Fixing the California Democratic Party, Starting Locally
At the national level, an uphill effort to get Howard Dean elected as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was going on. He was opposing the Clintonesque/centrist status quo, which clearly wasn't working. But power structures are not easy to change.
Around California, many of us were talking about how to help out the party from the bottom-up. One way, we found out with great difficulty, was to become delegates to the state party. The road to this was not easy to find; it was a bit of an insider's club that we were trying to infiltrate, in a sense. We discovered that arond the state, there are 12 delegates to be elected from each state Assembly District, elected in January of odd-numbered years with terms running for two years.
Back then, I did not belong to any political party, because at the time I felt, like so many others, that the Democratic Party did not really represent me. I had toyed with joining the Green Party for a couple of years but had never gotten around to changing my registration. But with this opportunity around the state and the nation to infuse the Democratic Party with some life-blood, I jumped at the chance, along with many activists I knew, to become a delegate representing our area. I joined the party, and figured out how to get myself on the ticket for the January election as a delegate.
Any registered Democrat can run for a delegate position, but it's a strange kind of election, because the people who vote are the people who know to attend the meeting at which the election is held. I had never heard of such a meeting; I'm sure very few people who read this have either! No wonder it felt like such an insider's club!
Fortunately, several other activists and I were able to be elected as delegates. Shortly thereafter, Howard Dean was elected as Chair of the DNC, which meant that there was certainly opportunity for change coming from the "top". But I didn't realize how much the potential for change from the bottom was, until I attended the California Democratic Convention in April of 2005. About one-third of the delegates were new, coming in from the trenches. I recognized dozens of activists whom I had encountered in the 2004 election cycle from around the state as new delegates. And we weren't just going to sit around and wear funny hats and listen to political speeches; a gigantic Progressive Caucus was formed that was poised for action.
Now that nearly two years has passed, I'm glad to see what we have accomplished nationally with Howard Dean at the head of the Democratic Party. The state party has not done so well. Yes, the party platform is definitely more progressive than it was thanks to our work as grassroots delegates, but look at the election outcome. Only Jerry McNerney was able to overcome an incumbent Republican; strong candidates like Charlie Brown, Francine Busby, and Bill Durston didn't do as well. Schwarzenegger wiped the floor with Phil Angelides. Most of California is a deep shade of "red", while around the country, states are much "bluer" than before. The leadership of the state party, firmly entrenched, did a terrible job. So we need to keep working on that.
I will be running for delegate representing the 16th Assembly district again. I think we can continue to make some progress, but we need to get more progressive delegates in place across the state. To anybody reading this in the area who is interested in making a difference, please contact me ("dan" followed by the current year at karelia dot com). Being a delegate is incredibly rewarding and interesting!