Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Newly Revitalized Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus

The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus (PDPC) was formed in Fall, 2010. For me, the inspiration was the PA Democratic Progressive Caucus which was born at the PA Democratic State Committee meeting in June, 2010. I eagerly signed up as one of the founding members and started thinking about how to go about this in Philadelphia.

Later that summer something happened which brought home to me (and quite a few others) that there was an urgent need for a Democratic Progressive Caucus in Philadelphia. Thanks to Holly Otterbein’s July 8, 2010 City Paper article “When Elections Don't Matter: The city Democratic Party doesn't always care what voters think” we learned that the Philadelphia Democratic Party had refused to seat Tracey Gordon, a duly elected committee person, thus allowing a ward committee to overturn the results of an election. If those of us who were committee people and thus representatives of the Democratic Party in our neighborhoods didn’t speak out, we would be complicit.

The Gordon case was the catalyst for the formation of the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to resolve this issue with Philadelphia Democratic City Committee, it was clear we had to take legal action. Attorney Irv Ackelsberg was willing to take Tracey Gordon’s case pro bono; we raised money for court costs and achieved a partial victory. The Party seated Gordon although she had to immediately resign as she had been appointed Deputy City Commissioner and was prohibited from involvement in partisan politics. Without the threat of legal action, it is unlikely Gordon would have been seated.

We also raised the issue at PA State Committee and came close to getting the 2/3 majority necessary to pass an amendment to the State Committee bylaws which would make such a miscarriage of justice much less likely.

After taking the Gordon case as far as we could go, PDPC ran out of steam. It’s much easier to organize support for an individual who has been treated unjustly than it is to organize around abstract principles of democracy and transparency. However, by supporting Tracey Gordon and bringing her case to the attention of State Committee, by developing a model of what a democratic, transparent ward should look like, PDPC made some progress.

Perhaps most important, by bringing together committeepeople from wards around the city, PDPC challenged the Party culture which sees each ward as its own little fiefdom with committeepeople having a voice only through the all-powerful ward leader. In response to being told, “It’s none of your business what happens in other wards,” our answer was that undemocratic practices and low-turnout in the 40th ward hurt us all. (Tracey Gordon ran for committeeperson to try to increase the dismal turnout in her ward)

By 2014, the caucus had dwindled to a small group of mostly elderly folks. It was clear that we would never succeed in making the Philadelphia Democratic Party more democratic, more transparent unless we attracted young people to assume leadership of the caucus and take it to the next level.

PDPC has recently elected a dynamic new leadership team, many of whom are currently Democratic committeepeople and thus well positioned to speak in their capacity as elected members of the Democratic Party. The first general meeting of PDPC under its new leadership team occurred on August 19 and was attended by over 30 people, most in their 20’s and early thirties and involved in local politics as Democratic commiteepersons and campaign workers. The meeting was devoted to plans for an ambitious voter registration campaign and a GOTV campaign to elect Tom Wolf as our next governor. The leadership hopes to build membership through these campaigns and be a real force in the 2015 municipal elections. PDPC also intends to be presence at the upcoming Pennsylvania State committee meeting in Philadelphia on September 12 and 13.

It is gratifying to see this revitalized PDPC with a group of young enthusiastic activists and an ambitious agenda for 2014, 2015 and beyond!

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