Daily Engagement: Encourage the Appointment of Keith Ellison as DNC Chair


Daily Engagement is a new, brief, daily feature on Flavorwire. It’s aimed at helping people feel somewhat less helpless and hopeless (or at least in control of their helplessness and hopelessness) in the midst of a political news cycle that’s been doling out daily affronts to human decency.

Every day, we’ll post one easy thing that people can do to continue to resist the current state of politics under the Trump administration, focusing on the creative ways (we are a culture website after all) that citizens are finding to resist.

This Saturday, the Democratic Party will convene in Atlanta to decide on the next chair of the Democratic National Committee, filling the happy void left by the ouster of Debbie Wasserman Shultz, following news of her primary election bias against Bernie Sanders. (The leaking of the news in question was, of course, apparently timed by Russian officials to weaken Democratic support in a bid to get Trump elected.)

In 2017, the DNC’s role is more important than ever, because this country will likely be a two-party system in perpetuity. As it stands, on the right we have the Republican Party, i.e a group largely consisting of egregious opportunists and bigot-enablers who’re proving they’re willing to undermine democracy and advocate for a dictatorial “President” if doing so helps their various policy agendas. On the “left,” we have the Democratic Party, which currently largely comprises milquetoast institutional politicians who believe in an obsolete political system of compromise that their opponents have abandoned. At present, the Democrats are centrists. They need to start representing the growing progressivism of their voters, both because we need to address the large empty space in American politics where the left should be, and because it is the road to electoral success.

During the election, Hillary Clinton swung further left than might have been expected, largely due to the pressures of rising progressivism in millennial voters, and their favoring of Bernie Sanders. As we need to remind ourselves, she did win over the majority of Americans; in part by lesser evilism, but also in part because some of her campaign promises were remarkably better than that of her 2008 campaign. But in a system this egregiously rigged to support the rural (and thus Conservative) vote via the Electoral College, we clearly need more, and the idea of returning next election to another able-but-equivocal (except as insomuch as hawkishness goes) politician like Hillary Clinton is disconcerting.

Regarding the upcoming vote — and potential for a shifted vision within the party — Steve Phillips writes in the New York Times, in an op-ed titled “Move Left, Democrats” that “if Democrats had stemmed the defections of white voters to the Libertarian or Green Parties, they would have won Michigan and Wisconsin, and had they also inspired African-Americans in Pennsylvania, Mrs. Clinton would be president.” He emphasizes that both of these populations — progressive white voters in MI and WI and African Americans in PA — were likely driven towards third party candidates by neoliberal economic shortcomings. (The irony of course is that if centrist democrats may be guilty of neglecting the working class, Trump’s “silent majority”-appealing, “telling it like it is” win continues — with its antagonism towards Obamacare, disregard towards climate change, adversity towards public education — to threaten the total evisceration thereof.)

One big step forward for the Democrats, then, would be electing someone with more across-the-board progressive values to head the DNC. Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison’s name has been circulating as a frontrunner for the position for a while, and right after the election, as Huffington Post explains, Ellison seemed like the only candidate with the momentum to earn the job. Now, however, his opponent — former Labor Secretary Tom Perez — has the influential support of the likes of Joe Biden and former Attorney General Eric Holder.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post in support of Ellison’s candidacy, New York mayor Bill de Blasio notes, “It’s clear to me that too many voters stayed home because they felt the election was more about personalities than the issues that affect their lives.” He then notes that the response to Trumpism following the election couldn’t be more the opposite — liberals have organized, been motivated, and showed up in masses to protest Trumpism and advocate for an intersection of social, economic, and climate justice.

De Blasio suggests that the “new mission of the Democratic Party must be to harness and build on this energy,” and notes Ellison’s firm protection of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. It should be mentioned that it’d also be meaningful for Ellison — the first Muslim elected to Congress — to be given an even more central role, given the harnessing of Islamophobia from the other side of the political spectrum.

Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, spoke with HuffPo in the article linked above, saying, “If Tom Perez were to win, the message that would send to the grassroots, to labor unions that endorsed Ellison before Tom Perez joined the race, [is] that their voices, their muscle, their enthusiasm and turnout doesn’t matter.” The article notes that Perez himself is more progressive than many other Democrats, but a fundamental divergence between him and Ellison is that the former supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was largely opposed by labor unions.

If the perpetuation of compromising centrism among Democrats is a concern of yours, and if you think appointing Ellison to head the DNC would be the beginning of the end of that long-lived trend, share your thoughts with the DNC’s comments line: 202-863-8000. I came across this number today on a friend’s Facebook account; her call went straight to a voicemail line (where they’re taking comments); mine went through when I made the call. From an article in The Hill, it looks like Ellison is already leading in support from a sampling of the 447 members of the DNC, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to express encouragement of his appointment, and fear for the state of the Democratic Party if they continue down a path of merely symbolic progressivism.

Per Vox, who explains the odd, massive, complex thing that is the DNC, of those 447 members, two leadership slots each go to the chairs and vice chairs from “state chapters of the Democratic Party in each of the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands” — and then state parties fill 208 more seats based on population size per state. So you could also try calling your state chapters as well.