Earlier today I sent the following email to the Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party:
Dear Mary Jung:
I would like to meet monthly with Democrats in my precinct to advance the goals of the Democratic Party.
Might the San Francisco Democratic Party help me with that effort?
Having discussed the idea with a number of other Democrats, I believe that If the Democratic Party encouraged and supported year-round precinct organizing, at least several Democrats in most precincts would devote at least a few hours a month to work with one another to help build the Democratic Party. That base of steady, consistent workers could engage in a wide variety of activities and accomplish a great deal.
Self-organizing Democratic Party precinct clubs could inspire meaningful social engagement and enrich the lives of participants by nurturing face-to-face community. Doing so could help rebuild the Democratic Party, as Paul Starr calls for in “The Democrats as a Movement Party.”
The more the Party supports and encourages precinct organizing, the more effective that effort will be. Scale is important. If potential participants know that a large number of others are participating, or soon will be, they will more likely get involved.
For those reasons, I recommend that you and the San Francisco Democratic Party urge the California Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee to encourage and support year-round precinct organizing. In addition, I ask you to directly and/or indirectly encourage Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to back year-round precinct organizing.
During the most recent Presidential debate, Sanders said:
I will do everything I can to open the Democratic party to the young people who are flocking into our political campaign…. Millions of young people who previously were not involved in the political process are now coming into it, and I do believe that we have got to open the door of the Democratic party to those people.
Year-round precinct organizing could be one way those young people could get involved.
I live at 1280 Laguna Street. If you already know someone in my precinct who wants to work with me on this project, please ask them to be in touch with me.
Otherwise, if the Democratic Party gives me information about residents in my precinct and indicates that it will support and encourage precinct-based organizing elsewhere, I will reach out to my neighbors to form a precinct club, with the understanding that my colleagues and I will provide the Party with updated voter information as we obtain it.
Such initial efforts in my precinct and other precincts could serve as models that would motivate Democrats and the Party elsewhere to organize precinct clubs.
So I would appreciate knowing your thoughts, which I may share publicly.
Might you support year-round precinct organizing in San Francisco and encourage the entire Democratic Party to do the same?
I also sent that email to thirty-one Democratic Clubs in San Francisco as well as numerous individual Democrats, with the following introduction:
Earlier today I sent the following email to Mary Jung, Chair of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.
I’d be interested in your thoughts about these ideas and whether you might encourage the Democratic Party to undertake year-round precinct organizing.
As I receive responses to those communications, I’ll post them here as comments.
Time is urgent. With enough grassroots energy rooted in a shared commitment, we could transform the Democratic Party into a vital, activist organization that: 1) fights effectively for progressive policies backed by a majority of the American people, and; 2) addresses local personal, social, and environmental needs that are currently neglected, including the need for more meaningful face-to-face community.
The Party structure is already remarkably democratic. Rank-and-file Democrats elect leaders of the state Party, who elect the leaders of the national Party. The door is open. All that is needed is for enough people with enough unity to walk through it.
If Bernie decides to maintain tight control over his database (as did Barack) and use it only to support a few candidates here and there that he chooses to support (as he has done so far), he will diminish the prospects for building a participatory, self-organizing movement through the Democratic Party.
In Starr’s article, he reflects on how political parties have grown weaker, which undermines what any President can accomplish. He argues, “if progressives want large-scale, institutional change, they must rebuild the Democratic Party and animate it with a progressive agenda.”
Bernie has not yet clearly articulated a commitment to consistently pursue the transformation of the Democratic Party into a more democratic, progressive force rooted in the daily lives of ordinary Americans. If he chooses to do so, the possibilities are enormous.
At the outset, no one predicted what Bernie would accomplish. If he plays his cards right, the future could be even more remarkable. Self-organizing precinct clubs within the Democratic Party could play a major role in the “political revolution.”
Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis made “Winning is Everything” his team’s motto. That hyper-competitive spirit permeates American culture. It also afflicts political activism.
Activists tend to see issues as black-or-white. We divide the world into good guys and bad guys, blame individuals rather than the system, and launch personal attacks. Anger at oppression devolves into rage at individuals. Righteousness slips into self-righteousness. Self-confidence morphs into arrogance.
As if one side must always win, the mainstream media promotes simplistic polarization by labeling issues as either “left” or “right.” Cable networks magnify minor conflicts into bitter battles, the more vicious the better.
But most moral and political issues are ambiguous. especially when it’s impossible to predict the future. Drawing on gut reactions as well as rational analysis, we can only do our best to divine right action.
In campaigns, candidates focus too much on their own election. Barack Obama even once told workers in his Chicago office that his election would itself constitute “transformation.”
