Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The not so democratic Philadelphia Democratic Party

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that young progressive Democrats are organizing. The Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus has the potential to become a real force in the Democratic Party and Joe Driscoll’s recent efforts to organize committeepeople is another potential game changer. He has begun with a Facebook group which he describes as:
This is a group for committee people of the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee. Members may invite elected or appointed Democratic committee people only. It's a forum for committee people throughout Philadelphia to communicate and share ideas.
Historically committeepeople in Philadelphia have never communicated much with committeepeople in other wards. The idea was to communicate through the ward leader, who communicates to the Party Chair. Most ward leaders have viewed each ward as a little island; communication has generally been top-down, vertical—not the horizontal communication Joe envisions. This is the first effort I’m aware of in my almost 3 decades as a committeeperson to bring together committeepeople across the city and to amplify the voice of committeepeople.

Now the bad news. The Democratic Party apparently continues to engage in undemocratic practices. Joe discovered that—unknown to most committeepeople--the party rules had been revised and a copy dated March 31, 2014 was signed by Bob Brady and submitted to the Board of Elections. According to the Party bylaws, the following should have occurred in order to revise the rules:
Should the County Committee at the time of its organization or at any subsequent regular meeting decide that the rules of the party should be revised or amended, the County Committee shall direct the County Chairman to appoint a committee on the revision of rules for the purpose of revising or amending the rules and direct the committee to make a report in writing to the County Committee at a later meeting. The date shall be fixed by the Chairman of the meeting and notices shall be sent to all members of the County Committee advising them of the date of the meeting called to receive and act upon the report of the committee on the revision of the rules and stating that at this time the committee will make its report to the County Committee and that the County Committee will act on the report.

The rules may have been revised without any of the above procedures followed—-thus no discussion of the rationale for the rules, no opportunity for ward leaders and committeepeople to raise objections.

Joe Driscoll highlighted the key changes in the March 2014 document. One of these changes is a real victory for democratic forces. From Joe’s summary:

Rule VII, Article 1, Section E was amended to include a provision which provides that when a ward committee is considering the removal of a committee person, actions conducted by a ward committee member prior to their election shall not be the basis of a removal. (Thanks to Irv Ackelsberg and Tracey Gordon).
Another erodes the power of committeepeople
Change 2
Rule X, Article 1 was amended to change the method in which State Representatives are chosen for nomination in Special Elections. It transfers the power of choosing State Representative nominees from committee people to ward leaders. In the prior version State Representatives would be chosen by a special meeting of the ward (if the district is comprised of one ward) or a joint ward meeting (where the district is comprised of more than one ward). The newly amended version provides that the nominee shall be chosen by ward leader(s) in which the district is comprised (corresponding changes in Rule X, Article 3, Section C).
But none of these changes can take effect if proper procedures for changing the rules did not take place. Over the years the Brady machine has gotten used to doing whatever it wants to do with very little scrutiny. Well, more folks are taking a close look at the Party's modus operandi.

Also, some party operatives have claimed that the rules were changed again after the May 2014 primary. Citypaper’s Jim Saksa reported that several ward leaders ( including Alan Butkovitz and Gary Williams) who do not live in their wards claimed that the rules had been changed after the May 2014 primary to remove the residency requirement that ward leaders must live in their wards. According to the Citypaper article, these ward leaders are mistaken:
The rules on file at the Board of Elections are unambiguous: Ward leaders must be registered to vote in the wards they represent. And the rules can't just be changed offhand — Pennsylvania Election Code states that party rules are not "effective until a certified copy ... has been filed in the office of the county Board of Elections."
But if Butkovitz thinks that "the rules set forth by the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee" are different from those filed at the Board of Elections, he isn't alone.
Williams said that the rules had been modified to remove the residency requirement after the last primary...

So we checked with City Committee chairman Bob Brady. Brady's staffers and Deputy City Commissioner Fred Voigt confirmed the Board of Elections had the official rules — the ones with the residency requirement — and that no others exist.

Saksa updated his article on December 31, 2014:

The rules were time-stamped March 31, 2014, but they weren't on file in the city Board of Elections, as required. Instead, they were in Commissioner Chair Anthony Clark's office in City Hall…. Kevin Kelly at the Board of Elections said the new rules were delivered to that office on Oct. 22, 2014.
Why would Brady revise the rules and then bury them in Anthony Clark’s office?

