As we know all too well, those of us believe that the Democratic Party can't be both the party of the people and the party of Goldman Sachs lost the last presidential nomination contest. So far as the future goes, though, we won the debate: An estimated 70 percent of under-30 primary and caucus voters voted for Bernie Sanders. All of this will count for little, however, if we can't institutionalize it. Which makes Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison's campaign for chair of the Democratic National Committee the most important event to occur in that organization in decades.
Many people who follow this sort of thing at all may have picked up on the announcement that Bernie Sanders was supporting Ellison, who co-chairs the Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives. But it's the broadening of the Ellison base beyond the in-itself considerable Sanders wing of the Party that makes the story really interesting -- starting with the labor movement. During the presidential primary season the AFL-CIO was famously neutral and we might say that Sanders was lucky to even get that, given the aura of inevitability that surrounded Hillary Clinton's candidacy in Democratic Party higher circles. No neutrality this time around, however. In announcing the organization's endorsement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka cited its belief that the "proven leader" Ellison will "focus on year-round grassroots organizing to deliver for working families across America."
As anyone with grassroots political experience knows, while organized labor's strength may be greatly diminished from its highpoint, its organizing capacity still outstrips any other element of what we might loosely call "the left." And Ellison's support in that quarter is not limited to the big federation at the top; he also has the endorsement of the United Steelworkers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the American Federation of Government Employees, as well as the heads of the American Federation of Government Employees, Communications Workers of America, National Nurses United, Amalgamated Transit Union, American Postal Workers Union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the American Federation of Teachers.
Even more interesting is Ellison's support in the U.S. Senate. We're maybe not so surprised to see Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken backing him -- after all, like the AFL-CIO they might logically have been expected to support the Sanders candidacy on the merits, were it not for Clinton's presence in the race. The endorsements of outgoing Minority Leader Harry Reid and incoming Leader Chuck Schumer are, on the other hand, quite another thing. These Senators are, after all, hardly what we would call "men of the left." But if there is one thing these guys do know it's how to count votes. "Sanders got more under-30 primary votes than Clinton and Trump combined? Well maybe his guy should run the party!"
We also see other prominent figures falling in line behind Ellison, like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, another one who would have seemed a likely Sanders supporter, but for his personal ties to Clinton. But make no mistake about it, all this early support notwithstanding, this is still very much an uphill fight. First, there is the opposition -- the main competition appears to come from outgoing Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, a man with a generally good reputation and a candidate seemingly made for those who think that the Party can -- and should keep trying to straddle the Main Street--Wall Street divide.
The bigger problem, though, may be the electorate -- the Democratic National Committee is, let us not forget, the group primarily responsible for the Clinton candidacy. They were the source of the super delegates that gave her a several hundred-delegate lead before the first vote was even cast, which provided the basis for the "resistance is futile" message that so many in the news media dutifully spread. The hard core corporate types on the Committee are likely a lost cause, but the Chuck Schumer-types obviously are not. But these folks are going to have to be convinced that the Sanders phenomenon wasn't just the political equivalent of a summer romance.
How do we do that? We gotta organize. People have to take the trouble to find out who exactly are the Democratic National Committee members from their state and call em, mail em, text em, email em, or whatever. And they gotta know we're for real. You can bet, for instance, that after this past weekend's biennial Assembly District Election Meetings, there's a lot of California Assembly members, whose slates didn't cakewalk into the State Democratic Convention slots they expected, who now know that Sanders/progressive slates who beat them are the real thing. They do know how to count votes. And hopefully they too will realize that if you're looking the people to lead the fight against the Trump administration, that's where you find them.