I am a Michigan Democratic Party member, serving on the State Central Committee and the State Party Rules Committee. Together with a coalition of many people from across the state, I am working to bring greater democracy, transparency, and inclusion to the Michigan Democratic Party.
Since I started this series, I’ve been attacked by some for criticizing the Michigan Democratic Party. For explaining what’s anti-democratic about its rules and practices.
They don’t say I’m wrong about any of my criticism.
They get angry because I’m making the Party’s dirty laundry public. They get angry because my criticism might depress voter turnout, and lead to Democratic Party losses. I’ve been hearing that excuse since 1988 when I worked on the Dukakis campaign – he didn’t lose because Party laundry went public, he lost because he ran a poor campaign. I remember my grandfather talking about having the same argument all the way back in the 1940s. It’s an argument well past its usefulness for winning elections, if it was ever useful for winning elections, and not just a facile defense against change.
The basic premise behind the argument is, “If people know how the Party operates, they won’t support our candidates”. The people who make this argument propose to solve that problem by hiding and lying about what goes on in the Party. Some say “just until after the election”. There’s always an election coming up. Under that logic, the problems in the Party never get addressed. Instead of hiding and lying about it, we should own the problems, address them directly, and fix them. In a democracy, we control how the Party operates. We can fix these problems. Easily if the establishment will accept democracy, harder if they insist on holding on to old, undemocratic practices (click on the link for the definition of “establishment”, it’s not what many think).
In the information age, nothing stays hidden and lies get exposed. The lie and hide strategy was kinda-sorta plausible up to the early 1990s, then the internet and other technologies took off, getting more and more sophisticated every year, connecting more and more people, providing an information platform with massive reach to most people in the country, including those without significant money, resources, or power in society. In this new environment, the lie and hide strategy is not even marginally viable.
People aren’t stupid. When the Party seats (give a vote to) unelected proxies before elected representatives, or undermines proportional representation – people notice.
The old guard of the Party may not notice anything amiss. It’s just, “The way we’ve always done it.” Almost to a person, these are good people who inherited a system they’ve not really questioned. Why should they? Their predecessors, friends and mentors and people they admire, did it this way. They don’t see any pressing reason to examine those practices or change them. This doesn’t make them bad people. A very few of them do know exactly what they’re doing, they are bad people, but their numbers are tiny.
New people don’t see it that way. Every time something like that happens to a new or relatively new member, or they see it happening to someone else, it stokes the embers of distrust they have, because the Party has a reputation for cheating and corruption. It doesn’t matter if the reputation is deserved or not. This perception is widespread across the electorate and the public more broadly. The lie and hide strategy has already failed. The fact that these problems persist in the Party is direct evidence that the reputation is deserved in some measure.
This rule-breaking and abuse has real-world consequences. Nothing theoretical or abstract about it. For example, if we followed the rules, progressives would likely win three, perhaps four seats on the DNC when they next come up for election. By breaking the rules to sabotage proportional representation, the establishment will likely steal one or two of those seats from progressives. In combination with unelected proxies sidelining elected representatives, they may steal more. Similarly if they run a slate of Sanders delegates for the National Convention, they’ll likely steal between two and four of the delegates elected by the State Central Committee. There are other ways they can undermine proportional voting in the Congressional District caucuses, and steal National Convention delegates there as well (I’ll explain how in future post).
The lie and hide strategy has failed. The establishment doesn’t have any other strategy.
My strategy is to tell the truth. Be honest with people. Tell them upfront about the problems in the Party. Tell them there’s a movement for democracy, transparency, and inclusion in the Party. Tell them about the success we’ve had moving the Party in those directions.
We got a line by line review of the rules. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but all the changes State Central approved last year are in the direction of more democracy, transparency, and inclusion. The rules now have to be posted online (welcome to the information age), the Appeals Committee rulings also have to be made available – so we can see publicly how the rules are being interpreted. It used to be the rules couldn’t be found online, and the Appeals Committee rulings were kept in a lawyer’s filing cabinet – including rulings that changed the plain language of the rules, twisting them perversely. We vacated every earlier ruling of the Appeals Committee, so those twisted rulings no longer apply.
They might come back. The Chair of the Appeals Committee was recently re-appointed to another three-year term. He was on the Appeals Committee for years while the establishment was breaking the rules. He spent several hours bullshitting me about proportional voting, notice of elections, and other issues. He doesn’t believe in enforcing the rules that require proportional voting, or the ones that forbid the unit rule. He’s argued vehemently against enforcing them. He’s protecting the illegitimate power of the establishment.
We rewrote the Directive on Proportional Voting – which was riddled with errors in math and logic, and allowed leaders in the Party to use virtually any method of running elections they liked – including methods explicitly forbidden in the bylaws. Now we have the Rules for Voting and Elections which has the math and logic right, and allows only two methods for running elections, one for single-position offices (chair, treasurer, etc) and one for multiple-position offices (DNC members, officers-at-large, National Convention delegates, etc) – the only two kinds of offices in the MDP. The new rules for proportional voting use the most democratic method for calculating who wins how many seats – the old DPV used a method that puts a thumb on the scale for the largest coalitions at the expense of smaller groups of voters. We made many other changes leading to a more robust democracy in the Michigan Democratic Party.
