When I started this blog several years ago, I intended it to focus on retirement issues. However I’ve written 40 posts on politics, 26 on feminism for a total of 66 political(in the broad sense)themes and only 33 on retirement life. I guess this is no surprise as one of the reasons I retired was to have more time for political activism.
I had intended to take a break from political blogging but could not resist responding to a post on the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus list serve.
Marc Stier contended that Party Chair Bob Brady’s attempt to force judicial candidates running for retention to pay $10,000 each to be on the party’s sample ballot is “not in the least bit scandalous.” I think Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Rudolph Garcia got it right:
I think it's outrageous that the party is, as I understand it, asking for $10,000 per judge," Garcia said. "I don't see why printing costs for sample ballots should be anywhere near that amount. This is one of the things wrong with our system, and why we shouldn't be electing judges the way we do.
Also working to reform the Democratic Party does not preclude dealing with broader social justice issues. This is not an either /or. Those uncomfortable with reform often make the argument that this is too small to be concerned about; there are bigger fish to fry. But there will never be a time when undemocratic practices in the Democratic Party are the only item on the progressive agenda.
I was surprised to read Marc’s warning: “I hope you keep in mind that killing a dying machine without thinking realistically about what we are going to put in its place is a recipe for disaster.” I don’t think our still relatively small group is in a position to “kill” the machine and cause a “disaster." The machine is slowly dying by a thousand cuts. The Progressive Caucus is trying to build the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. We are trying to develop a strategy for 2014, when committeepeople and ward leaders will be elected. Previous efforts in the past decade have faltered because we started too late. We are now starting years in advance and also working to ensure that abuses like the Tracey Gordon case will not occur again. How can we hope to recruit energetic progressives if we cannot assure them that if they win election they will be seated?
And of course campaign finance reform ( not so easy I know) has got to be part of the long-term strategy.
I expected that there would be progressives-- especially elected officials, would-be elected officials, ward leaders—who would not be favorably disposed towards a progressive caucus. When they’re with progressives they emphasize their progressive policy positions; when they’re with the party machine types, their inner ward leader comes out. I’ve seen a few elected officials do this little dance for years. They are usually good people with genuinely progressive instincts, but for increasing numbers of grassroots activists, this is not enough. We don’t want leaders who take progressive policy positions, but ignore(and sometimes defend/participate in ) undemocratic practices. We are not going to attract talented committed folks, especially talented committed young folks without cleaning up the process.
Also, Marc states: “For all its flaws, we do a better job of turning out working class people in this city than in most other similar cities. How, with a weakened party, are we going to keep doing that? No city in America has found a better solution than something like a traditional party machine.” I would like to see those statistics that the Phila. Democratic Party does a better job of turning outworking class voters than Party machines in comparable cities. The numbers I’ve seen on the Phila.gov website are really depressing.
Anyway, I sure don’t have the answer to the political mobilization problems we’re facing. That’s why the Progressive Caucus was formed-–to encourage more progressives to work within the Democratic Party to make the party more transparent, more “small-d” democratic, and by doing so to make the party more attractive( especially to young people) and thus increase participation.
There’s a connection between an undemocratic machine and failure to win elections. As Jerry Policoff put it:
There is a reason why the Democrats struggle to win elections in a majority-Democratic State. It is because of corruption and hack politics.