Who Is Not Supporting Whom? Establishment Democrats Skip the March on Mississippi While Sanders Leads the Charge

In this season of protest against the fascist politics of Donald Trump, we have seen a great deal of cross-pollination among progressive groups with different focuses. Pro-immigrant groups at the women’s march, women in pink hats at rallies in support of public schools, school teachers at the airports to fight the Muslim ban.

All of which makes the relative silence surrounding the March on Mississippi noteworthy. In case you missed it, which is likely unless you were actively looking, pro-union progressives have joined auto workers at a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi in support of their campaign to unionize a Nissan assembly plant. Nissan has over 40 assembly plants globally, all of which are unionized, except for three located in the American South (of course). Last Saturday’s rally saw Senator Bernie Sanders, former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, actor Danny Glover, NAACP President Cornell Williams Brooks, and Sierra Club President Aaron Mair join forces with local leaders such as the Mississippi NAACP chapter, Representative Bennie Thompson (the areas’s representative in Congress), and organizers from the plant to support the civil rights of Nissan’s employee, including their right to collective bargaining.

Yet where were the national Democrats? They weren’t in Mississippi, that’s for sure. They weren’t even on their Twitter accounts offering their support for the marchers – an odd omission, given how eager they are to lend their support to so many other marches. What is it about unionization and class issues that made this march so overlooked?

In the aftermath of the Democrats’ loss in the 2016 election, two schools of thought emerged about the party’s future. One side, loudly advocated by Senator Sanders and his supporters, argued for a strong economic populist message, and criticized the Clinton campaign for lacking one. The party’s losses of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan, produced by defections of white working class voters to Trump, demonstrated a need to reconnect with working people. The other side responded (hold onto your hats!) by denouncing a call for a greater emphasis on economic populism as racist and sexist and an abandonment of the issues of women, racial/ethnic minorities, and gender minorities. They claimed than any effort to solidify the party’s standing among white working class voters would necessarily mean abandoning other aspects of social justice progressivism, and even pandering to the racist impulses of the median Trump voter. The Sanders faction, you see, was abandoning traditionally-oppressed groups. The Sanders faction, unsurprisingly, rejected this interpretation, insisted on our commitment to anti-racist and anti-sexist politics, and questioned whether the opposition to a greater emphasis on class issues was actually the result of…well…opposition to economic populism and class issues.

You don’t hear that smear from Clintonistas very often anymore, because the argument was always bunk, and events have proven it to be bunk. The Berniacs whose desire to connect with all working-class voters was supposedly going to make them pander to white racists became passionate supporters of making an African-American Muslim who had once been a supporter of Louis Farrakhan the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. (Because, you see, we’re so determined not offend racists). Last Saturday, the most prominent members of the Sanders faction joined with the NAACP to support a majority-black unionization movement, everyone arguing strenuously about the connection between the civil rights of minorities and the economic standing of workers.

So why weren’t the national Democrats with the workers in Mississippi? Why is it only the Sanders wing that went to Canton?

There is a wing of the Democratic Party that believes that race gets you into heaven; that gender gets you into heaven; that ethnicity and religion and LGBT get you into heaven; but being poor? Being under the boot of the bosses? That’s just not the sort of thing they worry their heads about. When pressed, such as when faced with the possibility of a strong populist becoming DNC Chair, they are willing to back a carefully-vetted labor supporter like Tom Perez. That is a good thing, btw, that they feel the need to do that when pressed.

So…we need to keep pressing. If Bernie Sanders had actually supported muting the party’s message of racial and gender equality in order to appeal to white racists, he would have deserved all the criticism he received this winter. The same principle needs to apply to those Democrats who go silent on issues of class and union organizing in order to avoid offending the Wall Street/Silicon Valley donors. They  need to hear that their silence is not acceptable.

The whole party ought to be behind, loudly behind, the workers in Canton. They’re not, and we should remember who was, and who wasn’t.

Hey, You Put Goose Sauce on My Gander!

People who spent the 2016 Democratic primary accusing progressives who supported Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden over Hillary Clinton of being motivated by a desire to have a white, male nominee want you to know that it is very, very unfair to speculate on the motives of the people who drafted Tom Perez into the DNC race after a Bernie Sanders supporter, who is African-American, very progressive, and Muslim, started to emerge as the consensus candidate.

