I’m a member of the Michigan Democratic Party, I serve on the State Central Committee, the State Party Rules Committee, and on the Executive Committee and Rules Committee of the Washtenaw County Party. I was elected by progressives from the 12th Congressional District and Washtenaw County to represent their interests in the Party. Since Bernie suspended his campaign, I’ve been hearing a lot of #DemExit talk from young people, progressives, and leftists. I respect that choice, but I think it’s the wrong strategy. Progressives and our allies should stand our ground in the Democratic Party.

The work of transforming the Democratic Party into a Party of the working class requires a cultural transformation. Standing up to the nastiness and the bullies is part of that cultural transformation. They think it’s ok to vote shame, demand everyone fall in line, harass you about your vote, and many other deeply undemocratic practices. The vast majority don’t realize they’re doing the work of authoritarianism. Democracy means standing up for the rights of someone who’s speech makes your blood boil, including how they vote. Your absolute right to vote according to your judgment is explicitly protected by both Michigan Democratic Party and Democratic National Committee rules. No one is more a Democrat if they vote Biden, and no one is any less of a Democrat if they don’t. Every member of the Democratic Party is a Democrat, period. Everyone in the Party – and the country – has an equal right to vote their conscience and their judgment.

Progressives are coalition partners within the Democratic Party. We’re partners with leftists, moderates, centrists, and yes, even conservatives. A coalition doesn’t just fall in line. A coalition negotiates with each other for support from the groups represented in the coalition. When a coalition partner doesn’t get enough of what they want, the coalition doesn’t get their votes. Progressives have been crystal clear about their policy goals for years. If our coalition partners aren’t willing to make serious policy and personnel concessions (appointments), they risk not getting enough support for their candidate – that’s how politics works, you have to give something to get something. 

Why should we stay? They’re mean and nasty and divisive, why should we put in the physical, mental, and emotional effort to deal with their toxic attitudes? 

First, because every political party has the same kind of nastiness. The Green Party has plenty of it. Every major political organization throughout recorded history has had this kind of nastiness, often right from their start. To suppose a new one wouldn’t is a fantasy. Are we going to build a 3rd party, only to abandon it when some of our coalition partners start being nasty? We should build more local, state, and nationally viable parties because that’s good for democracy. We should also stay in the Democratic Party because we’ve already made it move left and we can make it move farther left.

Second, until and unless a 3rd party becomes viable, the two-party system is the only practical path to power in the United States of America. Maybe the economic tsunami headed our way due to the coronavirus will spark an uprising that will create new parties, or overthrow the system, but we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket. In the absence of a major catalyst that really catches fire, it may take 10 to 20 years to make a 3rd party viable, and it may never happen, we just don’t know. If we want to change the direction of the country now, the most direct way is through the Democratic Party with all its problems. To move the Party, we need both an inside and an outside strategy. Inside, to make the party more democratic, more open to new members, less authoritarian, and push the Party left. Outside to open up political space for progressives, leftists, and socialists to move the Overton window and the Party further left. We have better arguments and better policies. With fair and democratic rules, we will win. In effect, we are building a new wing within the Democratic Party, that is not beholden to the establishment or their big donors. We’re building the democratic wing of the Democratic Party. 

Third, because they’re trying to deny you your rights. Under our Constitution, citizens have the right to participate in the distribution of political and governmental power across the country. Because the two major parties have, over the past 150+ years, collaborated to make it virtually impossible for a 3rd party to gain traction, the power distribution process begins in the two major parties. In practical effect, they have erected a wall around our government, with two doors – one for Democrats and the other for Republicans. Trying to push us out of the Party is an attempt to deny our right to participate in the entire political process, diminishing our role to merely marking a ballot. 

Why do I think we can win? Every state is different, so I won’t try to generalize across the country, let’s talk about here in Michigan. The Michigan Democratic Party is unique, or nearly so, in that any resident of Michigan, 16 years of age or older, can join and have full voting rights in the Party. That’s not the case in most state parties. Right now, there are only about 15,000 members of the Michigan Democratic Party. Only about 2,500 of them were typically showing up at State Party conventions before the progressive movement, now it might be a little higher, but no more than marginally. At many local party meetings attendance is under ten people to a couple dozen members at most. At most a few hundred come out to the bigger or more active county or congressional district conventions. Many are already with us, though not yet enough. Those are tiny numbers in a state of 10 million, recruiting and organizing enough new members to overwhelm their numbers is well within our reach.

Don’t let anyone bully you out of your right to participate in your government according to your conscience and best judgment. Don’t let anyone intimidate or shame you into voting one way or another. Come to your own decisions, and vote your conscience. That’s the only way democracy works. Once a faction understands they can intimidate or shame you into voting the way they want, that’s always cheaper than addressing your policy concerns – they’ll always choose the cheaper route if you make it available to them. Anyone who wants your vote should earn it. If they earn it, vote for them. If they fail to earn it, don’t vote for them. That’s how individuals and groups wield power in a democracy.

Anything less is abdicating democracy and empowering authoritarianism.

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We win this fight together, or not at all.