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Friday, December 9, 2016

Democratic Party Reform? Part 2

'The Hill' website has a couple of quotes from Party operatives that tend to oppose my opinion that the Democratic Party needs fundamental change:

"The lesson for Dems from 2016 is NOT to change our message, it's to deliver and defend it with more conviction and fearlessness.” 
 “Others argue that the party needs to think about how to frame its message. Greater sharpness in this regard, they say, could matter more than shifting that message to the left or the center.”
And right there is the problem, in two respects – messages separated from deeds are not helpful.  And,  more framed messages from Washington are not what we need. Oh, by the Way, just what is that “message” – does anyone know?
So, with your indulgence, allow me to present some thoughts that are perhaps not often heard, essentially stressing a “back to the basics approach with new twists added. (please excuse the underlining; it is tracking format that can't be removed - sorry for the inconvenience).

1) The Democratic Party has got to return to the concept that politics begin at the local level.    Top-down messaging is not being heard nor heeded; nor is it always useful.  The Democratic Party lost something when it lost the ward boss and the back-room guys who knew who voters were and what they needed; who got messages out themselves and who got the votes out when needed.  Eschewing the corruption, bad methods and tactics of that model, we must organize at the local level like never before, around new concepts.
            a) Coalitions the official local Democratic Committees could be the focus of coalition-building centered around voter issues rather than being mainly elected committees touting the Party line, often out-of-touch with a majority of the local residents, and often unheard on local issues.  There are many unofficial entities out there in local communities looking to offer hope and change and progressive ideas for implementation.  There are even some unacknowledged and undiscovered people who should be running for office. 
Let’s start using the local Democratic Committees as innovators rather than as flunkies of the State Democratic Committees and the national DNC.  It is past time for the Democratic Committees to spearhead a return to the basic principle of being in touch with constituents in person-to-person relationships that can be achieved if enough people are recruited as part of a core group of activists brought together in common cause.  On-going phone banks, canvassing, talk shows, newsletters, forums, discussion groups, demonstrations on issues, etc. must be used continuously to educate, activate and inform our members and the general public on issues and accomplishments.
            b) Leadership new local Democratic Coalitions must begin to operate on a new concept of leadership – leadership that is shared and leadership that is dependent on the views, opinions and ideas of a Core group and its wider constituency.  In other words, we must grow Team leadership not from the top-down (that gives orders about metrics, strategies, and tactics).  Instead, we must involve and develop new leadership from the bottom-up and that means training local people to be leaders, organizers and facilitators in order to fully participate in sharing leadership functions.  There are many ways to share leadership, and some professional guidance and consultation is needed on this.  But one thing is clear, the present structure of most local Democratic Committees is not built around this concept.  Let me flesh this out a bit:
Shared leadership involves training people for carrying out leadership functions such as offering encouragement to others, giving positive feedback when someone offers an opinion or strategy or comment; building on concepts offered by others; developing an ability to summarize where the group stands in its progress at any single moment.  A core group such as I am suggesting must be trained in these group concepts.  But shared leadership goes beyond group dynamics.  It recognizes that every person within a group or organization can make a meaningful contribution to the cause.  It also recognizes that there does not have to be just one leader and a bunch of subordinates. 
Leadership functions at another level can also be shared.  For instance, one person good at organizing, writing and conducting meetings might act as lead facilitator to carry out those functions.  Another person good at person-to-person contact, taking minutes and training others on issues might undertake that role.   A third person, adept at computers, collecting and distributing data, training others to input data, using social media and organizing communications with media might carry out those roles.  These three leaders together might serve as associate leaders, and might comprise a leadership task force to plan, debate and make suggestions to the wider Core group while always soliciting the input of the broader membership group. 
This may sound like the way organizations are currently divided into officers and committees, but the difference is in the attitude toward the role of leadership.  It is not confined to elected or appointed leaders.  Leadership is seen to emerge in all participants in some way, and leadership is not confined to strict guidelines or job descriptions or someone else’s idea of what leadership constitutes.  In fact, the shared concept is strong enough to encourage members to act in a leadership role on their own -- such as emailing a notice to all members that follows and enhances the Team’s mission and functioning.  Checking with others is only necessary if the sender feels it to be necessary. 
And therein lies the greatest difference and the greatest asset of the shared leadership concept:  a shared attitude toward Team functioning and taking leadership responsibility that dignifies and enhances everyone’s role, everyone’s opinion, and everyone’s abilities.