The Left Should Root for the Success of DNC Chair Tom Perez

Good piece in The Nation, which remains an excellent source for all things not-Russia.

Tom Perez is not his backers. Tom Perez is not the people who recruited him into the race. Tom Perez is more than the role he played in this DNC race (stalking horse for an establishment determined to stop the candidate preferred by the left). Tom Perez is an individual with an impressive record fighting for, and achieving, the things progressives value so highly. If his record seems to make him an odd choice to play Clintonite water-carrier, the history of his recruitment backs up that impression. The Democratic establishment, which initially tried to recruit Joe Biden and Jennifer Granholm), settled for Tom Perez after their preferred candidates begged off, because they recognized that the sort of party hack centrist (Hi, Tim Kaine!) that they would have preferred would not have stood a chance in the post-Hillary Democratic Party. Tom Perez represents the first time the corporate establishment of the Democratic Party has had to settle for a “half a loaf” outcome in a fight with the left. Think about all of those times progressives have complained about such a dilemma, and how victories by “lesser of two evil” candidates have been interpreted as evidence of the predominance of the “evil” side. Well, in 2016, the shoe is on the other foot, and that should give every progressive Democrat hope and optimism for the future.

While the justification for his candidacy may have been to lock out the party’s progressive wing, Perez himself has done very little to suggest that her has any interest in fighting that battle as Chair. His first action as DNC Chair was to appoint Keith Ellison to the Deputy position. Though this action is only the start of the process of incorporating the Sanders left into the party, it is not a bad opening bid. We will have to see where Perez goes from here, but it is worth keeping an open mind. As the history of Perez’ interactions with movement-progressives demonstrates (including an interesting episode involving Keith Ellison), he is someone with whom we can work.

Progressives should keep an open mind. Hold Perez accountable when there is cause, certainly. Pressure him, sure, because Lord knows he will be facing pressure from the centrist, big donor side. But there is  no call at this point for treating him, personally, as the enemy.

Tom Perez Is a Good Progressive. That Is, and Isn’t, the Point.

There have always been two sides to the Bernie Sanders Revolution: progressivism and populism. The progressivism is found largely in the policy substance – single-payer health care, strong financial regulation, aggressive action to combat clime change, to note three prominent examples. The populism is more found on the procedural side – small-dollar individual donations instead of money from corporations and lobbyists, grassroots movements instead of decisions by connected insiders, open primaries instead of superdelegates.

The establishment side of the Democratic Party, at long last, may be starting to get progressivism. The Platform Committee at the 2016 convention produced a solidly progressive document. Tom Perez is the furthest-left cabinet official the Democrats had since Robert Reich, and while Clinton fired Reich, Obama promoted Perez and gave him a long leash. The real progress for left-liberalism represented by the shape, and even the outcome, of the 2017 DNC Chair race should not be under appreciated. Casting Perez as a centrist in the Clintonite mold does him a great disservice. That there is a DNC Chair that is even in the neighborhood of someone as liberal as Tom Perez – at that he comes specifically from a labor political background – should itself be seen as a victory for the progressive wing of the party.

Which is not to say progressives have no grounds to complain about his selection, and his recruitment into the race, by the party boo-bahs over Keith Ellison. Rather, it misdiagnoses the problem; as great as Perez himself is from an ideological and policy progressive, the effort to recruit a candidate as a block the populist unity candidate because he was <i>too</i> popular among the Sanders wing was a consummate insider power move, meant to maintain power for a Boomer-dominated, established elite rather than share it with the ascending future of the party.

Those most loyal defenders of the DNC have a tendency to cite the liberalism of Perez and declare progressive opposition to his candidacy irrational. These people aren’t even wrong on the question of procedural populism; as far as I can tell, they don’t even seem to know that it exists at all. The number of pro-Clinton bloggers who managed to believe that it was the Sanders side that made this a proxy war, apparently wholly ignorant of the circumstances of Perez’s entry, is surprising. At best, they dismiss the argument as a pretext. “How can you object to a candidate recruited into the race to maintain the establishment’s monopoly on power? He’s a liberal fer chrissakes!”

