By Ayman Khafagi
The Michigan Democratic Party has two major constituencies: the Black caucus and organized labor. Both are worthy of great representation within the party, and on its ticket in general elections.
There was a time when the party leadership, the Black American leadership and Labor leaders would make unofficial agreements dividing power. It worked for awhile.
Over time, Democrats lost electoral power and allowed Republicans to shift their party’s politics to the right. A new wave of populism carried new progressive members to become another power within the party. But the leaders of the three former establishments never made changes to improve electoral results nor to accommodate the new dynamics. The usual arrangement broke down.
There is no going back to the old ways. The decisions will be made from the bottom up– not the other way around. The unintended consequences of lower Black representation and decreased organized labor influence can only be rectified if the leaders of the two establishments allow their younger and more progressive members to rise to leadership, and develop a more horizontal decision making process and democratize their operation. “Leaders” must follow the will of their members–not the other way around.
The progressive movement has to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the labor movement without expecting anything in return. Progressives have to accept that minorities, especially black people and unions, must have their own representation. They have to lead in advocating for their own rights. Progressives must understand that a progressive movement can only succeed if lead by labor. And also, given this country’s complex history, minority groups must be in the fore-front.
Progressive organizing outside these two main camps is only a temporary fix until labor revives itself and the black community take back its rightful positions in the leadership of the progressive movement. We are just keeping the flame glowing in this cold winter of conservatism.
The current ticket, however, does not lack diversity. Admittedly, it is not as diverse as it should be. The statewide ticket has four spots. Having two of those spots filled by women is long overdue. Having one spot filled by a lesbian is long overdue. Having one of the spots potentially filled by an Arab Muslim is timely and important. If we end up with an all women ticket, that is very diverse, historic and positively consequential. Not having a black person and specifically a black woman on the ticket is wrong. On the other hand, erasing the candidates’ gender and sexual orientation and only seeing their whiteness is not right. Dismissing brown Arab Muslims as not diverse is not right.
Black folks have the right to be angry because it is not like they have never been here before. They were here many times and they were told to wait. It is imperative we stop asking them to wait and it is imperative we make room for them on the table without asking for anything in return.
Ayman Khafagi is Vice-Chair of the MDP Progressive Caucus