"What a show of force!" - 125 people rally at Michigan Democratic Party State Central Committee

I attended the rally at the Michigan Democratic Party State Central Committeee (MDSCC) meeting yesterday. There, I witnessed a part of that Democratic Party Renaissance that the Michigan Organizer reported on before.

This rally was organized by the Young Democrats of Michigan (YDM). The purpose of the rally was to support Keith Ellison for Democratic National Committe (DNC) chair, and to protest the opaque way that the MDSCC chooses delegates to send to the DNC1 "How can we claim to be a progressive party when we operate in the shadows?" said Sam Pernick, YDM chair. "And by 'we', I mean 'them'," he added, gesturing toward the official delegates to the MDSCC.

Approximately 125 people attended the rally, compared with the 178 official delegates, which caused Pernick to remark "What a show of force!"

At this point, it is useful to discuss what exactly is the MDSCC and what this meeting was. According to the bylaws of the Michigan Democratic Party, the MDSCC has "general responsibility for the affairs of the Michigan Democratic Party between State Conventions". The MDSCC is made up of delegates elected at the Congressional District Spring Conventions and Caucuses, held in odd-numbered years. That's who the 178 official delegates were. The next opportunity to elect new MDSCC delegates is at the Michigan Democratic Party State Convention, Feb. 11, 2017, at Cobo Hall in Detroit.

The purpose of yesterday's meeting was to elect Michigan's delegates to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which generally governs the Democratic Party nationally, "coordinat[ing] strategy to support candidates throughout the country for local, state, and national office."2

The DNC delegates elected by the MDSCC will serve four year terms, so this election was Michigan's chance to affect the direction of the Democratic Party nationally until the next presidential election. "I think that after the last election, we need to reconsider how we go about business after losing the election," said YDM member Kelly Collison, from Lansing, who identified herself as a "local troublemaker", addressing the MDSCC during 10 minutes of public comment that were added to the agenda.

This is a sentiment shared by many people who identify with the Democratic party, if the recent attendance numbers at the Washtenaw County Democratic Party (WCDP) are any indication. The Michigan Organizer attended part of the WCDP meeting yesterday, where 170 people were in attendance, and the bulk of the meeting was devoted to people - most of them attending the WCDP for the first time - giving their ideas about what the party should be doing differently.

So, just as there is a huge influx of new members and new grassroots enthusiasm for being involved in the Democratic Party, but before these new activists have had a chance to insinuate themselves into the normal channels of decision making -- this is when the MDSCC had its election that will choose what message Michigan wants to send to the country for the next four years. "How can we, as members and activists who want to get involved in this party vet these candidates if we don't even know who they are? How can we ensure that these people are our voice if we're not even permitted to ask them questions when they're being nominated today?" asked Sam Pernick, YDM chair.

According to Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) rules, it is the MDSCC, and not the general Democratic Party membership, who makes the decision about who to send to the national committee,34 which may be why there is no process built in for general members to have time to vet candidates and ask questions.

According to those rules, the election process is this: Michigan will send six members to the DNC. Three must be men and three must be women. These men and women will be nominated by an MDSCC member, on the spot, at the MDSCC meeting. The person nominated can be any member of the Michigan Democratic Party. The person who makes the nomination then has two minutes to speak on the behalf of the person they nominated. This is the only chance that anyone gets to vet the nominations, and the only people that will cast votes are the MDSCC members. The vote is done by plurality.

In practice, though, the process seemed to work like this: The decisions were all made before the meeting even began. The process of making these decisions is completely opaque, and not listed in any rules. Thirty minutes before the MDSCC meeting, a document circulated entitled "Unity Endorsed Candidates for DNC". It listed three female names and three male names. When the official election took place at the meeting, two of the male seats went uncontested, with only one "Unity Endorsed Candidate" being nominated. For one of the male seats, the "Unity Endorsed Candidate" was named, and then a few other candidates were named, who were young people who were not deeply ensconced party insiders. Then a vote was held, and the "Unity Endorsed Candidate" got the overwhelming majority of the votes. This process was then repeated for the three female seats.

There was one slight deviation from the normal procedures this time. Congressperson Debbie Dingell has been a DNC delegate in the last cycle. "She could have run for reappointment," said Yousef Rabhi, who just won his election for State Representative in the 53rd State House district. "Instead, she recognized the need for an infusion of Bernie Sanders people, so she didn't run." Instead, she recommended Michelle Deatrick, who worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign in Michigan. "If someone else had done that, they wouldn't have picked Michelle. But because [Dingell] is a congressperson, they listened when she pulled her name for that reason," said Rabhi. Indeed, Deatrick ended up as one of the "Unity Endorsed Candidates", who ran unopposed.

The choice of Deatrick does not satisfy everybody's desire for a progressive DNC member, though. "It depends on your definition of progressive, I guess," said YDM member Kelly Collison. "If you're a Bernie delegate at the convention, you probably wouldn't have immediately conformed to be a Hillary supporter. And she silenced a lot of the delegates in the Michigan delegation - she was the whip." YDM chair Sam Pernick says "There may be some good people on this list, in which case I think that's great. But how would we know that? The Democratic Party never forgets to send out a fundraising email. Who got a notice that this meeting was taking place today, from the Democratic Party? Nobody."

"I think the Democratic Party needs to be more democratic than the Republican party," said Collison.

Update: I forgot to include all the names of the winners. These were the "Unity Endorsed Candidates for DNC", and have all been elected: Michelle Deatrick, Gretchen Dziadosz, Shauna Ryder Diggs, Norwood Jewell, Daryl Newman, and Barry Goodman.