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Rep. Keith Ellison, who said Sunday that his party needs to make voters, not donors, come first. (Photo: AFGE/cc/flickr)

In Wake of Trump Victory, Progressives Urge Democratic Party Overhaul

What happened last week was 'a repudiation of the American power structure, including the old Democratic Party'

Andrea Germanos

As Hillary Clinton puts partial blame for her electoral defeat on F.B.I. Director James Comey, some progressives are calling for an overhaul of the Democratic Party, with new officials that represent grassroots, not corporate, interests.

On ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said that Comey's renewed investigation "did not help" because "it changed the conversation. The conversation should've been about middle class people. The conversation should've been about how to raise the minimum wage and strengthen Social Security."

Addressing host George Stephanopoulos's comment that "a lot of Democrats complain that that party has been basically hollowed out under President Obama," the Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair said that what the way to come back is "to have a vision to strengthen the grassroots" and to "make the voters first, not the donors first."

He added that "everything we do should animate and empower them at the grassroots level for working people across this country."

Ellison himself could play a key role, as Common Dreams reported last week:

Following the lead of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has come out strongly in favor of Ellison to [head the Democratic National Committee (DNC)], numerous leaders within the party, including soon-to-be Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), as well as progressive groups, are also voicing support for the first Muslim elected to U.S. Congress to take the party reins.

Speaking about that possibility, Ellison said that "the most important criteria for a DNC chair is going to be vision.[...] and the ability to mobilize and inspire people at the grassroots."

On whether he'll formally enter that race, he said he will "have something to say real soon."

Like Ellison's comment that it has to be "the guys in the barber shop, the lady at the diner, the folks who are worried about whether that plant is going to close, they've got to be our focus," the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) last week addressed the need for a party re-think. "Democrats must start fighting for working families with an authentic understanding of how we got here—and a willingness to take on Wall Street and corporate donors to get us out," the group said.

In former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich's assessment, "It is time for a New Democratic Party" as it "has become a giant fundraising machine, too often reflecting the goals and values of the moneyed interests." A new party, instead, he wrote,

will do everything possible to advance the progressive agenda at state and local levels—getting big money out of politics, reversing widening inequality, expanding health care, reversing climate change, ending the militarization of our police and the mass incarceration of our people, and stopping interminable and open-ended warfare.

What happened in America on Election Day should not be seen as a victory for hatefulness over decency. It is more accurately understood as a repudiation of the American power structure, including the old Democratic Party.

Issuing a similar message, Sanders supporter Jonathan Tasini wrote that the election results make room for "a difficult but urgent mission—shaking the Democratic Party down to its foundation, ejecting the failed Bill/Hillary Clinton economic and global worldview and standing up for a set of populist, sound economic, and foreign policy principles that could earn majority support."

According to the reporting by The Hill and Politico on Saturday, some of that work is already underway.

The Hill reported: "Progressives are itching to see the national apparatus reduced to rubble and rebuilt from scratch, with one of their own installed at the top." The reporting continued:

One thing for sure is that the Democratic Party will lean more on Bernie than Hillary going forward," said David Goodfriend, a Clinton supporter and former Bill Clinton administration official.

To some liberals, that means a wholesale purging of the "corporate dominated" wing of the party.

Politico reported that

Supporters of Bernie Sanders' failed presidential bid are seizing on Democratic disarray at the national level to launch a wave of challenges to Democratic Party leaders in the states.

The goal is to replace party officials in states where Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton during the acrimonious Democratic primary with more progressive leadership. But the challenges also represent a reckoning for state party leaders who, in many cases, tacitly supported Clinton's bid.

According to Tasini, "a new Democratic Party can be revitalized. The progressive movement, in all its elements—advocates for labor, environmentalists, and civil rights of all stripes—can shape that future."

And, noting the progressive ballot initiative victories, commentator Jim Hightower says the "election is a mandate for progressive economic populism."


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