A Progressive Alamedan

Various writings from a resident of Alameda regarding the political scene. The local perspective of local, state and national politics and a few other odds and ends of local concern. May not be particularly interesting to people outside of the Alameda area.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Convention report: Progressive People vs. Patronizing Power

This last weekend, I attended the convention of the California Democratic Party (CDP), as a delegate (one of 14 elected plus a handful more appointed) representing the 18th assembly district (Alameda-Oakland-San Leandro). This is my take on what happened at this historic weekend.  (While reading this, you can follow linked names to their Twitter profiles!)

Rally for Healthy California

The weekend started out Friday afternoon with a big rally for the Healthy California Act, the single-payer legislation currently underway, S.B. 562.  The rally was highlighted by passionate speeches by RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United.  She is amazing, and pulls no punches. She correctly asserted that the Democratic party is “in absolute crisis and denial,” pointing to the hundreds of seats in legislative bodies that have been lost over recent years to the Republicans.

Alongside was Nina Turner, former Ohio state senator, self-described “angry black woman” who had been alongside Bernie Sanders during his campaign. I had heard of her, but seeing her in person is indescribable — she has a fire and charisma that is captivating. Some people are talking about her running for President in a few years. I’d be first in line to vote for her.

I had left near the end of the rally, missing the scene where the crowd went into the reception hall and disrupted the new DNC chair, Tom Perez (who is loathed by the grassroots).  This was the first of many instances where the power structure in the Democratic party was clearly on the opposite side of the grassroots.  If you want to hear the typical salty language from our outgoing chair John Burton — and get a sense of what he thinks about delegates — see the video in this tweet.

Bernie-crats final (?) reunion

One of our local delegates, Marga, had organized a YUGE dinner banquet for people who describe themselves as “Bernie-crats”.   DeMoro and Turner were there, as was progressive congressman Ro Khanna of Fremont, and RN Dotty Nygard, vying to turn the nearby CD-10 (Tracy) congressional district “blue.”  It was a loud and joyful event, and it was clear that the attendees were nearly unanimous in supporting S.B. 562 the Healthy California Act, and supporting the candidacy of Kimberly Ellis for chair of the CDP.  I have been campaigning for he since becoming a delegate. As it was throughout the convention, there were pink T-shirts everywhere!

Nina Turner quoted Booker T. Washington: “There are two ways of exerting one's strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” She warned us that we were probably going to be hearing a lot of anti-Trump rhetoric in the speeches, and to not get sucked into that as a rallying cry. We should be pulling up, not pushing down.

In retrospect, I almost feel like this was the “final” reunion of Berniecrats. Because something happened this weekend, which I will get to later, in which a large chunk of people who had been Hillary Clinton supporters, and were supporting Kimberly Ellis for chair, and/or were strong advocates for Healthy California Act, found themselves in the same boat as the Berniecrats.  By the end of the weekend, progressives were united regardless of their preference in 2016.

Candidate Speeches

Over the weekend, I ran across, either in person or giving a speech, quite a few candidates for statewide/national offices in the next major election.

For Governor, the front-runner is Gavin Newsom.  He gave an impressive speech, and from what he said, he’s very progressive. My only worry is that he almost looks like a Hollywood parody of himself (played by Matthew McConaughey).  He reminds me of John Edwards, who was the classic “Greek tragedy” hero with the fatal flaw that came crashing down. So it will be interesting to see if he can connect with the voting populace as a genuine person.

John Chiang is also running. He is currently California’s treasurer and formerly the Controller. I didn’t run across him this time, but he does have his supporters, and he would be good at the job.

Finally, we have Delaine Eastin; she was assembly member and Superintendent of Public Education in California a few years ago. I’ve decided that I’m supporting her (even if anybody’s chances of beating Newsom are slim). She is progressive and feisty, and I’ve been impressed with her — and wanted to see her as Governor — since I ran across her six years ago.

