On December 7th 2019, the Michigan Democratic Party State Central Committee voted 122 to 36 to impose a ban on audio and video recording and still photography at all party meetings, from the smallest local club to the State Party Convention. This rule is discriminatory, exclusionary, and anti-democratic. This rule drives people away from the party. It hurts the party.
A new poll from Quinnipiac shows a disturbing trend – 51% of voters under 35 don’t trust the Democratic Party any more than Republicans to handle corruption in government (question 33). This as Republicans eviscerate the Constitution in a show of loyalty to their despot. Among voters 35-49, the number jumps 12 points – 63% don’t trust the party to handle corruption. Overall, 59% of voters say they don’t trust the party to handle corruption.
What does it say about the Democratic Party that – by a landslide – voters don’t trust the party to handle corruption in government? It says the party has a problem with corruption. A deep problem. A problem we should be addressing. Age is a good proxy for experience with the party. The more experience voters have with the party, the less likely they are to trust it to handle corruption.
Corruption is a very important issue to key Democratic constituencies. The same poll asked if corruption is “very important to your vote for president, or not?” Among 18-34 year olds, 87% said corruption was “very important” to their vote, tied with the economy. Nothing scores higher for this cohort – 87% is 4 points higher than healthcare, 7 points higher than gun policy, and 15 points higher than climate change. Among black folks, corruption is tied with race relations, 93% say it’s “very important” to their vote. Among Hispanic folks, corruption scores 7 points higher than immigration, 88% say it’s “very important.”
Government transparency is a key measure of corruption. The less transparent, the more corrupt the government is presumed to be, and rightly so – trust, but verify. Democracies are ruled by the people. To make appropriate decisions, the people must have accurate and timely information about their government. What their government is doing, what arguments their representatives are making, and how their representatives are voting. This ban makes it impossible – even in principle – for the 15,000 members of the Michigan Democratic Party to become and stay informed about what their party is doing or how their representatives are voting.
The new ban on audio and video recording and still photography imposed by the party establishment effectively closes all Democratic Party meetings to anyone who can’t attend in person – that’s 99% plus of the membership and an even greater percentage of the public. Continuing to call our meetings “open to the public” when they’re in fact closed to the overwhelming majority is rank hypocrisy. People notice, and their trust in the party takes a body blow.
Michigan Democratic Party rules, and DNC rules, prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, economic status, or disability. This ban discriminates against all of these constituencies. Low wage workers have little to no control over their schedules, often lack gas money or reliable transportation to attend even a local meeting, let alone one a few hundred miles across the state. Women, racial minorities, young people, and LGBTQ+ folks are disproportionately low wage workers, often working two or three jobs. Many people aren’t able to attend regularly because of their disabilities, relying on video to keep up with what’s happening in the party.
The practical effect of the ban, intended or not, is to specifically discriminate against working people, poor people, women, minorities, young people and the disabled. That’s practically the whole Democratic coalition – with the exception of the wealthy, and white men.
The reasons given for the ban are flimsy at best, or 50 years out of date. Proponents claim people are being “harassed” by cameras shoved in their faces. No doubt there have been incidents. The party instituted a Code of Conduct just last year, specifically to address harassment and similar issues – people should use it. Banning recording and photography doesn’t address harassment, it addresses recording and photography. It drastically reduces transparency and inclusion of the very people we claim to be fighting for as Democrats – from 100% of the people who want to be involved to just the 1% or fewer who can attend meetings in person regularly.
When transparency and inclusion are abandoned, democracy is abandoned.
Proponents claim they’re afraid of “nefarious” recordings that can be cut and spliced to make the party look bad. Fifty years ago, a recording ban would have protected against that. Today, anyone can buy a 1080 HD video camera built into a pen for $30 dollars on Amazon, with free next day delivery. If nefarious people want to record Democratic Party meetings, the only way to prevent it is to stop and frisk everybody at the door, and confiscate their electronics. Even that won’t stop the nefarious if they’re determined. The ban doesn’t discourage recording and photography, it only discourages open recording and photography.
The ban is proof that while the establishment says they’re fighting for the disadvantaged, they’re not going to listen to the disadvantaged when it comes to party decision making. It says the Democratic Party is here to “help,” but the party won’t pay attention to the people being “helped.” This is savior behavior – the privileged 1% know what’s best for everyone. No need to hear what the community has to say about it. It fails to make many individuals into an ‘us,’ and instead makes what should be an ‘us’ into an ‘us and them’. It’s othering and patronizing. It destroys solidarity among party members and the public. Undermining solidarity between systematically disadvantaged and differently advantaged constituencies is how Democrats lose elections.
The ban is security theater, a show the establishment is putting on to make themselves feel powerful in a world where they can’t control what information gets out, what videos get cut, what photos are taken, or who joins the party. In our technological and media environment, the only defense against a video edited to make Democrats look bad is a full video of the meeting showing what really happened. If the real reason for the ban is nefarious video editing, the establishment is shooting the party in the foot, and leaving us defenseless against the very thing they claim the ban protects us from. They’re either lying about the reason for the ban, or they’re 50 years out of touch with reality. Possibly both. I don’t claim to know which.
The ban shreds the party’s credibility on corruption, a top tier issue for voters. The policy targets minorities, women, young people, workers, poor people, and the disabled with discrimination – along the way, violating party rules 2.8 and 2.10 (look them up here). The ban doesn’t address “harassment” at all, and makes us more vulnerable to nefarious video editing, not less. Meanwhile, the policy hurts the party with every constituency – except white men and the wealthy. It’s a sucking wound that will only get worse.
For the good of the party, it must be rescinded.
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