And were these rules revised according to procedures stipulated in the bylaws? In the past party leaders got away with a cavalier attitude towards the rules. Committteepeople for the most part have not had access to the rules and did not know what rights they had. That may be changing as a younger generation of progressives are paying attention and asking questions.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The last flower of 2014

The last flower of 2014

THE last flower in my garden this year is an early Fall blooming camellia that decided to put forth just one more bloom. Sometimes the last flower is a rose and I did have a few roses in early December. But a flower in late December is special.

I try really hard to have something blooming all year but that period between the last chrysanthemums in late November and the first snow drops in early January is a challenge.

Anybody out there whose garden has been graced by one last flower?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thank you Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren!

Thank you Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren for fighting the good fight and for alerting us to the poison pills in the $1.1 trillion spending bill dubbed the cromnibus bill.

Maybe it is the best bill possible, and as many Democrats claim, anything passed by the new Republican Congress would be far worse.

Yes, it contains funding for the Affordable Care Act in what will be a critical year for the future of Obamacare. This could be the year when ACA becomes an integral part of the safety net with a growing constituency who will fight to expand it. If it unravels now, it could be a long time before we have another shot at universal health care. Yes, the Affordable Care Act falls short of universal coverage but it is working much better than expected and if we get a Democratic President and Congress in 2016, there is the opportunity strengthen and expand ACA.

The bill also contains some good news on immigration. Although the Department of Homeland Security, the agency administering most immigration policy, is funded only until February 27, the bill contains new funding for immigration programs at other agencies. For more details, see break down of bill here.

But the price we’re paying is weakening of financial regulation and campaign finance laws. I suppose one could argue that there’s so much money in the political system now, how could it get worse? We’re about to find out.

And one could argue that it will be easier to reinstitute laws regulating derivatives and restricting contributions to political parties than it would be to resuscitate a defunded Obamacare.

We can undo this mess if we can ever convince those Americans–woefully under represented in the 2014 midterms elections-- to vote in 2016 and in 2018!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

I finally saw Fruitvale Station

I finally saw Fruitvale Station, a documentary about the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who was shot and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer in Oakland early on New Year’s Day, 2009.

The film came out around the time of the killing of Trayvon Martin and I felt I just could not take it. Since then we’ve had the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Akai Gurley.

I don’t think I would have watched Fruitvale Station if my son, who doesn’t have a Netflix subscription, hadn’t asked me to order it for him. There it was lying on the dining room table waiting for him to pick it up, so I decided to give it a try.

The film’s director, Ryan Coogler told the New York Times: “I wanted the audience to get to know this guy, to get attached, so that when the situation that happens to him happens, it’s not just like you read it in the paper, you know what I mean? When you know somebody as a human being, you know that life means something." Coogler succeeded. If we ever get beyond racial hatred and fears, we will owe a great deal to artists who help us get outside of ourselves and see the world from another’s perspective.

Coogler worked closely with Grant’s family to create an accurate portrait of Oscar's life, and with the exception of a little poetic license here and there, apparently did so. Grant was struggling to get his life back on track; the tragedy of his death and its impact of his mother, girlfriend, and young daughter is powerfully conveyed.

I think in some ways I was blocking my emotional response to the killings and Fruitvale Station broke through my defenses. If I were still teaching, this is a film I would definitely use in the classroom. For over three decades, I was always looking at books, articles, and films with an eye to their classroom potential. Old habits die hard. Although I have no intention of returning to teaching, I find myself still thinking about how a book or film would work in the classroom.

Just as we owe a great deal to artists like Coogler in helping us understand the costs of racism, we also owe a great deal to what we call the millennial generation, the most diverse generation in American history and more liberal on racial and social issues than previous generations. Barack Obama would not be president without them. Now they are in the forefront of the demonstrations against the recent killings.

Police involvement in racially motivated killing is nothing new in American history. But the killings have never before generated such broad-based outrage. Many Americans—-particularly young Americans--are in agreement with President Obama; "When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that's a problem..It's incumbent on all of us as Americans ...that we recognize that this is an American problem and not just a black problem. It is an American problem when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law."

If I were to use Fruitvale Station in the classroom, I would pair it with footage of the recent multi-racial demonstrations and with a film clip of President Obama’s response. Just can’t get out of the habit of making lesson plans!