Their behavior reminds me of the glib “show me the quid pro quo on a vote” argument they used to dismiss Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street money problem. They never took that history and relationship seriously; and what’s more, they never acknowledged that the Bernie supporters took it seriously either, dismissing the entire critique of the financial connections between Wall Street and the top of the Democratic Party as a ginned-up one-liner for the 2016 primaries. (Perhaps this sort of thinking explained why they were so confident that disgruntled Sanders supporters would come home in the general election to the same degree as disgruntled Clinton supporters in 2008). Just to cement their inability to get it, they treated the whole topic not as a debate over a core structural flaw of a our politics, but as a character attack against Clinton as an individual.

One of the key teachings drilled into me in city planning school was that true public and stakeholder backing of a plan could only be achieved through a letting go of control, and the ceding of actual power in decision-making to the stakeholders. If Democrats who side with the Democratic establishment in the ongoing dispute actually want to achieve party unity, put the Obama coalition back together, and have that progressive activist wing feel that they have a home in the party and vote like it, then they’re going to have to stop their campaign to monopolize power within the party, and make the types of reforms in how the party works that the Ellison candidacy, and the practical agenda he advocated, represented. What they did instead on Saturday was to vote against Barack Obama’s ban on corporate money, and then vote in favor of the candidate the establishment put in to block Ellison. We’re going to have to hope that former labor organizer Tom Perez demonstrates more of a clue over the next few years than the people who put him into power have.

Keep Lowell High Downtown

Over at Dick Howe’s blog, City Councillor Daniel Rourke issues a call for unity and civility in the debate over whether to keep Lowell High in its current location, or to build a new school at the Cawley Stadium site out by the edge of town in Belvidere. He writes:

Those in favor of relocating the school next to Cawley Stadium reason that a campus lifestyle, ability to build from the ground up and no disruption to the learning environment for students over the next five years as their main factors in moving from its current site…Whatever reason a Lowell resident has for wanting it Downtown or at Cawley is a valid one and should be respected.

As a proponent of the downtown site, I agree wholeheartedly that the ability to build from the ground up and no disruption to the learning environment over the next five years are valid, even compelling, arguments, and I very much respect them. I wish wholeheartedly that a downtown building project could boast those advantages, and recognize that the complications of renovating an old building and of operating a combined high school/construction site during the school year are serious drawbacks to choosing to keep the high school in its current location.

HOWEVER, and I say this with as much civility as I can muster, I do not respect the argument that preference for a “campus lifestyle,” in contrast to a downtown, urban lifestyle, is a valid argument that should be respected by Lowellians. It is a terrible, insulting argument that should be forcefully rejected by people who care for this city. It has at its root a level of contempt and hostility towards urban life that is incompatible with the appreciation for walkable urbanism and Lowell’s history that have been so essential to this community’s revitalization, and if I may say, the rebirth of our self-respect, over the past two decades. It is ultimately a viewpoint that relies upon the idea that downtown and places like downtown are inferior to the suburbs, and that only a suburban school can be a good school. It is the sort of argument I would expect from someone at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac who thinks that Lowell is a hell hole and refuses to come here for fear of being mugged, and I feel a little bit betrayed that people from Lowell are making it. I’m used to defending Lowell to people from the suburbs, but I shouldn’t have to defend Lowell to people from Lowell. Councillor Rourke talks about being respectful, but there is a nasty heart of disrespect in this position that is deeper than whether the people making it use polite words and indoor voices.

And it wouldn’t even work, anyway. Look at Central Plaza, which was supposed to be a major shopping mall attracting people from throughout the region. Ooh, look, we’re almost as conveniently located as a suburban mall, with access almost as easy as a mall by the highway, and almost as much parking!

How did that work out? WHERE’S MY AEROPOSTALE?!?

A city will never succeed in being as good at being suburban as a suburb. If you’re trying to avoid the stigma of an “urban school” by building in Belvidere, you’re running the same fool’s errand. People who look down on Lowell are still going to think “Lowell High School” and snicker – but if we build at Cawley, they’ll be able to point to our own decision to run away from the downtown and try, inadequately, to be just like the ‘burbs as proof that they are right.

