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Jessa Lewis is a King County State Committee member in Washington State, Executive director of the Tenants Union for Washington State and was a Bernie delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Jessa talks about how progressives took over the Washington State Democratic Party and how progressives can take over other state parties
Rough Interview Notes
PCO precinct committee officer
With the Democratic party it's who shows up.
We had a 70% turnover on the state and progressives took control.
Having record numbers of people at meetings.
When people are that active it trickles up to the elected
We sent people like Pramila Jayapal to Washington.
How did that 70% turnover happen. Progressives were recruited to run for the PCO spots. Folks would identify which precincts were vacant and went around looking for Bernie signs. We had a 75% increase in people filing to be PCOs.
In King county I represent about 1500 PCOs.
Ballard in Seattle Washington had highest donations to Bernie in the US.
Supporting Keith Ellison. You can't have these marquis candidates and big donors and expect to win local elections. It has to be bottom up grassroots
The focus has been on governor" instead if it's neighborhoods picking candidates who represent them" people are going to turn out"
Rob: What's Ellison got to do with the bottom up, grassroots approach?
He was one of the Bernie people on the platform committee.
He knows organizing.
we're having record meetings where literally 100s of people are turning out to fight.
If we open the doors and allow this fresh energy in then we can win.
Rob: and yet you say that only about half of the PCO slots have been filled. We've had this success with just the 75% increase. I was elected over a very well liked incumbent because of the desire for change.
Rob: we're working on how to replicate what we've done in King county.
working with unions, immigrant groups, special rights groups"
Rob: how have the establishment Democrats dealt with this.
They're not part of the establishment now.
People are feeling a bit tense and people are, in these meetings, getting a little feisty.
Some have even said they've done their time and they withdraw their candidacy.
Overwhelmingly the new energy has been welcomed.
Rob: how's it working outside of the big city?
King county/Seattle is the largest population and donor base.
It's important to let people in the purple parts of the state to lead. If we come in respectfully asking what do we need to do to help you.
Rob; New leadership team at the state level. What's happening there.
We were able to get our progressive slate in for leadership-- a mix of Bernie and Clinton supporters.
There are only 4 elected spots at the state level. We retained two, one a Clinton supporter, one who opposes politics as usual.
It was more top down vs bottom up. This is a state that went 73% for Bernie.
We're hanging on to the house by two seats and we lost the senate. If we lose Washington, they have enough votes to hold a constitutional convention. with almost 2/3s of the states with both houses controlled by Republicans. We could lose control of our constitution.
Rob: Whew. Two thirds of states are needed to open a constitutional convention then 3/4s of states are needed to ratify.
If Democrats don't do their job and if we don't learn how to work together-- if we have one bad cycle, that could be enough. That's why I want to focus on the grass roots. The corporate, top down focus doesn't work.
Rob: What if keith ellison doesn't win.
Perez is no DWS, but that being said, the optics won't play well and it could be the final straw. I know people who say they'll leave the party if it's not Ellison.
If there's enough of a split in the party, if we don't get Ellison in,
Ellison is the unity candidate-- the best to heal the rift-- if we don't get Ellison in we could lose our democracy.
When the state saw that there was going to be a change the state became electric.
We had a donation fundraiser go out and usually the response is 1500 donations. We had one and there were over 10,000 donations in the first hour.
Rob: how would we do it PA?
you need to organize fellow progressives. Get organizers to identify fellow progressives. Get them to show up at local party meetings. Make sure that you recruit people so when it comes to election time you can get your committee people in. It becomes a numbers game. It's numbers and organization.
Connect with the state progressive org.
For each county create your own progressive organization that can fundraise, support candidates and get the numbers up so you have critical mass.
Look at a map, see where empty spots are. Start recruiting. Get them filled. Then when it's time the vote, you can win. In the democratic party it really is who shows up. If enough of our people show up, we can change how things are done.
Rob: How are things changing at the state level.
Having control at the state level the orgs lets us do things like try to make a state bank happen.
US Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell
Rob: How is this change affecting them?
Their offices are getting quite a bit of attention.
We're seeing some heat for the prescription drug measure-- both voted against it. We're starting to see them show up more to be more responsive.
Rob: you told me, in DC, that there's a message going to the senators that if they don't reflect the interest of their constituents they'll be primaries.
The mood is shifting from once you are elected you are safe to no, you have to represent your people.
Rob: Are either of the senators running in 2018.
Maria Cantwell is running for re-election and she has a real opportunity to show what she stands for. There are people organizing a primary. There are people passionate about that. There are questions about whether she represents the people.
Rob: Could Cantwell be primaried successfully?
That totally depends,
Rob: what words of hope do you have to give to listeners
I agree with the question, "are we in a tomb or are we in a womb." People are giving a damn right now. That's one of the most beautiful things. People stopped showing up with Obama. Now people have to show up. Even if things start to get dark we have to remember what we are fighting for.
Find more people like you. Find your people and hold tight and find other people and bring them in, When we
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