Part of the reason for the decline in turnout of voters of color is that "the Democratic spending in the 2016 election focused enormous resources on white voters to the relative neglect of people of color." Steve Phillips, founder of Democracy in Color was quoted in the Autopsy Report as saying, "In spring 2016, when the progressive independent expenditure groups first outlined their plans for $200 million in spending, they did not allocate any money at all for mobilizing black voters." The Autopsy continued, "While officials did spend some token funds on radio and digital outreach to black voters, major financial support for the sort of door-knocking and phone-ringing that has been crucial in countless races was limited -- this despite the fact that a grassroots, person-to-person ground game is proven to be the most effective tool in getting work-be voters to the polls."
In addition, the Party refused to give Albert Morales, the Hispanic Engagement Director at the DNC, the $3 million he proposed to raise voter turnout in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Texas. He ended getting about $300,000, and it all went to radio. "I just asked for what I needed," he was quoted as saying in the Autopsy. "It was just pitiful."
Right now, the typical white family is 16 times wealthier than a black one, and African Americans are the only U.S. racial group earning less than they did in 2000. Also, one in four Native Americans live in poverty.
The Autopsy recognizes that "Communities vote for policy proposals that address the realities of their lives, and thousands of activists are at the disposal of any presidential candidate who can convincingly respond to a racist criminal justice system and extreme economic disparity." But the DP has been spending its money to get that elusive "moderate Republican" vote. "The party's spending to fight against voter suppression laws that particularly affect communities of color and party spending for automatic voter registration are dwarfed by the idea that Democratic candidates can get into office by courting the affluent suburban white voters, taking for granted the vote of people of color."
JB: A sad tale, on many fronts. I'm assuming that this was all spelled out in the Autopsy Report. What concrete proposals were made to turn things around? We often talk about the president's base being fearful. But it seems that centrist Democrats and the DNC specifically are also extremely fearful of change, and fearful of the progressive agenda altogether. Was the Sanders campaign just a mirage? How can activist Democrats use this report to push for real change without the Democratic establishment completely flipping out?
PG: The Sanders campaign arose from a quest of the American populace for economic justice in an age of obscene appropriation by the wealthy of the remaining public resources of the earth, to the detriment of human life and in the face of environmental catastrophe. In 2016, the policies and outreach of the Democratic Party caused many voters who seek human dignity to just stay home. But progressives activists have been motivated to renew our efforts to wrest the power of legislation from the big money interests and reclaim it for the American working person and for those who can't work. Bernie Sanders articulated our aspirations for a meaningful life and spoke truth about the politics of greed. But with or without Sanders, we are systematically organizing to find and elect representatives who will be responsive to the needs of the 99%.
The Autopsy Report can be used by activist Democrats as an analytical tool and a catalyst. It assesses crucial problems and points the way toward solutions. It can be used for outreach, stimulating discussion and pushing for change.
Here are a few key proposals from the Autopsy Report:
- "The party must make up for lost time by accelerating its very recent gear-up of staffing to fight against the multi-front assaults on voting rights that include voter ID laws, purges of voter rolls and intimidation tactics."
- "The DNC should commit itself to scrupulously adhering to its Charter, which requires the DNC to be evenhanded in the presidential nominating process."
- "Because the superdelegate system, by its very nature, undermines the vital precept of one person, one vote, the voting power of all superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention must end."
- "The party should avidly promote inspiring programs such as single-payer Medicare for all, free public college tuition, economic security, infrastructure and green jobs initiatives and tackling the climate crisis."
You ask whether centrist Democrats and the DNC fearful of change or of an agenda that would prioritize human needs and getting big money out of elections and the legislative process? I don't know; we'll see. Right now, I'm in Washington D.C. to attend the public meeting of the DNC Unity Reform Commission, formed to make recommendations about the presidential nomination process. On December 1, just seven days before the meeting, the DNC finally published the place of the meeting. The DNC didn't publish the time of the meetings until less than 48 hours before the meeting is to start. In the December 1 notice, the DNC said, "We pride ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming to all." But people are beginning to question whether the DNC is trying to discourage/prevent the public from showing up at the final Unity Reform Commission meeting where decisions will be made.
JB: It sounds like "same old, same old" from the DNC: Saying one thing and doing something quite different. Tell us more about the superdelegates and why you want to rid the party of them. Are they the modern equivalent of the smoke-filled back rooms where candidates were chosen and political futures were decided? What happened in 2016 with the superdelegates that makes this concept so toxic to so many?
PG: Superdelegates, or unpledged delegates, are mainly present and former elected Democratic officials and DNC leaders who automatically become delegates to the national convention with the power to cast a nomination vote for whichever candidate they wish, regardless of the results of any primaries or caucuses. The scheme is contrary to the democratic premise of one person, one vote since the preference of the voters at the state level is diluted through the involvement of unpledged delegates. In 2016, there were 712 superdelegates -- 15 percent of the total delegates. According to the Sunlight Foundation, at least 63 superdelegates were registered as lobbyists.