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Changing the Party from Within?

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Early this year, a few people prompted me to run for committee person, including my registered independent roommate. Though I have been engaged in politics, and a member of the Democratic Party for 6 years, the thought really never occurred to me. Join the party hacks that do nothing and then collect $50 on Election Day to hand out pieces of paper? Why?

But it had sort of bugged me that I had never met my ward leader, despite being so active in PA Victory 04 - the coordinated campaign for Kerry, Hoeffel, and other democrats in Pennsylvania.

So a friend and I ran in my ward. Getting the signatures was no problem; it was fun to meet neighbors. In the city, you cannot just knock on someone's door to be friendly, so this was a way to meet people. Since it was freezing cold, people even invited us into their houses.

My goal was (and still is) to increase registration and voting in my ward. But after visiting 20 or so divisions on May 16th and seeing just how awful this city is when it comes to voting and polls, I realized that a good committee person is valuable two of them in the 39th Ward, one Republican, one Democrat, really inspired me.

A progressive woman who was running for Ward leader contacted me about supporting her. Though hesitant at first about upsetting the incumbent, I saw her as a positive change for a ward that is very fractured by racial divisions, a huge amount of new construction, gentrification, and a lot of bad feelings. However, the party did what they do best and got her to bow out of the race. That made me angry. If the current ward leader was doing a good job, there is absolutely no reason to fear having someone run against you, isn't that democracy?

Another person stepped up to challenge the Ward Leader. While she may not be the absolute perfect candidate, my encounters with her have been very positive and she definitely has plans to make the ward into a community: one of all races, ages, genders, and ideologies, not just her and her cronies.

My tendency is to never vote for incumbent: freshness is always important. Just like fish and houseguests after a few days, politicians tend to stink after a few years. But I wanted to give the current ward leader a proper appraisal before blindly voting for the new person. She had, after all, been pleasant to me every time we met.

At the beginning of the meeting, we called for a private ballot. Given that our votes are not publicly recorded, there is no reason for a role call vote. Our neighbors did not make us pledge to vote one way or another and aside from the people in the room, no one would know how we voted. A private ballot was the only way to ensure that people were not being pressured or paid to vote one way or another. We were denied that simple request because "we don't do things that way". No offense, but just because you don't do things a certain way doesn't mean you shouldn't! Tradition is sometimes bad.
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At this point, it became openly hostile. People were aggravated and upset. The room was freezing from too much AC. Some were having side conversations: people were clearly angry. Apparently some Committee Members stayed home because they got a "phone call". The Ward Leader also tried some, if-you-vote-for-me-I-will-call-city-hall-for-you techniques.

I surprised even myself by standing up and agreeing that the hostility really did nothing for the group. Instead, I wanted the current ward leader and a representative for the challenger (who could not be present because of committee rules) to speak about their vision for the ward, what they hoped to accomplish, why they would be a good ward leader. A representative for the challenger stood up and answered all my questions. She talked about uniting the ward and developing relationships with public officials to make sure we were heard in city hall.

Someone stood up to speak on behalf of the ward leader. Either he is very self absorbed or was grasping at straws, but every good thing he said about her had to do with what she had done for him personally. She helped me do this, she helped me do that. Great. So what has she done for the Ward?

Then the attacks started. People started talking about how the current ward leader disenfranchised almost half of her committee people. How she threatened and intimidated people, how she gets nothing accomplished for the ward. (Apparently our financial state is pretty bad. We haven't filed a PAC report in a long time and the treasurer is probably liable for some major money problems. Many committee people were not paid on Election Day and money seems to be missing.) This entire time, her supporters kept attempting to close comments, sighed loudly and finally succeeded in cutting off discussion.

I stood up again to try to get the Ward Leader to say something on her vision for the ward. She flat out refused and then called for a vote. So I voted for the only person that had ever bothered to talk to me about where the ward is going: the challenger. The current ward leader's jaw visibly dropped. (Why would I vote against someone who shares the same race, economic background, and education level?) But she didn't have to worry because she was re-elected anyway.
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We then continued voting on the next offices. Chair, Vice-Chair, Third Vice-Chair, Secretary, Assistant-Secretary, Treasurer. No one spoke about who would be good for the roles; anything that was contested went to someone who had supported the current ward leader. It was such a joke. If you think the US needs to spread democracy to other nations, you should check out our lack of democracy at homes. People clearly did not care about issues; they cared about whom they were friends with or how to get in good with the ward leader.

Most of the people there were disappointing. A few of them fell asleep. Another couldn't keep track of what we were voting for and when his name was called would vote for who the woman next to him voted for. Sad.

My ward leader and I are both are democrats. We both see the corruption in city hall as something to work against. We both want to increase voter registration and turnout. I went to her and told her I was disappointed by the fact she would not publicly announce what she wants to do to improve a ward that has poor voter turnout and poor democratic registration and explained I had some ideas for what we could do next. She actually gave me the hand; then she made it clear she was through with me and would not be involving me in anything in the future.

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PhilaDan is a first time Democratic Committee Person in Philadelphia.

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Changing the Party from Within?

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http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/news/14756452.htm... by PhilaDan on Thursday, Jun 8, 2006 at 9:33:57 AM
I am also a first-time Democratic Committee member... by Stephanie Frank Singer on Thursday, Jun 8, 2006 at 10:22:03 AM
These reports describe a culture that is undemocra... by Rob Kall on Thursday, Jun 8, 2006 at 11:16:26 AM
This is a good piece! As a Democratic Committee ca... by Stephen Crockett on Thursday, Jun 8, 2006 at 11:31:24 AM