Another example is the contest between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Many partisans on each side believe defeat of their candidate would be a disaster. History, however, suggests the need for humility.
Any number of scenarios could produce a Republican president. Given that threat, despite the many flaws in the Democratic Party, we must elect the Democrat. And no one knows for sure whether Clinton or Sanders would be the stronger candidate. If Sanders is nominated, the Republican machine will hammer him on his weak points much more than Clinton has.
We might be better off if Bernie loses the nomination and helps to build a real grassroots organization as an “outsider.” Our greatest priority is to build a democratic, inclusive, national organization dedicated to systemic reform. Bernie could help with that.
With “Dear Bernie and Hillary: Transform the Democratic Party,” “Proposed: Year-Round Precinct Organizing,” and “Bernie’s Revolution,” I offered some ideas along that line. Other options are available as well.
Sanders’ supporters, who are better organized than the Tea Party was at its outset, could have even more of an impact on the Democratic Party than the Tea Party had on the Republican Party. A few victories in primary campaigns by candidates who support transforming the Democratic Party into a year-round activist organization would provide great leverage.
The Democratic Party structure is remarkably democratic. There’s no need to form a new organization. All we need is for enough people with enough unity to transform the Democratic Party, face-to-face, neighbor-to-neighbor, precinct-by-precinct.
Until I hear some substantial, convincing analysis of why a critical mass of like-minded people can not transform the Democratic Party, I’ll remain hopeful and follow through on my offer to my local Party to help build the Party in my precinct. Year-round precinct organizing could be fun, rewarding, educational for all, and perhaps a model for others.
Despair is a self-fulfilling circle. People don’t get involved because people don’t get involved. Precinct organizing could break that pattern. The need is urgent. The vision is compelling. Why not try?
Electing any one candidate is not everything. We can only do our best, stay even-keeled, and prepare for the long haul.
If Bernie’s supporters follow his example and become involved in the Democratic Party year-round, and Hillary’s supporters practice what she preaches and promote kindness throughout society, “whether it’s to a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, a fellow student, or in the classroom, doctor’s office, or business,” as she put it, we can transform the Democratic Party and our nation into compassionate communities dedicated to promoting the general welfare.
Considering Bernie’s strength among young people, the future may be ours. The Democratic Party could lead a political revolution.
The Party’s structure is democratic and its membership is diverse. With some tweaks, grassroots activists can strengthen the Party.
Trying to form a new national organization or a third party would be much more difficult. We don’t have to establish a new decision-making process. We already have one.
The Democratic National Committee, which directs the Party, is composed of over 200 members elected by Democrats in all 50 states and the territories, as well as the chairs and vice-chairs of each state Party Committee who are elected by registered Democrats.
On the basis of one person, one vote, the national convention adopts the Party’s platform every four years. The latest platform is solid. But it can be improved to better reflect the will of the vast majority of the American people.
At present, the Party focuses almost entirely on electing Democrats to public office. It does not fight for its platform year-round by nurturing neighbor-to-neighbor relationships. With concentrated effort, we can turn the Party into an activist organization that serves unmet needs and fights for the Party’s platform throughout the year.
Nation-wide, political precincts (or voting districts) contain an average of about 300 registered Democrats. If ten or more of those 300 Democrats cultivate with one another cost-effective, potent, face-to-face connections, we can promote the common welfare and build the Party. If we are patient, persistent, and humble, we can empower one another and ourselves and grow a stronger sense of community with like-minded neighbors who engage in right action together.
Even in heavily Republican precincts, Democrats can work together to push for progress. One example is to act on the appeal from the national party to urge Senator McConnell to hold hearings on the President’s Supreme Court nominee.
By organizing precinct-based clubs, Democrats can get to know their neighbors through house parties, political action, and other rewarding activities. Possibilities include peer learning, public forums, registering voters, social events, mutual support, social service, and environmental cleanup, as well as get-out-the-vote during elections.
Most precinct club members might only participate in one monthly meeting (in a member’s home or community center) and work on one specific task between meetings. In addition, members with time available could engage in activities like volunteering together at a soup kitchen, participating in a political demonstration, helping one another compose a letter to an elected official, meeting with an official or their representative, becoming more familiar with their neighbors, welcoming newcomers, registering voters, organizing activities like a picnic, or raising funds to pay for special projects.
Each club would organize its own activities and share with the Party updated information about the residents in their precinct. At Party conventions, club members could gather in sessions to share notes about their efforts.
To promote year-round precinct organizing, Democrats can do one or more of the following:
- Share this statement with friends and colleagues.
- Distribute and discuss these ideas at a Democratic county committee meeting.
