Stymied at the Top, Progressives Seek to Transform Party From Bottom Up

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Stymied at the Top, Progressives Seek to Transform Party From Bottom Up

"The Democratic party can't be saved by one leader. But there's a chance it can be saved by millions of them."

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) was offered the deputy chair position after losing the leadership race to former Labor Secretary Tom Perez on Saturday. (Photo: Reuters)

As the Democratic party looks forward under new leadership installed over the weekend, young people and progressives are demanding a seat at the table.

Many in the party are ready to hold incoming Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Tom Perez's "feet to the fire," as Our Revolution's Jeff Weaver said Saturday.

"I don't know when we became the party only of people who have been there for decades. We have to be aware of the energy that is all around us right now, not just on Facebook, but on our streets."
—Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles mayor

Politico described the DNC's Atlanta gathering as "a mini-convention of up-and-coming politicians, activists, and operatives straining to envision the opening days of Donald Trump's administration and Republican domination of Washington as a moment of Democratic revitalization, not reason to sink further into the party's roiling existential crisis."

To that end, many of them expressed to Politico their desire to see more such up-and-comers elevated within the party's leadership at every level. Only by doing so can Democrats harness national grassroots energy as Perez vowed to do in his opening remarks on Saturday, or achieve "a total transformation," as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for on Sunday.

"We have to prepare a farm team within Congress, in our states, in local races," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told Politico reporters Gabriel Debenedetti and Edward-Isaac Dovere. "I don't know when we became the party only of people who have been there for decades. We have to be aware of the energy that is all around us right now, not just on Facebook, but on our streets."

Indeed, Trump's election has galvanized a resistance movement that is already revitalizing local Democratic party chapters; propelling Democrats to state victories; and effectively rebooting the party from the bottom up.

Take Stephanie Hansen, who on Saturday decisively won a special election for a Delaware state Senate seat, capturing 58 percent of the votes cast and preserving Democratic control of the legislature in the process. Hansen's victory appears to be evidence that "the resistance" can translate into electoral success—despite doubts from the establishment—and, as one political observer wrote Saturday, "gives the Democrats something to hang their hat on in their ongoing battle against Donald Trump, as they prepare to gear up for the 2018 midterm races which may be the most important in modern history."

As the Huffington Post reported:

While Hansen's campaign was focused on local issues, she saw a huge swell of support after nationwide Women's March protests on Jan. 21. Protesters, many of them out in the streets for the first time, have been turning their energy toward local and state politics. The first major election since the uprising was Delaware's. 

Hansen's campaign received huge support. More than 1,000 volunteers worked during the course of the campaign, and about 500―many from nearby states―showed up Saturday for Election Day. Hansen received more than 14,000 contributions of less than $100 from small donors spread all over the country.

[...] Groups like Sister District, Flippable, and Indivisible helped organize volunteers. For many, this was the first time they had been involved in a political campaign.

And this is just the sort of energy that could help fundamentally transform the Democratic party, wrote Campaign for America's Future senior fellow Richard Eskow on Monday.

"The Democratic party won't change until it's confronted with a strong movement determined to change it," he argued. "That's why it's encouraging to see activists move to take control at the state and local level. That, along with a concerted program of independent activism, could revolutionize politics."

He concluded: "The Democratic party can't be saved by one leader. But there's a chance it can be saved by millions of them."

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