won't you please come to chicago for the help that we can bring
we can change the world, rearrange the world
Crosby Stills Nash - Chicago
These mostly Millennial-age candidates may talk like, well, a bunch of Millennials, but, like, once you get past the cadences of their speech, it emerges that, like, they really know something about policy. They may not get everything right, but they are using their platforms to advocate passionately for a government that takes care of people and the environment, that sees human beings as more than just donations and votes, that can halt the damage from humanity's worst ecocidal tendencies (to borrow a word from Caity Johnstone). For that I salute these young candidates, even if they are running as Democrats.
Fifty years ago this month, a crowd of mostly Baby Boomers gathered in Chicago, in a mass demonstration against the Democratic Party's nomination process, among other things. Since then, the party has changed a lot, in multiple directions, but the net change has been for the worse. The Baby Boomers have taken over both parties, and the vision of peace and justice that the demonstrators brought to Chicago is far from realized. Progressive and radical activists still demonstrate at these quadrennial conventions, in smaller numbers, and usually within the designated Free Speech Zones.
Perhaps the Millennials can do what their parents and grandparents could not: forge a true people's party, either with the Democratic Party's infrastructure or by creating something entirely new. I don't hold out much hope for them #GreenEntering en masse.
Forty-two-year-old-and-thus-not-a-Millennial Rashida Tlaib's Democratic primary victory in Michigan's 13th Congressional District, with no Republican opponent in November, is the big news. (Wait, she won with 35% of the vote? Unlike Texas, Michigan apparently does not require a runoff when no candidate wins a majority in a primary race. First past the post, bay-bee!) Her comrade Abdul El-Sayed was not as successful in his quest for the gubernatorial nomination, although he still polled remarkably well.
But let's also talk about Missouri, which Donald Trump won by 18 percentage points in 2016:
- An insurgent progressive candidate defeated an incumbent in the St. Louis County DA race.
- Voters statewide soundly rejected a Right to Work law.
- Wow. Just wow.
I'll confess that I didn't hear anything about the special election in Ohio's 12th Congressional District until this morning. I have even interacted with Green candidate Joe Manchik on Facebook, but I had not seen any of his campaign material online. From the Intercept article:
The enthusiasm among Democrats meant that Republicans needed everything they had in an Ohio special election in a district that Donald Trump carried by more than 10 points... With provisional ballots still to be counted, the race is too close to call.
For all of the money spent, the winner, whether it’s Republican Troy Balderson or Democrat Dan O’Connor, will serve just 19 legislative days between now and the November election.
Here is what I do know: Anyone mad at Manchik and the Greens for collecting votes from the thousand-plus who couldn't be browbeaten into voting for the Democrat, but not mad about the 300,000-plus who didn't show up to vote, has my cordial invitation to STFU. And that includes you, beloved Francesca Fiorentini.
Top-Two primaries still suck.
There's Somethin' Happenin' Here—But It Might Take Fifty Years
While I'm still not convinced that the US Democratic Party can be reformed from within, I won't get too upset if my prognosis is disproved. If it happens, it will require the coordinated efforts of a lot of committed individuals...and time.
How much time? I doubt that I'll live to see it. Perhaps another 50 years?
On a variety of topics, including electoral politics, it's too easy to lapse into synchronic thinking—i.e., analysis based on the current landscape rather than looking diachronically at the trajectory of the topic. We may know that the picture is constantly moving, but we have a tendency to speak and behave as if it has always looked like this, or that it still looks the way it looked back when we first really saw the picture.
So let's look at some historical trends.
I am old enough to remember the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, even though I was too young at the time to grasp what was really going on there. That year, US involvement in Vietnam became, shall we say, unpopular among draft-age Americans. Many of those young people associated the Vietnam conflict (as well as racial oppression in the South and elsewhere) with the Democratic Party.
These mostly young citizens went to Chicago that August, thousands upon thousands of them, and made a lot of noise in the streets and parks. The reward for their efforts: Mayor Richard J. Daley sent in the police to bludgeon them and fill the city jails with their bloodied and bruised bodies, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey elbowed past some more popular candidates to take the nomination.
Some of the protesters outside the convention imagined that they would be able to change and rearrange the world immediately. Others took the long view: Victory for peace and justice may not come today, but the process to bring about that victory must start somewhere, some time, so why not here and now?
How many of the protesters could have foreseen these developments?
- A pro-peace presidential candidate, Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, would receive the nomination in 1972, only to receive a sound thumping from Richard Nixon.
- The Democratic Party would lick its wounds and begin doing whatever it could to thwart pro-peace and progressive candidates thereafter.
- Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, a moderate, would win the 1976 election, mainly because of Watergate and the perceived illegitimacy of Gerald Ford's unelected presidency-by-default.
- Democrats would continue nominating middle-of-the-road liberals (Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis) and lose three successive presidential elections.
- The Democratic Leadership Council would work to align the party even more with Wall Street and defense contractors, resulting in the triangulation strategy and Bill Clinton's two narrow victories in the 1990s.
- The nation would get fed up with one party within eight years and vote the other way (sometimes with help from the Electoral College system, which makes small-state votes effectively count more than big-state votes): Clinton, Dubya, Obama, Trump.
- Republicans would take over state legislatures and redraw Congressional maps to ensure Republican majorities in Washington.
- Administrations of both major parties would get US military involved in civil strife in at least seven countries simultaneously.
- Even after the watershed administrations of Harold Washington and the reform-minded Richard M. Daley, the Democratic mayor of Chicago in the 2010s would be a corporate-corrupted throwback to the days of Richard J.
- An independent democratic socialist in his 70s would enter the 2016 Democratic primary race, challenging the presumptive nominee, stoking new fires in millions of progressive hearts—and the party's efforts to thwart him would be more overt than ever.
- That democratic socialist's candidacy would inspire a mostly-young, hugely diverse crop of candidates for various offices in 2018, who would go on to win some races and scare the bejeezus out of the party establishment (not to mention the commentators on Fox News).
Some trajectory, eh?
Might the leadership of the Democratic Party actually see, or even read, the proverbial writing on the wall? Might it actually strike them the populist rhetoric and socialist solutions actually resonate with the electorate? Might they tell their corporate mega-donors to piss off? (Hey, as long as we're dreaming, we may as well dream big.) Might the party transform itself into a true political vehicle of, by, and for the people by 2068?