- Let me know about any year-round precinct organizing already underway so I can share that information.
- Help develop one or more models by experimenting in your own precinct. Contact your local Party (as I have done) and tell them you want to work on organizing your precinct year-round. Perhaps they will give you their voter list for your precinct or connect you with someone who has it so you can start reaching out to neighbors.
- Report on the results of your efforts to me so I can facilitate horizontal communication between those who explore these possibilities.
- Vote for candidates for local and statewide Democratic Party positions who support year-round precinct organizing.
If this effort develops, we might post petitions (including one on the White House site directed to President Obama) and discuss these issues during campaign events. We might also circulate a pledge asking Democrats to promise to engage in precinct organizing if and when the opportunity arises.
Ideally, perhaps after the Democratic nomination is resolved, both Clinton and Sanders will encourage their supporters to get involved with year-round precinct organizing. Eventually, hopefully, the Democratic National Committee will invite every Democrat in their database to engage in consistent precinct organizing and ask them to help organize a club.
No one organization is the solution. We need many organizations that specialize on specific issues. But we also need one major coalition that enables us to overcome our fragmentation and occasionally unite behind a timely priority.
The American people need a bottom up, grassroots organization whose members help one another be all they can be and help this country live up to its ideals. The Democratic Party can be that organization — a grand, inclusive coalition that enables neighbors to cultivate face-to-face community with one another.
Our situation is urgent. One way or the other, we must transform this nation into a compassionate community.
Throughout society, Americans are held back, beaten down, and suppressed. To counter that oppression, we urge you to call on your supporters to transform the Democratic Party into an activist organization whose members fight for the Party’s platform and build precinct-based communities that serve local, unmet needs year-round.
Our society is run by individuals at all levels who aim to get as much money and power for themselves, their families, and their organizations as they can, regardless of consequences.
Most Americans struggle to survive financially and focus on trying to gain some economic security. Many live so close to the edge, one emergency can push them over. Millions who want to work can’t find a job. Millions more work but still go hungry or become homeless.
Citizens don‘t have enough voice with their government. Workers don’t have enough voice in their workplace. Students and parents don‘t have enough voice in their schools. Worshippers don‘t have enough voice in their religious institutions. Clients don’t have enough voice in their social services. Victims of police brutality don‘t have enough voice in the criminal justice system. Consumers are manipulated by incessant advertising.
Far too many people are abandoned, forsaken, locked up, or isolated with no close friends with whom they can confide about personal problems. Large numbers dull their pain with drugs or alcohol. Many are running faster without getting anywhere, taking in more information and processing it more quickly, without taking the time to listen to and understand one another. Some feel trapped. Others are drifting. Almost everyone seeks deeper meaning, wanting to make a significant difference in the world and help relieve suffering.
Afflicted with economic anxiety, people become angry and take it out on scapegoats. We indulge in personal attacks and judge others based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or some other arbitrary characteristic. We impose labels that distort reality. We fall into either/or thinking. We become dogmatic and want to win ideological battles.
Oppression damages the human spirit. The glorification of “winners” undermines the self-confidence, self-worth, self-acceptance, and self-empowerment of everyone else, who are considered “losers.” The competitive pressure to climb the social ladder weakens the ability to collaborate as equals.
The result is a divided society with divided selves who do not have the personal and collective power to threaten the status quo.
To make this nation more democratic, we need a bottom up, grassroots organization whose members help one another be all they can be and help this country live up to its ideals. The Democratic Party could be that organization, a grand coalition.
Registered Democrats elect Party leaders to local and statewide bodies, whose members elect leaders of the national Party. As such, it is democratic. But the Party focuses on elections, and merely electing Democrats is not sufficient.
Between elections the Party does little to advance its platform and engages in little or no year-round precinct organizing. Party activists who are elected to positions of power within the Party tend to defer to elected officials. Many of those activists are ambitious themselves and want to gain favor with elected leaders. Party leaders reduce members to functionaries who fit into the electoral machine.
Given the will and discipline, a unified grassroots effort can change those patterns. Staying involved with the Democratic Party throughout the year, we can empower one another in our daily lives. We can nurture vibrant, compassionate communities by getting to know our neighbors and engaging in activities like peer learning, public forums, registering voters, social events, house parties, mutual support, and environmental cleanup, as well as get-out-the-vote during elections. Party members who share that commitment might create and join a new Party caucus to advance this project. Elected officials could use their office and their campaigns as organizing tools to grow community. And in primary campaigns, Democrats could back candidates who support this effort.
So we ask you, Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders, to endorse this statement and urge your supporters to help transform the Democratic Party and this nation into compassionate communities dedicated to promoting the general welfare. When we do, all Americans will benefit.