Lieutenant Governor has a few potential candidates. There was a lot of presence of Dr. Ed Hernandez. (He chairs the healthcare committee, so I was urging people to contact him to ask him so support the Healthy California Act.)  But I am hoping to see Gayle McLaughlin, former mayor of Richmond, become a full-fledged candidate. She has done amazing work fighting against the influence of Chevron. She is Bernie-approved… so she may make an amazing candidate if she decides to throw her hat in the ring.

A few of our DINO (Democrats In Name Only) representatives are seeing some serious resistance!  I met David Hildebrand, who is challenging right-winger Diane Feinstein in 2018. It is certainly an uphill battle since the California Democratic Party automatically endorses incumbents no matter how bad they are — a policy that Kimberly Ellis challenged as part of her platform. He is young, progressive, and energetic — I would love to see him go far.  And then congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (who, addressing the convention, ignored the loud outcries of “single payer!” while issuing platitudes about the need for the “public option”) is being challenged by Stephen Jaffe. (He wasn’t able to attend the convention but he was talk of the town. I hope to help bring him to Alameda some time!)

Me, with a few of my fellow AD-18 delegates

Patronizing Power

As I watched the candidates and party officials and statewide office holders like Alex Padilla, Xavier Becerra, and Fiona Ma, I was thinking about the Booker T. Washington quote.  I was pleased that not too much time was spent denouncing the idiocy of the Trump administration and the Republicans, but it certainly happened from time to time. When this happened, it felt like a cheap thrill to have the crowd yell and cheer.

While some speeches did have specifics — e.g. Gavin Newsom was unequivocal in his support for S.B. 562 — many contained general platitudes such as needing “universal healthcare” while not actually supporting the specific Healthy California bill.  Not OK by me!

One of the worst speeches was from Fiona Ma. Most of her talk was praising Bernie Sanders and his accomplishments and values — resulting in huge cheers throughout the convention (more cheap thrills) — and then not so subtly comparing outgoing CDP chair John Burton to Bernie Sanders. I was downright insulted by this. John Burton has nothing but contempt for delegates, and how he got to this position of power only speaks to the behind-the-scenes deals that get made. Every chance he got, he would use language that would make Robert DeNiro blush, demeaning delegates — especially the progressive ones.  While his language is a little bit funny at first, it was incredibly insulting to be treated like this. And unprofessional. 

It became ironic that the CDP, which kept using “resist” imagery — see the front of their printed program here, for instance — was actually turning into the establishment force that the grassroots were finding themselves needing to resist…

RoseAnn Demo, photo from National Nurses United

One of the highlights was to hear RoseAnn DeMoro address the convention — it shows that the progressives are starting to make headway since this wouldn't be possible a decade ago.  Worth a watch for a dose of honesty.

Her warning to the party leadership: "If you dismiss progressive values and reinforce the dynamic status quo, don't assume the activists in California and around this country are going to stay with the Democratic Party. Millions of people are hurting; we've never had a moment like this; we all need to embrace SB 562, and if we don't embrace that, then shame on us, because every death, every person suffering is your fault, Democrats! You've got the power; you've got the majority; you can do this!"

Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party

Saturday evening was the big election for CDP chairperson and other officers. Though Kimberly Ellis started out as the “dark horse” candidate against heir apparent Eric Bauman, it seemed like we had a chance at winning by the time the convention came .  Judging by the cheers for the candidates on the convention floor during and after their speeches, Ellis had at least as big of a group of supporters as Bauman, and probably more.  

We waited for the election results, and we were hearing updates on the count, that Ellis was in the lead as more and more votes were counted.  And then, suddenly, the final tally was announced with Bauman winning by just 62 votes.

The reaction was shock, sadness, but most of all, anger.  The feeling that the rug has been pulled out from under us. Rumors were flying everywhere, stories of oddities with the vote counting process, unlikelihood of a projected victory flipping at the last minute, of people not being allowed to observe the counting, of a big batch of proxy ballots coming in at the last minute, and so forth.  Kimberly Ellis spoke in front of her supporters, and did not concede the race.  She announced that her team was asking to examine the results because they felt there were some irregularities.

