtain? It certainly serves to maintain the status quo. Again, that statement and political stance is a failure of imagination. It creates and maintains a monoculture that lacking diversity, even of thought, leads to dissipation and dissolution.
I lived for many years in Solano County, in the 10th CD. Many members of my family still do. The mantra there, for the last 30 years was that the 10th is a Red district, a conservative district. This accounted for Ellen Tauscher’s Blue Dog mentality and the reality that she had to do, in her own words, “a kabuki dance with the Progressives.” So it is with many Blue Dogs. To them everything is and should be a pretense, with both their constituents and the rest of us. On the one hand they pretend to be Democrats on the other they vote Republican. That’s just the way it is, they say - we must be pragmatic.
Suddenly, it seems, the dance is over in California CD 10. John Garamendi is the Representative. John is openly Progressive on Healthcare, the Wars, the Environment and a host of other issues. How is it possible that a Prog replaced a Blue Dog? Did the district change radically? I’ve spent considerable time there every year since 1970 and I would say no. These are middle class Americans with about the same traits that we see all across America. What changed was the reality that the leading candidate, who the Party could not refuse, is a Progressive Democrat who knows how to talk with everyday folks and show them the truth of Single Payer, Withdrawal from Iraq etc.
I believe that the only hope we can believe in is our Progressive Plan for the future. Let us, as Democrats and citizens, disenthrall ourselves from the old tired notion that “That’s just the way it is” and imagine, create and promote a new way - Progressive. Let us imbue that Progressive mandate with all of the vigor that makes America the land where Change is possible. Most importantly, let us take that message out, from the genial warmth of our Progressive organizations, to the People, all of the People. Let us never give in to the DLC-Blue Dog-Republican theology. Let them have one Party and let us have the other and then let us see who shall prevail. Never negotiate with yourself on principle. Always, Collaborate on the Positive Power of the Progressive Proposal.
Now, about those Superdelegates and Appointees to the central committees…
Left Turn Only
Like Dorothy and her intrepid trio of lovable dreamers arriving at Oz, the Progressive Movement barreled into the Democratic Party in 2005 with high ideals and even higher hopes. Now, four scintillating years later we realize it was all a mirage of our own creation. The Party of the Left has been reduced to an incumbency business commandeered by Crony Corporate Pirates off the coast of reason and principles. With some notable exceptions like the 2008 CDP Platform, the Net Neutrality Resolution and the Out of Iraq Resolution our Party is fast becoming a dog and donkey show. The drawbridge is being pulled up and the leadership is retreating into a Walled Garden. The Democratic Party is risking irrelevancy as Decline To State registration increases. More and more it appears that as Gertrude Stein once famously remarked about Oakland, California - there is no there, there. Or so it seems.
Today, our Progressive beachhead inside the Party feels more like washing up on the island in the TV show LOST. You can never tell who is on your side or what year it is. Winning the last two election cycles has only made matters worse. A crazy mad circus of ascendancy is consuming the body politic. In the center ring of the circus, the Blue Dogs are squared off against the Progs in an epic struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party. On the periphery Crony, grasping to maintain status quo hegemony, is manipulating as many ambitious pols as possible. Washington, Sacramento and your local City Hall have become closed systems operated more by lobbyists, consultants and big donors than citizens. The Party is hunkering down in arrogance and obstinacy, while the members clamor for a bigger piece of the pie. What then shall we do?
First, I think we can and should all agree that Democrats want to make this a better world. Yes, some are only in it for the money but most Democrats really want to improve life for everyone. They do. If we believe that to be true, then we must ask ourselves, how could so many good intentions come to so ill an effect? Why has our success, as Progressives and then Democrats, come to this agitated impasse?
Maybe it’s because toxic preconceived notions have been ginned up into a pandemic struggle for illusory power. The palpable fear of change is creating inertia at the top and undeniable need for change is creating anger at the bottom of the Party. Personality is once again more important to too many people than policy. Perhaps there is an underlying problem that if it can be perceived, can be solved. Let us take a walk around the Walled Garden of the CDP and scrutinize the landscape.
Thirty years of Reagan neo-conservative social policy and twenty years of Clinton neo-liberal economic policy have inevitably collapsed and taken all of us into the pit with them. It was a giddy ride that has as its lasting elegy, “…the fetish that Washington entertains for a centrism that converts everything to mush.” (What’s Wrong with Washington? by James Wolcott - Vanity Fair - May 2009) We all know that the venal tautology of Fixed News and its co-bobble heads, led the Republican Anarchy Collective into the quagmire of a wilting Empire America. But why were so many Democrats involved and will the Party now use the political impetus of 2008 to boldly go against the grain of Beltway Babble? Maybe there is hope. There are some Party leaders and elected Democrats who want to “change” but without significant changes in the actual mechanisms of the Party structure itself, they will not prevail. If the Walled Garden is not opened up then change is not possible.
Over the last thirty years, since McGovern and Carter, the Rules and By-Laws of the DNC, the CDP and your local County Central Committee have been re-written to “control” the Party at every level. The Liberal Ideal has been under attack inside the Democratic Party. The CDP Progressive Caucus reported on this reality in the 2006 Progressive Plan (www.progressivecaucuscdp.org). The key to control inside the Party is how the CDP maintains its status quo of entrenched leadership and incumbency-only interests through the Rules committee. The DNC operates in a similar manner.