SUBJECT: What Next, Bernie?
To Whomever It May Concern:
You are invited to send me your ideas for “An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders” that begins:
I urge you to make the following speech describing further steps we can take to promote the “political revolution,” whether or not you receive the nomination.
I’ll post those proposed speeches at LINK and invite everyone who’s interested to discuss what to do with them. Possibilities include:
- Ranking or rating the proposals.
- Rewriting one or more proposals.
- Posting a petition in support of one or more proposals.
- Publishing a booklet prior to the June California primary that includes one or more proposals and, perhaps, additional commentary.
The deadline for submissions is April 25, 2016. Please send submissions to <wadeATwadehudsonDOTnet>.
If you saw a child drowning and there was a 10% chance both of you would die if you tried to rescue the child, would you try? What if the risk were 1%? If someone were throwing children into the water one after the other, would you stop him if you could even though doing so would sacrifice the children already in the water? What if he were stronger than you and you only had a 10% chance of being able to stop him? Would you still try? What if the only way to stop him would be to kill him with a hand grenade? What if killing him also resulted in the death of two innocent bystanders?….. Concerning the Open Letter to Bernie Sanders, I’m inclined to delete any reference to building a organization and leave the question of means more open-ended. So it would read:
An Invitation to Write “An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders”
You are invited to submit to [insert recipient] by May 1, 2016 “An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders” that begins:
Once the nominating process is resolved, whether or not you win, we, the undersigned, urge you to promote the political revolution you’ve been advocating by making the following speech.
I’m working on an invitation, which I may circulate widely, to submit an Open Letter to Bernie Sanders. The idea is that numerous such statements might be published in a booklet prior to the California primary. Also, some authors might collaborate to combine their statements into a joint communication.
I’ve already begun writing my Open Letter. The latest draft of the invitation reads:
An Invitation to Write “An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders”
You are invited to submit to [insert recipient] by May 1, 2016 “An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders” that begins:
You’ve put important issues on the table. Now, whether or not you win the nomination, we need to organize the political revolution you’ve been promoting — that is, we need to build an organization that can stay together over time to transform this nation. Toward that end, we, the undersigned, urge you to make the following speech.
In Molloy, Samuel Beckett says, “I begin to think, that is to say to listen harder.” It is this link between the depth of our thinking and the depth of our listening that is at the heart of Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal. We can’t solve our problems without better thinking, and for that we need better listening.
We are being trained to listen more shallowly, to take in more information and process it as quickly as possible. Understand the sound bite and get to the point. But there’s a message behind the words that is screaming out for connection. Onstage, the difference between a character and a caricature is depth, and the same is true in life. But it’s not that people are shallow, it’s that we often don’t listen well enough to really know them. And until we really know, how can we help or change anything?
So I invite you to listen, and to enjoy the show.
I learned early morning journal writing from Julia Cameron and her wonderful book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. She recommended spontaneous, uncsensored writing, not even worrying about spelling and grammar. With this journal, hoping that it will be of interest to readers (I do after all cherish connecting with others, for I do often feel isolated), I censor myself somewhat and review it before posting. But otherwise, I plan for it to be very spontaneous. Having recently learned that medallions are selling more slowly than I expected, I once again face the prospect of having to drive taxi until I am 80. So I really need to take care of my body, lose more weight, and lower my glucose level, which is currently 116. My doctor, who is adverse to drugs, is threatening to recommend that I take a drug if I don’t. So, on her advice, I’m switching from hot cereal for breakfast to eggs, eliminating one of my two daily fruits and substituting it with carrots, and eating garbonzo beans rather than eggs with my salad. And I’ll continue to tweak my schedule. Now that I’m driving days as I prepare to develop my Tours by Taxi business,for the first time in decades I’m setting my alarm clock daily so I can make more money. And tonight I hope to work on the treadmill at night rather than the morning. Yesterday I turned in my cover letter and resume for a job as Assistant Manager at Yellow Cab. Though I am confident I could do an excellent job, I don’t expect to get it, in which case I may send my resume to everyone on my Bay Area email list and tell them to let me know if they hear of any job openings. Hillary swept last night. Alas. I still suspect Bernie would be stronger against Trump. But who knows? If anyone is confident about such matters at this time, they likely are afflicted with arrogance. And if the Republican Party splits, even Hillary can win. But Trump is still a real threat. So I’ve begun writing “A Letter to Young Activists,” in which I plan to share my story with regard to political activism in case some young people can glean some useful lessons from it that could help them in what may prove to be a decisive moment in our history.