c) Input the Democratic Party has got to get back to the personal approach to issues and problem-solving and meeting constituent concerns.  There are ways to do this, but having Washington leaders and insiders spouting their own views to their constituents is not an effective method.  Remember, Donald Trump just won an election no one thought he could win by simply making people feel that he was their voice, and that his tweets were personal messages directed to them.  We can do even better than that. 
We Democrats have got to go where the people are and gather their input.   
I submit to you that we aren’t listening enough, and we aren’t present enough.  Hillary started off her primary campaign talking with and listening to small groups around tables. That was effective, but it faded.  It always fades, simply because we have not recognized nor given enough attention to the importance of listening, collecting, processing and putting voter input into workable plans and policies. We have been overly subjected to Politicians telling us what the issues are, what the problems are, who needs to be investigated, what we must do to make government work or not work (and a whole lot of other directives and instructions). 
2)  The Democratic Party has got to establish on-going listening posts and opportunities for on-going voter involvement and advisory input
The Democratic Party is failing miserably in the art of listening and in seeking input on issues, problems and concerns of ordinary people.  I have written on this topic before (7/11/2016; 9/5/2015; 11/16 & 28/2014; 7/21/2014) and am not going to go into finite detail here.  What I am saying here is that Democratic politicians (and the DNC and DCCC) have got to find ways to give many people, groups and organizations numerous opportunities to speak their minds to Party officials, office-holders and candidates.  Speaking at rallies and events, attending meet and greet events, or participating in staged “debates” (see my 10/12/2016 Blog) are all designed to sell a product – the candidate.  In contrast, here are a few suggestions for establishing on-going listening posts in various communities to solicit all-important voter input:
  • utilize the local Democratic Coalition groups described above to gather representative voters from the area (town, village, city, county) to discuss certain issues from among issues suggested by that same group.  Make sure all relevant input is recorded and perhaps summarized on a screen by meeting’s end; send minutes to participants and to members of the district.  Include a plan for what will be done about each suggestion.  Set another meeting.
  • establish one or more advisory groups that are representative of one’s constituency in various areas of a district, city or county.  Make sure that these advisory groups have regular meetings (office-holders should attend at least 2-3 times a year) and report discussions and recommendations to the office-holder.  Office-holder should respond within 30 days at most.  Use these groups to help evaluate one’s performance and to establish goals for each year of each term (NOTE: membership and function may overlap with Democratic Coalitions)
  • sponsor legislation to involve ordinary, non-office-holding citizens in all levels of government (see my Blog of 7/21/2014).
  • prepare a local, State and National Party Plan and a Budget that grows out of these grass-roots issues, problems and needs expressed by constituents.  Use those Plans as a Platform and offer a Pledge to the voters that the Democratic Party will act to prove it is the Party by, of and for The People. Think Big & Bold; take Bold steps to offer real Hope and real Change as part of a New Deal, based on voter input.
  • Big & Bold Example: purchase a TV station or network so that these grass-roots concerns can be presented forcefully.  Feature Democrats as guests, along with grass-roots activists and average voters who can speak for and to a broad audience.  Feature real people, real issues and real debates and discussions.  Above all, do not make it pure entertainment, but make sure it is entertaining and interesting.  Use it to voice a national Democratic populist agenda and to counter FOX News.  By the way,  this is the kind of proposal that, given the existence of advisory groups, would be checked and debated by them for their input.   
The Democratic Party must re-organize itself from top to bottom to accommodate and to enhance this way of doing business from the bottom up, not from the top down.  Campaigns must also change to accommodate the input and impact these advisory groups will have. I offer these suggestions from the viewpoint of one who has been involved with putting these concepts into practice for more than 50 years as the head of at least 25 different organizations and programs, and the committed participant in several additional local, state, interstate and national organizations and groups.
I do not take lightly my criticism of the DNC and the Democratic Party.  I do not disagree with most of the issues that our Party activates and promotes.  I just disagree with the current way we strategize and with the mechanisms we use to communicate and to gather information. We must do better, and I believe the concepts offered here point in that better direction.  I use “point” advisedly because there is much more involved in these concepts than time allows here for elucidation.
In conclusion, I again offer this statement that I posted recently:
 It is a fatal flaw to believe that politicians are the government or that our participation is optional.  We are the government and politicians (and their appointees) represent us only with our consent. 
We must not let that power and responsibility be appropriated by forces that want to destroy our fundamental democratic principles, or by Party officials who can’t see beyond their titles, their desks and their cell phones.  