Rules are kept in place, at every level, to keep the walls of the Walled Garden high enough to be a barrier to change. Here is the rational: Change would come as a result of the rabble (i.e. loony left, progressive swarm, membership, citizens etc.) being allowed to have a majority vote on the floor of the Central Committees of the County, State or National Parties. That would lead to putting principles before pragmatism and “losing elections”, or so the current leadership proclaims. PLEOs (Party leaders and elected officials) go further in stating that the Party only exists to win elections not to create policy. That is a relevant premise, worthy of debate, so let us examine its validity.
Voting members of the CDP Central Committee are roughly divided into three groups: elected officials (statewide electeds plus County Central Committee members), delegates elected in ADEM elections and most importantly - “appointed” and ex-officio members. Each group has about 1/3 of the votes on the DSCC and its Executive Board. The elected officials appoint the appointed members, thus securing a majority and thereby controlling the outcome of every vote. The theory behind that is: elected officials are elected by all Democrats and should have the right to appoint enough voting members to make the voting, at the DSCC and its Executive Board, turn out the way they see fit. ADEM Delegates are only elected by several hundred people at most and should not have an equal say in voting matters of the Party. Activists get to be a part of the proceedings but not a determining participant. In this way, PLEOs maintain control so they can smartly represent all Democrats. Order is perpetuated and all is well. In a nutshell, that is their argument. The DNC rationale is much the same.
The obvious question that arises is; why have anyone else besides the elected officials in the Central Committees if you want total control? Why the charade of democracy? That is quickly followed by, what is to be done when the elected officials don’t represent the informed consent of the members, citizens or voters? What can and should be done when the electeds defy the people, like they did on the issues of Invading Iraq in 2003, Clean Money in 2006 or Impeachment in 2007? What recourse is there in this scheme? Run someone against them if you don’t like their votes, bellow the PLEOs. Yeah, right. With the current system, replacing an incumbent is institutionally next to impossible and they know that. A Walled Garden works for the establishment and relegates the worker bees into being just another brick in the wall.
The missing piece in the PLEO rational is that a closed system is like an echo chamber - it only repeats itself. It is a rigged game. It is like a pond with no source of fresh water. After a time, and that time has long since passed, it becomes self-aggrandizing, out of touch and eventually fails under the weight of its inflexible, rigid and stiff orthodoxy. Without the fresh air of new ideas and faces the mighty machine rusts and dies. Here is the proof.
Between 1994 and 2006, the multi-billion dollar, DLC led Democratic Party lost both houses of the Congress, the White House and consequently the Supreme Court - all three branches of the Federal government. You can throw in a whole bunch of state houses to that mix, including ours. How is it possible that the PLEO controlled and extravagantly lubricated CDP let Gray Davis be recalled and replaced by a grade B actor? How is it possible that the massively funded and consultant heavy DNC let two Presidential elections be stolen? If the theory of letting the PLEOs, the smartest people in the room, with the wheelbarrows of cash and plethora of votes, control the show is so sound, what accounts for these stupendous flops? And most glaringly what accounts for taking the whole thing back in 2006 and 2008? It certainly can’t be because the machine, or business as some prefer to call the CDP / DNC, suddenly sputtered to life.
We, the Progressive Swarm, have the temerity to assert that bold ideas, big ideas and the people who organized around them achieved these victories. The modern Progressive Movement began to stand up, show up and speak up in 2003. By 2005 Progressives were at the forefront of “change” inside and outside the Democratic Party. Joined by unions, minorities, independents, students and yes, some PLEOs, Progressives helped to forge the winning coalition that allowed Senator Barack Obama to overcome and defeat the Clinton Establishment within the Party and the tottering Republican contraption in the nation as a whole.
In the Age of Information the power is in Ideas.
Like President Obama, when he was a junior Senator running for the nomination, it has been said by many Democrats that the Progressive Swarm is just a bunch of emailing, speechifying and lofty language idealists who go to meetings. However, like President Obama, Progressives do get people elected. Ask Debra Bowen (CA, SOS). Ask Rep. John Hall (NY-19). Ask Rep. Donna Edwards (MD - 4). Ask Al Franken or Norm Coleman for that matter. I could go on but you get the point. The Progs didn’t elect these people by themselves but were part of the coalition that did, a vital part.
The underlying problem is that without Progressive policy proposals from candidates that inspire people to volunteer their time, donate their money and encourage others to do the same - the Democratic Party will become a relic of the past.
Every rule of the Democratic Party should be reexamined and rewritten if necessary to elect not select who represents the membership. Access, openness, accountability and transparency are not merely slogans that came out of the modern Progressive Movement. They are the best paths to getting elected. Money ain’t everything folks. For those of us who have been doing the shoe leather work of precinct walking and phone banking for many decades, finding a reason to believe other than reelecting incumbents was the key to the future. If the Democratic Party wants to thrive it needs to abandon the top-down Walled Garden approach to political action and broaden its horizons. The Party must embrace Progressives, Obama organizers, big ideas and bold action or risk entropy and decline.
Lastly, a word of caution to the Progressives: sitting in our corner of the Walled Garden, smug in our righteous indignation and unwilling to reach out to those who disagree with us will not achieve a different result than the fate that awaits the DNC and CDP if they do not adapt and change. Collaboration and facilitation are the bywords of the Internet driven reality we now live in. Let us embrace them. Let us remain flexible and innovative. May we always be prepared to reach out, give the people a reason to believe and then a lofty task to achieve. All together now…