As people started to leave, either to parties (not me — I was sleep-deprived and not feeling celebratory) or to their lodgings, word was spread from person to person that we Ellis supporters should show up early Sunday morning to work on protesting the fishy results.  I was able to convince fellow Delegate Cheri to not just pack it up and drive home.  This was my seventh convention (I was a delegate 2005-2010), and while I haven’t seen anything of this magnitude happen before, I know from experience that there is usually some controversy that doesn’t get resolved until the last day of the convention, and that often the grassroots get stomped on because they leave early, letting the party old-guard who know the drill to stay behind and work against the grassroots’ interests.

Leaderless, angry progressives gather at 7:30 AM Sunday

Sunday morning, people started showing up, and it was fascinating to watch a leaderless protest movement come together. There were too many people for anybody to be heard by themselves, so several people started using the Occupy movement technique of “human microphone.” (If you aren’t familiar with this, watch this video. It’s important that people know how to use this technique —  It’s amazingly effective.)  People worked on gathering the 300 signatures required for introducing a bill on the general session floor.  Others organized a protest outside of a corporate Dem’s power breakfast upstairs in the convention center, ranting against his coercing his appointed delegates to all vote for Bauman. Others had brought marking-pens and large paper for people to make protest signs to hold up in the convention center.  I ended up helping create a bunch of signs that said “Validate the Vote” which you can see in some of the pictures on this LA times story.

Most people I spoke to expressed frustration that this keeps happening to the progressives.  Bernie Sanders having his success snatched away from Hillary Clinton (thanks to voter suppression, media bias, the AP declaring victory for Clinton the night before the California primary election, our Secretary of State campaigning for Clinton and making it so hard for no-party-preference voters to vote in the primary, etc.); Tom Perez being chosen for head of the DNC over grassroots-backed Keith Ellison, and now establishment Democrat Bauman, who had taken thousands of dollars from the pharmaceutical industry last election to help defeat proposition 61, being elected chair of the CDP.

The morning’s program was raucous and chaotic. Hundreds of people stood at the delegate-comment microphones, begging for “point of information” and “point of order” and getting shut down with derision by Chairman John Burton every time. Once in a while he would let somebody make their case, and then rule them out of order. Another protestor asked for a copy of the agenda so people could know when something would be IN order. It was clear that the deck was stacked against the grassroots.

Finally the issue of the election was addressed at the podium, and it was announced that the Ellis campaign had met with outgoing chair John Burton and presumptive winner Eric Bauman and that they would be allowed to have an audit of the election.  Still, there were hundreds and hundreds of upset people that didn’t feel like that was enough; it certainly didn’t resolve the problem right away. A highlight was when outgoing party controller Hilary Crosby (a progressive whom I helped get elected several years ago) addressed the convention and helped us feel satisfied that the audit will be real. I trust her, and because she was a supporter of Kimberly, being the one to convince her to run in the first place, I think that others will too.)

Eric Bauman finally came to the podium to speak to the delegates at the end of the program, and he couldn’t come close to addressing the delegation. The outrange in the hall was undeniable, and he could hardy speak over the yelling.  It was clear that the California Democratic Party is horribly divided.  That is when I left, to go to a nearby park with hundreds of Kimberly Ellis supporters, for a final goodbye and to learn that the Ellis team will be staying in Sacramento over the next few days to audit the vote.

What will happen?  Who knows.  If Bauman is indeed the valid chair, he has his work cut out for him in bringing the grassroots on board. I’ll keep you posted.

Stay Local

In the meantime, I encourage all my neighbors to get active and stay active on a local basis.  Our grassroots organization, Alameda Progressives — an offshoot of the Bernie Sanders campaign — is “young scrappy and hungry” and it would be great to have people who are interested in action at the local level.  Go check out the AP Facebook Page and click the blue Sign Up button to get email announcements of upcoming events.

Anybody reading this want to get my emails?  I send out occasional emails like this in my role as a delegate and also just a concerned citizen. Get on the non-spammy list at http://eepurl.com/4OA7j ...

Thanks for reading, and keep up the fight!


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