The Stakes in Atlanta: Another 2016 or Another 2008 in Four Years

For many years, Democrats have been lecturing progressives about the importance of political pragmatism, defined as settling for someone other than their preferred candidate – someone much closer to the New Democrat party establishment than they prefer – in internal Democratic Party elections. They have been urging this, they insist, not out of a hostility to progressivism or the effort to move the party to the left, and not out of a desire to maintain their own power within the party, but in order to secure a large-enough electoral coalition to win the general election. And for years, progressives have been suspicious that this argument is a pretext for simple opposition to progressive politics and to political figures who are not creatures of the party establishment. Some progressives, such as me, find this argument compelling, and some do not. The portion of progressives who buy it varies from election to election, and when the degree of skepticism reaches sufficient heights, enough progressives bolt from the Democratic coalition, by staying home or voting third-party, to produce the Democrats’ defeat. That’s how Bush was election in 2000. It’s how Trump was elected last year. Some make the case that Reagan’s election in 1980, after Ted Kennedy primaried Jimmy Carter with the support of the left, fits this pattern.

During the 2016 Democratic primary, that level of skepticism reached a new peak. Contributing to this trend were revelations of establishment Democrats putting their thumb on the scale in their own interest, of contempt and hostility towards Sanders and his voters among the avowedly-neutral Democratic National Committee, and of their candidate telling a room full of rich donors that her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was merely a “public position,” a ruse to fool the rubes. Meanwhile, the avowed pragmatists were pulling out all the stops to nominate someone with a 56% unfavorable rating to be our candidate for the presidency – even as they continued to preach the same message of pragmatic self-denial to progressives. Under these circumstances, it was entirely unsurprising that a larger number of progressives would dismiss their pragmatism argument as a self-serving scam.

Today, the ability of the Democratic Party to win the 2020 election depends primarily on one factor: the ability to win back the loyalty of those progressives who failed to pull the lever for Hillary Clinton. While the party’s Congressional and state legislative future may or may not require winning over some segment of Trump voters, winning the presidency does not. The Obama coalition, if it can be put back together, can not only deliver the presidency, but will do so by increasing margins in each subsequent quadrennial election for the foreseeable future. The pragmatic consideration most important for turning Donald Trump (or Mike Pence, should Trump fail to complete his term) out of office in 2020 is the necessity of healing the rift brought about during the 2016 primary, and not exacerbating it.

Tomorrow, the Democratic National Committee will pick a new Chair. The election is going to come down to Keith Ellison, the unity candidate who has the support of the insurgent faction as well as a substantial number of figures from the establishment faction; and Tom Perez, a candidate who, while an admirable liberal, enjoys support only from among the Clinton side, and who was encouraged by the White House to run in order to deny the seat to a candidate from the Sanders faction. One of these candidates has demonstrated the capacity to bring together the party’s factions – that is, to satisfy the essential pragmatic need the party faces today – and the other, regardless of his merits, has been unable to win support beyond his side of the divide. If the body that votes for DNC Chair roughly represented the electorate that chooses Democratic presidential nominees, Ellison’s coalition of Sanders supporters and some Clinton supporters would ensure his victory. But the party figures voting tomorrow are not a reflection of that primary electorate; they are a reflection of the party insiders who backed Hillary by such lopsided margins in the 2016 “endorsement primary.”

The election of Keith Ellison will bring alienated Berniacs back into the Democratic fold, while the election of Tom Perez will, fairly or not, drive them away. Ellison winning the chairmanship will accomplish two essential objectives. Obviously, the ascension of their preferred candidate to the top job in the Democratic Party will give Sanders supporters a reason to support the party. What may be less obvious: the sight of the barons of the Democratic Party agreeing to settle for Ellison despite their preference for Perez, for reasons of pragmatism, will demonstrate that they are willing to practice the very same pragmatic self-denial that they have been preaching at progressives for so long, and thus restore their credibility in making that argument. The opposite result will produce the opposite outcome – the Berniacs whose relationship with they party has already taken such a hit will see their broadly-popular candidate rejected merely because he is popular among them; and they will see the very people who attempt to sell them on the notion of taking half a loaf for the common good refuse to do so, once again, when it is their turn.

The election of Keith Ellison will put the Obama coalition back together and make a Democratic victory in 2020 overwhelmingly likely. The rejection of him will likely produce another progressive-defection election in four years. That’s what it comes down to.

It’s time for the powers-that-be to put the good of the party above the maintenance of their status within it.