These aren’t just progressive victories. They’re victories for democracy, transparency, and inclusion in the Michigan Democratic Party, and by extension of influence, the National Democratic Party. Every member of the MDP can be proud of the progress we’ve made, regardless of ideology – unless they’re anti-democratic.
At the February 2nd Convention earlier this year, for the first time in decades, we enforced the rules on proportional voting correctly across the whole Party. I was so proud of the MDP that day, I don’t know how to put it in words. Shout out to Ryan Covert especially, he did a great job. Some people get excited about sports, I get that kind of excited about democracy in action.
A few months ago, the Party started accepting free memberships online, a good step towards putting an end to the culture of shaming people who use the free option. The data team I ran for the Dana Nessel campaign signed up two-thousand members to the MDP, partly because we had a great progressive candidate that people believed in, and partly because we made free online signups easily available and had the data infrastructure to manage them. We were part of a movement that signed up more than three-thousand completely new members, people who had never signed up before.
The Party is moving in the direction of greater democracy. But we have to do better. Many of those that signed up for the Nessel campaign want nothing more to do with the Party than absolutely necessary. Largely because of the Party’s reputation for corruption and cheating. These people were dedicated. A great number of them fought their way through an ice storm to get to the endorsement convention, then knocked doors and made phone calls to elect someone they believed in.
When we sabotage proportional voting, seat unelected proxies instead of elected representatives, appoint a Chair of the Appeals Committee who’s against enforcing the rules, shame people for using the free membership option, tell new members (and some not so new) to “wait their turn” to run for something – or any number of other anti-democratic behaviors widespread in the Party, we drive people away from the Party.
I want us to stop driving people away from the Party. I want more democracy, where we get to vote on who represents us, and not have them sidelined for someone who wasn’t even a choice on the ballot; where we don’t sabotage proportional voting to hand a few people more voting power than they can win under the rules; where we explain all the rules for elections before election day, so people can prepare appropriately; where the rules are enforced fairly and consistently.
In the present informational environment, more democracy, transparency, and inclusion is the only way to grow the Party by significant numbers. I want to grow the Party by the tens and hundreds of thousands. That’s what we need in order to fight the right-wing authoritarians, misogynists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and worse flooding our politics. We can’t lie, hide, and sweep the problems in the Party under the rug anymore. Authenticity and honesty are powerful political weapons against the dark ideological underbelly of our culture. They aren’t the only weapons we need of course, but they’re weapons we cannot wield until and unless we own the problems we have, and openly work to fix them. Rebuilt public trust in the Democratic Party.
Authenticity, honesty, and truth are critical weapons in the information age. Against the dishonesty, distortion, and bad faith from our opponents and enemies, they are crucial and irreplaceable. There are no substitutes.
This is my strategy for growing the Party. Authenticity, honesty, and truth. Own the problems in the Party. Address them openly and directly. Fix them publicly. Explain what we’re doing to potential members, and ask them to join us, ask them to be part of the solution.
That means taking some power away from those who have more than they could win in a fair and democratic process. Some of them will join us, but many of them will fight for their illegitimate power. They’ll argue that, “we’ve always done it that way.” They’ll try to convince us that it’s ok, because that’s what the rules say, while the rules sideline elected representative in favor of unelected proxies. They’ll try to gaslight us with twisted interpretations of the rules, like the Chair of the Appeals Committee tried with me. They’ll use anything they can think of to dissuade us.
All we have to do is focus on being honest about what constitutes democracy, transparency, and inclusion – and we’ll win. Not immediately, but sooner than you might imagine.
I invite anyone who believes in this strategy to join me in owning the problems we have, addressing them directly, and working to fix them – openly, publicly, honestly.
Here are some things you can do to help.
- If you haven’t yet, join the MDP. Donate and join or join for free.
- Join us this Thursday (7 Nov 2019) at MDP HQ at 606 Townsend, Lansing. There will be a rules committee meeting at 7pm, focused on the proxy problem. The meeting is open to the public.
- Like and follow our Facebook page.
- Subscribe to our YouTube channel; we have a growing series of videos on MDP rules and culture. Here’s one about precinct delegates.
- Subscribe to our podcast, State of the Revolution. Recent guests include Michigan AG Dana Nessel and Pelosi challenger Shahid Buttar. Subscribe on RSS | Spotify | Apple Podcasts | Stitcher | Google Play | Pocket Casts | Patreon
- Support us on Patreon.
- Get in touch directly: Liano at michiganprogressive.com. We’re looking for writers, audio/video production folks, and WordPress gurus.
We win this fight together, or not at all.