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An insurgent wave of bold and progressive Democrats, like New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Zephyr Teachout (above), are confronting the establishment's entrenched power-brokers, such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (below). (Photos: Getty)

Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?

This country needs a serious opposition party that can defeat both corporate power and the GOP. Nothing else will do.

Jeff Cohen

Despite being led by one of the most erratic and least popular presidents in modern history, the Trumpian Republican Party dominates U.S. politics.

One of the main reasons for this awful state of affairs is that the opposition party—which calls itself “Democratic”—is led by vacillating, corporate-oriented politicians who seem to have one firm principle: that the party’s progressive base must be repeatedly insulted, repressed, and denied a major role in democratic decision-making.

The latest slap in the face to the Democratic Party’s base came Friday when the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee—behind closed doors — reversed its ban on accepting political donations from fossil fuel companies. That ban had lasted a mere two months before the ridiculous flip-flop.

"Even in the face of a horrific menace like Trump, efforts to defeat the right at the polls are undermined by a Democratic leadership lacking in vision, values, and commitment to democracy."

Did “Democratic” Party leaders democratically survey the party’s base before toadying to oil, gas and coal company donors?  Did the leadership consult environmental groups who so loyally support Democrats in election after election?

No and no.

In the face of an energized activist base crying out for a party that will put forward bold social/economic  and environmental proposals, the Democratic leadership dithers and grovels for donations from the Republican-allied fossil fuel industry that threatens our planet’s future.

Jamie Henn, co-founder of the climate action group 350.org, concluded: “This sort of spineless corporate pandering is why Democrats keep losing.”

Even in the face of a horrific menace like Trump, efforts to defeat the right at the polls are undermined by a Democratic leadership lacking in vision, values, and commitment to democracy.

Which is why an alliance of progressive activists will be setting up informational picket lines when the full Democratic National Committee begins its three-day meeting in Chicago on August 23. The alliance, led by groups such as RootsAction.org (which I co-founded) and Progressive Democrats of America, is supporting vital reforms to democratize the party.

One reform to be debated in Chicago—one that activists believe is winnable—harks back to the calamitous Democratic loss to Trump in 2016. The reform would restrict the undemocratic voting power of “superdelegates”: party insiders who have exerted an outsized influence in choosing the presidential nominee. (By the end of 2015, before a single Democratic voter had participated in any state primary or caucus, Hillary Clinton was the prohibitive favorite for the nomination thanks to her support from most of the 712 Democratic superdelegates.)

Besides the superdelegate problem, activists also want Democratic Party finances to be more transparent – more urgent now that the DNC has done a backflip on fossil fuel donations.

It’s bad enough that our country’s governing party denies climate science while believing Exxon and Chevron are persons. 

It makes matters much worse when the opposition party’s leadership wants donations from Mr. Exxon and Ms. Chevron while tacitly denying that climate science demands drastic action – way far beyond the wishes of those donors.

This country needs a serious opposition party that can defeat both corporate power and the GOP. Only democratic participation by the grassroots will make possible that kind of a winning party.


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Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is an activist and author. Cohen was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" - and a co-founder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org. His website is jeffcohen.org.

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