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New DNC Chair Perez Promises Renewed Focus On Grassroots

IMAGE: U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez addresses the AFL-CIO Convention, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 in Los Angeles. (US Department of Labor/Flickr)

United: Perez And Ellison Move Democrats Toward A Progressive Future

I was hoping that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) would win the Democratic National Committee chairmanship because of his experience as an organizer, but former Labor Secretary Tom Perez — who won a narrow victory at the DNC’s Atlanta meeting today — is also a great choice. He’s progressive, pro-worker, an accomplished advocate for civil rights and social justice, and the first Latino in that job. He immediately asked Ellison to serve as deputy chair — a smart move to bring the party together.

Importantly, the delegates at the Atlanta meeting also elected union organizer and immigrant rights activist Maria Elena Durazo — who supported Ellison for the top post — as DNC vice chair. The daughter of migrant farm workers, as head of UNITE HERE’s LA local and then leader of the 800,000-member LA County Federation of Labor, Durazo helped elect progressives throughout the state and helped transform the California Democratic Party into a voice for the disenfranchised, including immigrants.

We now have a Latino and an African American at the top of the DNC, a moderate Democratic minority leader in the Senate (Chuck Schumer) being pushed to the left by the grassroots resistance movement, a democratic socialist (Bernie Sanders) with a large and energized base within the party, and a charismatic and principled progressive woman (Elizabeth Warren) as the strongest voice within the party and the most likely candidate for president in 2020. These are all positive signs.

The battle between Ellison and Perez was often portrayed as a struggle between the party’s “progressive” and the “establishment” wings. That’s a mischaracterization. Both Ellison and Perez are long-time progressives. Perez is hardly a corporate Democrat or a tool of the party’s Wall Street wing. His entire career has been devoted to fighting for civil rights, workers’ rights, and social justice.

Perez is certainly the most progressive DNC chair since Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris occupied that post in 1970. Since then, the position has been held primarily by corporate fundraisers and moderate-to-liberal politicians, including Larry O’Brien, Jean Westwood, Robert S. Strauss, Ken Curtis, John C. White, Charles Manatt, Paul Kirk, Ron Brown, David Wilhelm, Chris Dodd, Donald Fowler, Roy Romer, Steven Grossman, Ed Rendell, Joe Andrew, Terry McAuliffe, Howard Dean, Tim Kaine, and the recently deposed Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

It would be a huge mistake for my fellow Ellison supporters to diss Perez and threaten to leave the Democratic Party. No doubt a handful of Ellison supporters will feel the need to go on the warpath. I hope the media don’t manufacture a phony party crisis by giving a megaphone to the small number of Ellison supporters who think that Perez’s victory is a defeat for progressives. It isn’t.

After he lost the primary fight, Bernie endorsed Hillary. Some of Bernie’s followers attacked him for doing so as a sell-out. A few drifted over to embrace Green Party candidate Jill Stein. But the media exaggerated the extent of the desertion. In fact, about 95% of Bernie supporters voted for Hillary. We need that kind of unity now.

As my friend Gerry McDonough, a long-time progressive activist in Massachusetts, observed: “We’re in a war against fascists. There’s no time for infighting.”

Ellison echoed those sentiments. “If you came here supporting me, wearing a Keith t-shirt, or any t-shirt, I’m asking you to give everything you’ve got to support Chairman Perez,” he said after the vote. “You love this country, you love all the people in it, you care about each and every one of them, urban, rural, suburban, all cultures, all faiths, everybody, and they are in need of your help. And if we waste even a moment going at it over who supported who, we are not going to be standing up for those people. We don’t have the luxury, folks, to walk out of this room divided.”

The task ahead — which Perez supports — is to rebuild the Democratic Party as an organizing party that can take advantage of the growing grassroots resistance movement that has emerged since Trump’s inauguration. That means raising money to hire organizers and put them in states and Congressional districts where liberal and progressive Democrats can win governors’ seats, state legislative races, and the House and Senate races. It means working in collaboration with unions, community organizing groups, environmental and LGBT groups, the Dreamers and other immigrant rights activists, Black Lives Matters, Planned Parenthood, Indivisible and other groups that are already mobilizing on the ground.

The anti-Trump resistance movement is way ahead of the party. The five million strong Women’s March, the battles at airports against Trump’s travel ban, the recent wave of town hall meetings all over the country where angry voters (many of them politically involved for the first time) confronted Republican members of Congress, and the 7,000 local groups galvanized by the Indivisible website all happened without Democratic Party involvement. But we need the party to help expand the protest movement and channel that energy into an electoral movement to put progressive and liberal Democrats in office.

Let’s get behind the Perez/Ellison team, strengthen the progressive movement, and defeat the pro-Trump Republicans in 2018 and 2020.

Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books). This essay is reprinted from the Huffington Post.

Resisting Trump Is Easy With Michael Moore’s 10-Point Plan

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Filmmaker Michael Moore, perhaps one of the most visible and active leaders of the Trump Resistance movement, has stepped up with two major contributions to the battle ahead. He has created an easily accessible website—calling it a Resistance Calendar—where people can post news about all upcoming resistance activities and find out what is going on in their community and region:

“I’ve promised you a one-stop site, a clearinghouse of all actions—a RESISTANCE CALENDAR—where you can find every upcoming action, protest, march, sit-in, town hall, anti-Trump, pro-democracy event in all 50 states!”