Democratic Party Reform? Part 1

This Blog has seen enough posts on Donald Trump for a while.  Let’s talk about the Democratic Party and how it may have contributed to Trump’s win and Hillary’s defeat in the Electoral College vote.  But most importantly, let us look at where we might have to go in the future, starting right now (see Part II).  We begin with a few of the items that I think characterized the Democratic Party of late, most of which may have gotten us into trouble. 
1)  The Democratic Party has for too long accepted the status quo and used that position as an excuse to accept large single donor campaign contributions, lavish trips, special speaker fees, insider information, special privileges, and 3rd Party Super PACs as routine, normal, and the “way business has to be done.”  Simultaneously, many Party members have used rhetoric that sounds as though they really are in favor of reform, but such reform has fallen by the wayside.  Notable exceptions include Dodd-Frank that attempted to regulate Wall Street and the financial sector, including banks; and the Affordable Care Act which tried to institute health reforms -- and in fact did so—but many of its positive provisions, such as consumer advocacy, got stopped short by radical Republicans.
2)  Democrats over the years have contributed to the unwarranted extreme access to the inner working of government by wealthy individuals and corporations to the extent that those entities have unbelievable control over what government does regarding business, commerce and trade. Democratic temerity has helped to embolden the Republican President-to-be, Donald Trump, to position several of the capitalist foxes on the inside of the chicken coop as he assembles a cabinet of millionaires and billionaires on a scale beyond the norm.  If Trump nominates the CEO of Exxon to be Secretary of State, we will know for certain that the welfare of all the chickens is in imminent danger! 
We need to ask one basic question: when did government of the People, by the People and for the People become government of the rich and powerful dedicated to promoting the desires of less than 1% of our population? 
Would you be surprised to know that such favoritism and surreptitious support for the elite crowd was embedded in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers?  This would not surprise you at all if you remembered that slavery was protected as a widespread business enterprise.  Or, that crops being sold to European countries, where high demand made them most lucrative (including coffee, sugar, cocoa, tobacco and cotton), were mostly products grown on large plantations that used slaves.
Prominent Founding Fathers were also slaveholders in many cases (or supportive of shipping slaves between countries and between states).  Recall if you will that of the first twelve U.S. presidents, only John Adams (#2) and John Quincy Adams (#6) never owned slaves, although two of the others (Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison) did not own slaves while serving as president.  In 1790, nearly 690,00 slaves were domiciled in the United States; by 1860 that population had risen to almost four million slaves (99% of whom were born on American soil).  The South went to war against the North, not simply to protect slavery, or to defend states’ rights, but to preserve the huge industries, property holdings and profits that had developed around the enterprising use of slavery. 
My points:
a) Democrats have not broken through the control of government by the favored capitalist class; we allow exploitation by rich corporations to endure (South Dakota and the Pipeline Protest – where is the Democratic Party?).  How can the rich pay less in taxes than your average working American – where is the Democratic Party on Tax Code reform?  Is the protection of property more important than the protection of the People from disease and ill health? Where is the Democratic Party on research and health care reform?  Is the protection of propertied interests more important than the cultivation of opportunities for middle and working class folks, or those who live in poverty?
Where is the Democratic Party on public education and on all the issues that affect the ‘average’ citizen?  Is the protection of the income of rich folks more important than the protection of Seniors from the ravages of inadequate retirement income and the devastation of health concerns that can be alleviated by early treatment?  Where is the Democratic Party on all the programs that Republicans want to repeal or to destroy like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare and the Veterans Health care system.  And just where does the Democratic Party stand on the issue of a single-payer of universal health insurance?  Trouble is, other than a few individuals, the Party rarely speaks out as a unified voice on such issues.  Not so the Republicans. 
