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.

The Michigan Democratic Party establishment wants to ban recording any meeting of any MDP unit – from local clubs to the State Party. This is a push away from democracy and towards authoritarianism. Police states ban recording meetings of their leaders – not democracies. Police states ban recording meetings because they want to keep what goes on in those meetings secret. The establishment may claim they have other motivations, but the effect is the same – meetings are kept secret from the vast majority of Democratic Party members and the public alike.

Every Democratic Party member should ask why the establishment wants our meetings kept secret from anyone who can’t attend. What are they afraid people will see? Perhaps they don’t want people to see how they pack the State Central Committee with extra votes, or use the “unit rules” which is explicitly banned under MDP rules, or exploit the proxy problem to give the establishment extra votes (a system that explicitly discriminates against new members),or the way they don’t enforce timely notice, ensuring that only insiders know how each election will be run before the election is held.

The State Central Committee will vote on this proposal tomorrow, 7 December 2019, at UAW local 600, 10550 Dix, Dearborn MI 48120.

Here are my rough notes on the various reasons this is an incredibly bad idea, contrary to everything we ought to stand for as the Democratic Party, contrary to our rules that require open meetings, and contrary to our democratic values of transparency and inclusion.

Open to the Public?
Open to the public means anyone interested can see for themselves. Closed to the public means some of those interested can’t see for themselves. It doesn’t matter why some of those interested can’t see for themselves – because of a recording ban or because the meeting is officially closed to them doesn’t change the fact that as a practical matter, the meeting is closed to them.

In principle, everyone in the country can come and observe the proceedings – our meetings are open, at least on paper. In practice, we don’t have a space big enough for them. In practice, posting the video online is the only way to make sure everyone who wants to see it, can see it.

Making sure everyone who wants to see the meeting can see the meeting is what open to the public means. Otherwise we’re just putting obstacles between the purportedly open meeting and the public. The same way Republicans put barriers between the people and the vote, and for the same reason. Some Democrats don’t want MDP members or the public to see how the Party operates, because then they’d either have to stop operating like that, or get voted out of office. Like Republicans who don’t want the public to vote at all, because they’d be voted out of power.

The proposed recording ban would close our meetings to 99.98% of MDP members (15,000 members x 0.02 = 300 members, about the size of a State Central meetings when attendance is high). It would close our meetings to an even higher percentage of the Michigan public, 99.99997%. If we close our meetings to more than 99.9% of the membership, and more than 99.99% of the public, we’re just not being honest when we say our meetings are open. People will notice. People will see such action as an explicit attempt to hide what we’re doing – because that’s what it is.

Democracy Dies in Darkness
A democracy cannot endure without a free press. To be an enduring democracy, the MDP must be open to a free press. In the present media environment, a recording ban handicaps the free press. So many people obtain their news primarily in video form, that banning video recording significantly reduces the audience for information about the MDP. The only reason to restrict the flow of information about MDP activities is to keep those activities secret.

Banning video doesn’t keep the secret from everyone, just the vast majority – everyone who can’t attend the meeting in person. If you want to keep something secret, that’s a lot better than being open to the public. Open (but obscured behind a recording ban the overwhelming majority can’t see through) is effectively closing the meeting to anyone who cannot attend in person – MDP members and the public alike.

Millennials and Younger Generation Expect Online Video
Millennials and younger generations will make up about 40% of the electorate in 2020, and that will grow in 2022, 2024, and into the future. This is a critical demographic. If we want to grow the Party, we have to make it open and welcoming to younger generations. A recording ban sends them the message that we want to keep our meetings secret – even from most members. That message is the kind of thing that drives people away from the Party.

The younger generations grew up experiencing “open” and “closed” very differently than older generations, because vast numbers of them grew up with a video camera in their pocket, and so did many of their friends. They expect “open” to mean you can find the video online, not “if you can’t attend, you don’t get to see the meeting.” This is why city council meetings and legislative sessions are video taped and made available to the public online – and more are coming online every day.

Older generations often don’t think of open and closed this way, because when they were growing up, if you couldn’t be at the concert, you didn’t get to see it. Online video wasn’t an option.

Our technological environment is changing the way people think about what “open” and “closed” mean. Before we had cameras, there was a technological barrier to seeing a meeting if you did not attend. It wasn’t something anyone even thought about, save perhaps a few fantasists or philosophers. Today, that technological barrier is gone. A recording ban artificially re-imposes it for no good reason.

No Good Reason
The establishment claims some members were “uncomfortable,” “harassed,” and “intimidated” by some people recording meetings.

It’s important to combat that kind of behavior. The proper remedy is to file a complaint under our Code of Conduct. Banning one particular activity (recording) won’t stop intimidating or harassing behavior. To stop that behavior we should enforce the code of conduct, not ignore it.

Democracy is full contact politics. There are going to be times when some people feel uncomfortable, harassed, or intimidated. We must take such situations very seriously, and have procedures to address them properly. That’s what the Code of Conduct is for. We should not use such incidents as an excuse to have meetings closed to the vast majority of Democratic Party members and the public.

No Secret Ballots
There are no secret ballots allowed in the MDP. The MDP makes lists of who voted for what at state conventions. For example, who voted for Dana Nessel at the endorsement convention last year, or who voted for chair Barnes and for each of the other candidates for chair earlier this year. The MDP must provide these lists to any member who asks – otherwise it’s a ballot kept secret from the membership, and secret ballots are forbidden in the MDP.

If the recording ban goes through, State Central will have to record every vote and publish who voted for and against which issues before the Committee. Otherwise, it’s conducting secret ballots.

Transparency and Inclusion
We talk all the time about being “inclusive” and “transparent.” It’s hypocritical to preach inclusivity, and then exclude 99.98% of Democratic Party members, and an even higher percentage of the public, from our meetings. It’s not inclusive or transparent. It’s exactly the opposite.

What you can do:
There’s a coalition of MDP members working to bring more democracy, transparency, and inclusion to the Michigan Democratic Party. Get in touch and join us!

Join us at the State Central Meeting tomorrow, event page here.

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We win this fight together, or not at all.