Unity isn’t easy. Especially among idealists.
Sometimes, we Democrats even ugly cry in front of everyone. Sometimes we get so caught up in our candidates that we forget to move on when the primaries or intra-party battles end.
Like, for instance, at the California Democratic Party state convention, where it all gets captured and broadcast to the whole world. And where I attended this last weekend as an appointed delegate of Gov. Jerry Brown.
I wasn’t there in 1992, but I remember when Brown’s delegates shouted on the national convention floor, “Let Jerry speak!” in a refusal to acquiesce during his bid for president, where, ultimately, Bill Clinton became the nominee. Letting go wasn’t easy then. It never is.
Last weekend, Sacramento was beyond raucous. There was a hotly contested race for party chair, something that hasn’t happened since anyone around could last recall.
Eric Bauman (who I openly supported) — a longtime party advocate and leader of the Los Angeles County party — was up against San Francisco-based Kimberly Ellis, the first African-American executive director of Emerge, an organization that trains female Democrats to run for office. Ellis was favored by many in the Bernie Sanders camp.
The divisions from the Clinton-Sanders battle seem like they have a way to go before they are healed. The Berniecrats were out in full force, with nurses protesting as National Chair Tom Perez was introduced by outgoing Chair John Burton, who warmly suggested that the protesters “shut the f–k up and go outside.”
(Now, did that help set a tone of togetherness? Maybe not, but Burton is 84 and he helped define what it means to be progressive. So, to me, he gets a pass when he tells us kids who think we know what being “progressive” is to get off his lawn.)
Ellis passionately argued that we need to redefine what it means to be a Democrat. Bauman argued that we already know what it means to be a Democrat, we just need to practice it. So what does it mean to be a Democrat?
For one thing, we are idealists. We don’t just proclaim our values, but we also ask, “What is the best way to make it so, right now?” This is where it gets hard.
If you sign up for the Democratic Party, you are at least acknowledging a platform that is heavy on the ideals of our Founding Fathers — however poorly some of them may lived up to them, and however imperfectly they have been practiced since.
You believe that women have certain rights over their bodies. You can’t understand why anyone else would object to same-sex marriage, or why someone wants to deport your Muslim neighbors. You can imagine the excruciating pain of a mother who lost her son at a traffic stop, or the determination of a parent to make a better life for their child. Or you know what it means to fight for fair pay and working conditions. And you don’t think that corporations are people.
You aren’t a sheep. You know we don’t always elect stellar candidates, but sometimes, we hit it out of the park, and if nothing else, we almost always hold the line against the Koch brothers, who have unlimited heavy artillery and use it strategically. At least, that’s how I see our party.
We don’t reflexively support candidates whose only goal is to protect the 1 percent, even if their agenda is wrapped around a shiny plastic-coated bible: An agenda that is as plain as the lines on a 1957 Airstream trailer, and where pushing the “YES” button to implement the 1 percent agenda is as simple as operating an Easy Bake oven.
You are a Democrat. You know it is a big tent, and you can tolerate disagreement and you think that process is good. Your existence isn’t threatened by people who disagree.
Except when it actually is. Like when you aren’t white, and you are living in a time where our president has emboldened the KKK. Or when your health insurance or food stamps are your lifeline. When things are dire, like they are now.
Here’s what the Vermont delegates said on the convention floor when they cast their voice vote on the floor last year: “Twenty-two votes for our beloved Sen. Sanders and four for the next president, Hillary Clinton.” They could have said a lot of things. But they took the long view. Unfortunately, many of Bernie’s supporters didn’t follow that lead, and still aren’t.
Until we learn to be more like the Vermont delegation that day, we won’t get anywhere. Republicans love nothing more than our internal squabbling, because as long we are stuck there, they win. And policies that harm those who may be less privileged than ourselves will cause more suffering than we may know. That’s the result when we don’t eventually move on. I’m not saying that it’s easy to do. But it is necessary.
Maureen Erwin is a Bay Area political consultant. Most recently she led Sonoma County’s Measure M, which will create the largest GMO-free growing zone in the U.S.