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Saturday, April 15, 2006

"Taking Over" Local Parties

NOTE: This was a big hit at both DailyKos and MyDD. Enjoy!

"Let us begin anew - remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness and sincerity is always subject to proof."

- President John F. Kennedy

Mike (of reminded me of several stories that fellow blogger Chris Bowers wrote over at MyDD on the reforms happening inside the Democratic Party in the City of Philadelphia. Chris recently became a ward captain in a system which is becoming increasingly composed of more and more reformers intent on changing the structure and operations of the stagnant and entrenched party. Of course, the establishment figures inside the party are freaking out, and conflict seems to be possibly looming (though Chris I'm sure can agree or disagree with this). I hope that the reformers will keep their cool and continue to push for change in a positive context, while the establishment will slowly begin to realize that change must be realized if the party is to move forward and be effective.

As I've said in a previous post, reformers are beginning to make themselves known in Florida's local parties, the Democratic Executive Committees, or DECs.

Let me say first that I am 100% in favor of comprehensive reform for Florida's local parties. Most (though certainly not all) are currently ineffective institutions with little political relevance to local and state politics (when they should be the most important in terms of elections and grassroots organization and mobilization.)

Many find out how bad their local Democratic Party is a combination of three main ways. They (1) either read about it (I personally remember reading references in Stupid White Men and Crash!ng the Party.) They (2) have been avid followers of Howard Dean, his presidential campaign, his subsequent organization Democracy for America (DFA), and the campaign to make him chair of the DNC (I personally have been apart of all three to some degree.) I think folks find out most often how bad their local party is by (3) showing up to a meeting and seeing its mind-boggling chaos and shouting heads first hand. These folks almost instantly realize that this is no way to run things - and they essentially become reformers (now also known as "Gate Crashers").To them the party must be "taken over."

Reformers (whether they are DFAers or frustrated newcomers) approach this disheveled institution in two ways. Unfortunately, the main way that I've personally seen is in open anger and frustration. When party leaders demonstrate their usual ineffectiveness, sometimes ignorance of an issue, or even sometimes outright arrogance, reformers lash out and try and verbally beat them to death. The second way, the path less traveled (again, from my experiences), is through steady, smart, and positive action. These reformers realize that they way to best reform an organization in the quickest and easiest way is not to wage open warfare, but to work with the leadership, and begin the process of reform. They know they don't know all there is to know because they read one book or even a few books or blog posts. They join committees (even though they know they're ineffective and don't do much) and begin to slowly but surely take over certain operations which the committee should be doing, while learning from folks who have done party operations in the past. If this is done by just a handful of reformers inside a DEC - the party has a very bright future.

Granted, these "takeovers" (I really don't like this term, to be honest, its more negative and seems to promote hostility) haven't been very organized. There usually isn't some sort of plot by an outside group (such as DFA, as many establishment folks would like to believe) planning a takeover step-by-step at some secret location. Often, reformers just pop in randomly. Unfortunately, such sporadic efforts do tend to create more unnecessary conflict. Those who seek change should try to loosely organize themselves (so as not to provoke establishment figures who may view such activities as extremely threatening, and act accordingly.)

To wrap this up, reform needs to happen, but reformers need to realize that even though they can probably do a better job, they're not experts. They must also know that the best avenue to change is through openness, friendliness, and tolerance. Granted, resistance is probably inevitable, but the smart reformer will use truth, combined with their friends and growing network to continue to gradually push for change. Reformers who believe that establishment leaders, who can be ineffective and frustrating, need to be "put in their place" by yelling, bullying, and intimidating them into submission, will be quickly rebuffed, and will find themselves increasingly marginalized.

The bottom line: those who best represent the values of the Democratic Party will be the ones who lead it.

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