This weekend, The Nation endorsed Keith Ellison for Chair of the Democratic National Committee. They support the Congressman from Minnesota because of his commitment to “build an activist party” at a time when “when movements matter more to tens of millions of Americans than partisan labels.” Their reasoning is exactly I why don’t support him.
The job of the DNC should be to elect Democrats, not impose litmus tests. If Democrats are going to take back Congress and legislatures across the country, they are going to have to win with the tens of millions of people who don’t believe in either party labels or movements. Democrats need a bigger tent, not a narrower one.
I also don’t believe the fundamental premise of their endorsement. Parties and movements are separate vehicles and should be. Movements have goals and ambitions that transcend electoral cycles. They’re meant to move specific ideas into the political arena and build support regardless of party. Parties are vehicles to elect people to office based on broadly shared values.
Parties should have core principles to provide a large umbrella. Democrats of my youth stood up for the little people, believing that everyone should have a shot at the American dream. In doing so, they defended workers’ rights, stood up against discrimination, and promoted equality for women, African-Americans, and LGBT citizens. They also fought for a strong social safety net, worker protections, and fair wages. Movements informed the politicians, but the politicians didn’t necessarily conform to all the goals of the movements.
Democrats need to get away from believing that ideas flow from the top to the bottom and understand that, now more than ever, we need ideas to flow from the ground up. Democrats in swing districts don’t need to be told what to believe and support by the Chair of the DNC. They need the resources and tools to defeat Republicans. Candidates are better suited to figure out what’s important to the voters in their districts than anybody in Washington. What motivates Democratic voters in Lumberton might be dramatically different than what motivates Democratic voters in Detroit.
There are far more voters who are not tied to movement politics than voter who are. They’re people who work hard, play by the rules, and have still been left behind by our economic system. They come in all colors, nationalities, and religious affiliations. They won’t be marching but they should be voting. Democrats need to understand them and their needs better. Judging from the recent Women’s March on Washington, the activists are doing just fine.