Moore also unleashed “The Michael Moore Easy-to-Follow 10-Point Plan to Stop Trump,” published as part of this article, which contains Moore’s list of tactics for resisters all over the country to take on. Part of Moore’s plan is to take over the Democratic Party, which means to him getting Congressman Keith Ellison elected to head the DNC when it meets this Saturday, February 25.

A key element of Moore’s plan is creating with 5 to 20 friends and family members a personal “Rapid Response Team.” Moore also wants thousands of progressives to run for office and make their own media using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media sites to spread news and information.

He says: “Make sure all your friends and family are signed up.”

—Don Hazen, Executive Editor of AlterNet

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How To Save The Democratic Party So It Can Save The World

What follow are the scariest words I’ve read since I first saw President Donald Trump.

“Unless the Democratic Party becomes stronger and more effective, a radicalized Republican-conservative juggernaut is likely to take over for decades,” Theda Skocpol, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University, wrote in Vox.

Skocpol is co-author of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, one of the definitive books on the movement that to many Trump opponents exemplifies the widespread reach and sustained opposition necessary for the left to match — if it is to contain and then reverse the new president’s agenda. She’s rightly seen as a guiding light for insights into effective mobilization from the bottom-up, which she regards as the most significant aspect of the Tea Party story.

Of course, top-down support from Koch-brothers backed groups and Fox News should not be understated, but Skocpol’s research shows that whatever its leaders and funders did, the Tea Party movement sparked a genuine explosion of activism among the party’s base.

“These grassroots activists, pretty much on their own, ended up organizing 900 regularly meeting local Tea Parties spread all over the United States,” she told Democracy Journal‘s Michael Tomasky. “And a lot of the impact they had filtered up from local Republican Party committees, from pressure on elected representatives and candidates, and the effect they had on galvanizing people to vote and participate in Republican primaries.”

And most of these groups were brand new to politics, not rebranded versions of existing groups as many — including your pal @LOLGOP — assumed.

So how can Democrats match the right’s exponential expansion of its activist base?

She believes that while outside efforts like the Indivisible Groups are “right on,” they won’t be enough.

“But here’s the problem in just imitating—even if you get it straight that it wasn’t the Koch brothers and it wasn’t all a bunch of marches, which were the least of it in some ways—it’s hard for the left now, for the center-left now, to imitate what the Tea Party grassroots people did,” she told Tomasky. “Because they were spread out across the country.”

With Skocpol’s help, it’s easy to identify the left’s biggest immediate problems: (1) its geographical density in a Constitutional republic designed to empower well-distributed minorities; and (2) the understandable urge to burn it all down. (Effective messaging, including the lack of a clear contrast to the GOP’s “GOVERNMENT BAD” rallying cry, is the third biggest problem, but this requires a much more concerted long-term effort to match conservatives’ decades-long framing advantage.)

“Anti-institutional tendencies in today’s culture make the idea of dismantling the existing order attractive to many people,” she wrote in her post, “A guide to rebuilding the Democratic Party, from the ground up.” “But social science research has long shown that majorities need strong organizations to prevail against wealthy conservative interests in democracies.”

Skocpol argues that the Democratic National Committee is our best — and possibly only — hope to combat the “strong possibility of a long-term authoritarian right turn in US politics.”

This is a terrifying thought for several reasons.

You have to start wetting yourself when you consider the reality that America has likely been in a “feedback loop of growing inequality and Republican rule” for decades, with conservatives using their victories and the billions of dollars in gains they’ve secured from those victories to firmly establish their political dominance by shrinking the tax base, hammering organized labor, and making voting more difficult while buying elections, especially local elections, only gets easier.

Almost equally underwear-spoiling is the prospect of having to depend on the DNC, which has seen its reputation shredded both due to its pro-Hillary Clinton leanings and concerted attacks on the institution from foreign interests.

The contest to lead the Democratic Party’s central organ now seems to be verging on repeating the trauma of the 2016 presidential primary between frontrunners Rep. Keith Ellison, the choice of most Bernie Sanders supporters, and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, the choice of most Obama-and-Clinton-leaning factions of the party.

Especially when compared to the ruthless, increasingly autocratic opposition Democrats face, the differences between Ellison and Perez are subtle, stylistic, and somewhat hard to find. Yet these differences are still easy to magnify.

Skocpol believes Democrats need to “embrace a year-round, face-to-face organizational style.”

Both Ellison and Perez are capable of pulling off such an organizational and functional transformation. Both candidates represent groups targeted by Trump’s overreach. And both can appeal to the sort of genuine populism that the president effectively faked during his campaign.

Yet despite these affinities it’s easy to imagine the Bernie-wing taking a second straight rebuke as proof that it is not welcome in the party. This would be a disaster for the United States and the world.

There is simply no other organization on the left that can match the “well-entrenched networks” of the right including “the cross-state federated networks of the NRA, the Christian right, and the centerpiece Koch organization, Americans for Prosperity.”

With 2017 and 2018 elections rapidly approaching and likely to establish the momentum for 2020, Democrats need to quickly move on to effectively combatting the GOP and its concerted efforts to prevent non-conservatives from voting by “checking and adding voter registrations.”

And the DNC has to be the beating heart of this effort, regardless of who wins the chairmanship. Or any hope of defeating Trump may be DOA.