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Shoot Out At the Last Chance Corral

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Well, judging by the response, the Empty Envelopes Campaign is a huge success. The emails I received were overwhelmingly positive, and the idea obviously tapped a source of unexpressed frustration, rage and grief -- and above all, the desire to communicate to our erstwhile public servants that we are not being fooled. Many, many people wrote to say they'd send a letter and an empty envelope, and others passed the message along to their downlist. Here is a typical letter sent out by Gail Wilson of Port Townsend, Washington:

Dear Doctor Dean,

I have long wished for a way that I could express my
deep disappointment and disapproval of the way the Democratic Party has
been drifting. Then last week I read in a letter from Steve Bhaerman
something that made me take heart: the Empty Envelope Campaign is such
a venue for giving expression to my thoughts and feelings.

Suffice it to say that I heartily concur with everything Steve has said
to you concerning the failure of the Democratic party to represent and
protect freedom in this country. To express that, I am sending no
"financial" political contribution in this envelope. My money will go
to the people and groups who are representing my beliefs and attempting
to care for my needs. This is a desperate attempt to get your attention
and turn you around and jar you into reality. It is sad that our party
has sunk to that level.

Gail Wilson
Port Townsend, WA

I also got a few letters saying I was taking aim at the wrong target in Dr. Dean, that he is trying to support rebuilding the grassroots of the Democratic Party as opposed to the "corporate" Democrats in the DLC and DCCC. One of the letters is from Miles Kurland, president of Sonoma County Democracy for America. Miles -- along with respected "un-commontator" Thom Hartmann -- believes there is indeed a battle going on for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, and the battle is between corporate and grassroots. Miles explains why he thinks Howard Dean, despite all external evidence, is with the latter. I am reprinting Miles' heartfelt, articulate (and long) letter below so that you can take his perspective into consideration and act accordingly.

Letter From Miles Kurland:

Dear Steve,

I'm sorry for the length of this reply, but I didn't have enough time to write a shorter one...

I understand the sentiment you express: I am frustrated beyond the limits of my patience with the reticence of elected Democrats to stand up in opposition to the Bush administration and congressional Republicans. Do not make the mistake of thinking that I am a Democratic activist because I am pleased with the Democratic party: just the opposite is the case. I want my party back.

In terms of the DCCC & DSCC, I'm easily as outraged as you. I'm president of Sonoma County Democracy for America, and I know DFA people in Illinois who were working their butts off on the Christine Cegelis campaign. I'm outraged that when there is an excellent candidate like Christine Cegelis on the ground that the DCCC steps in against the interests of the local party activists. We see the same thing in California's 11th CD with Jerry McNerney who is being challenged by DCCC-backed Steve Filson. Both Cegelis and McNearny were among a few "Dean Dozen" candidates in 2004 by DFA when Howard Dean still headed the organization.

No, you don't have to tell me to be angry about that. Or concerned. These are examples of a centralized party that's burning its activist base. These are cases where insurgent, grassroots candidates were shunted aside by someone that the DC insiders assured us would be a more 'electable' veteran. Where have we seen this before? It's not news to the grassroots activists working within DFA who remember when it meant "Dean for America".

And then there's the story of one veteran who showed real promise as a rising star in the Democratic party, Paul Hackett: squashed by the DSCC. The people of Ohio deserved a primary to choose between Hackett and Sherrod Brown but were denied that by inside party dealing.

But the inspiring part of the Cegelis story, which you left out in your message, is that despite the fact that Tammy Duckworth's campaign outspent Cegelis something like 6 or 7 to 1... and despite the fact that she had Kerry and Hillary and Obama fundraising and stumping for her... and despite the fact that the DC insiders predicted a landslide over Cegelis, who they regarded as a "weak candidate", Duckworth only barely beat Cegelis by about 2 percent of the vote: 43% to 41%. That's a pretty strong validation of the power of grassroots organization. If only the DC Democrats had put their faith and resources behind Cegelis and her local organizers in the general election... but instead they pissed off the activist base in Illinois which is inept and wrong.

So, yeah... a war is going on for the heart and soul of the party: I know because I'm on the front lines. And the war is between those who want to control the party from the top... because they "know what's best for the party" (and lose elections), and the local activist base... may not presume to know what's best for the party, but do know what's best for their neighborhood.

The story of this is well told in Armstrong & Moulitsas' new book "Crashing the Gate". I highly recommend it. (Disclaimer: I also designed the jacket to that book. Having said that, the reason I designed the book's jacket is because I agree with the book's message, not vice versa.)

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Steve Bhaerman is a writer, humorist and uncommontator who's been posing as cosmic comic Swami Beyondananda for the past 20 years. He is the author of seven books including Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There From (more...)

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