b)  Democrats cannot continue to support the rich at the expense of the working class while talking as though we are the Party of Hope or the defenders of the Poor, or the Party of the middle-class.  Unlike those Founding Fathers who talked equality and owned slaves – we must break the habit of speaking words of reform, but taking little action that achieves reform.  Democrats cannot at once be office-holders and investors or receivers of privileges and tax breaks (farm subsidies, e.g.).  Democrats cannot profess to be supporters of Labor and then vote in favor of NAFTA or any trade deal that attacks workers’ rights and benefits and jobs.  Democrats cannot continue to promote or profit from anything from which they are made exempt under legislative mandate.  Democrats cannot continue to decry the efforts of lobbyists if they can become lobbyists themselves.  Such duplicity, or silence itself, is not a vote-getter.
c)  It’s time to realize that Democrats lost this vital election because we have allowed ourselves to become the status quo Party, the Party of Hollywood, the Party of partiers, the Party of trade deals gone bad and the Party that supported a safety net and substituted it for the challenge of breaking the cycle of poverty-- those ingrown, institutionalized, dyed-in-the-wool (embedded) issues, challenges, barriers and prejudices that threaten the lives of the people caught in its web.  Where are the challengers within the Party who will say to the Republican Right-wing– you’re not only wrong, you are hypocritically wrong because you propose challenging all government programs and projects on behalf of those in need -- “let them do for themselves or depend on private charity” -- while promoting unearned and unmerited government subsidies for the rich and powerful at every possible turn in the road.  I know we have Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker and John Lewis (plus President Obama for eight years) plus some others like Schumer and Pelosi – but where is the Democratic Party as a whole? 
d)  We failed in this election partly because we allowed our candidate to get wrapped up in trying to answer Trump lies and rants or to defend herself.  What should have been happening, especially in the last days before election, was a continuous presentation of what our candidate was going to do once she entered that Oval Office.  We lost because the Party and the Candidate failed to address enough of the issues in depth that citizens of the Rust Belt (and elsewhere) needed us to address with real outcomes and promises.
Here are a few more brief thoughts about where the Democratic Party went off-the-track:
  • "It’s the economy stupid" got left behind
  • Voter education has not been a top priority of the Party mechanism; we trained new leaders and organizers sporadically, and inadequately trained volunteers
  • Because the Democratic Party fails to inform and educate people every day, we fail to keep voters aware of what, why and how the Democratic Party is accomplishing anything.  The beating taken on Obamacare is a prime example of failing to educate the public
  • We also took too much pride in campaigning built on old models: large rallies, phone banking, TV ads; too many metrics and not enough personal contacts
  • The DNC and DCCC gave sporadic aid during local campaigns; where were the strategists, the surrogates, the paid workers?
  • Where has the populist movement gone? Where are all those young Sanders supporters we need to continue a real Movement toward progressive outcomes?
'The Hill' website has a couple of quotes from Party operatives that tend to oppose my opinion that the Democratic Party needs fundamental change:
"The lesson for Dems from 2016 is NOT to change our message, it's to deliver and defend it with more conviction and fearlessness.” 
 “Others argue that the party needs to think about how to frame its message. Greater sharpness in this regard, they say, could matter more than shifting that message to the left or the center.”
And right there is the problem, in two respects – messages separated from deeds are not helpful.  And, more framed messages from Washington are not what we need. Oh, by the Way, just what is that “message” – does anyone know?

[NOTE: go on to Part II for more on what the Democratic Party might want to do to begin to listen more carefully and to make decisions based on grassroots input]