Yesterday, I went to my first state Democratic Party convention in Detroit. I was contacted a few weeks ago about it, and I volunteered to be a delegate to the progressive caucus, which is mostly Sandercrats, some DSA, and a couple of shape-shifting liberals who want to ride the brakes from the inside.
I agree with the strategic direction of DSA, which is working an inside-outside game — a mirror image of those shape-shifters writ way larger. I discovered a few things that I want to share with others who are doing or anticipating engaging this incursive politics with the DP, the first of which is this: These conventions are set-ups, run by bosses and sustained by cliques . . . the cliques being themselves organized into a hierarchy from local party offices, up.
But the DP and the conventions are vulnerable to incursion. The biggest obstacle to incursion is us . . . until yesterday, me.
Perhaps that overstates it, because the reason I was an obstacle (to myself) was the overwhelmingly chaotic way conventions are run, and I was intimidated, put off, whatever, because I’d received multiple missives from my recruiters, each explaining what I was to do as if I already understood. I arrived still unclear about where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to do. I hope this little after-action review will help others who may be likewise reluctantly leaning forward into this confusion for the sake of trying to halt capitalism’s march into the abyss.
The main purpose of the Convention was to elect people to key offices in a horizontal-vertical hierarchy of caucuses (related horizontally) and the state party (vertical).
I went with Will Garcia, a wunderkind public worker I first met at a DSA meeting. And after we parked (twenty bucks!), we went inside the Cobo Center, a great shiny agglomeration of utterly unsustainable riverfront technomass with teeny cups of coffee for sale at $3.75 each. So much for the party of the working class. I didn’t even look at the food prices.
As soon as we went to the credentialing table, we were piranha-swarmed by petition gatherers working for the various party office candidates. As we found afterward, this was a small army positioned throughout the convention center, waiting in little ambushes.
Credentialing was easy. When I’d joined last year (to cast a vote at the last convention to help nominate our new Attorney General), they gave me a nifty key-chain tag with a bar code — membership confirmed. When one is confirmed, s/he receives a plastic card on a neck tether that has been stickered with another scan code in case you need to be verified for any of the multiple votes.
First step. Join the Democratic Party. It’s easy as pie. I’d joined for ten bucks. This is the way through the first gate.
The caucuses are many, which was the first point of confusion.
There was an environmental caucus, for example, and an LGBTQ caucus, and a black caucus, and a labor caucus, on and on.
Then there was the progressive caucus, but it was unlike the other caucuses, inasmuch as it did not represent some constituency within the party that was then folded into the state-level votes for party officials; it is a challenge en masse to the Party establishment.
The votes taken during the caucuses were the standard Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer . . . and for delegates to the caucuses themselves.
But the progressive caucus was represented in a separate slate for the state offices, called the “Big Tent” slate (think Sandercrats), that was opposed to the (I’ve already forgotten) “Unity Slate”? But you get the picture.
So I was able to attend the rural caucus in the first half of the morning, but I had to forego other caucuses (where I might also feel appropriate) that ran concurrently. In the second half of the morning, I had to forego all other caucuses (usually around 30–50 people) to attend the progressive caucus (like 150–75 people).
The progressive caucus, then, is unique, because they are the only caucus that ran a competing slate for membership on the State Central Committee, which insurgents over the last couple of years have opened up by establishing a proportional voting scheme (with a klutzy multi-step math process).
What that meant was, when the voting happened, our caucus was determined to have 22 percent, and so we received one out of five slots on the Central Committee.
I highlight this early, because we made mistakes that can easily be corrected and multiply that number.
One more level of complexity in the calculations was that the Party has mandated that there cannot be two men or two women, but two genders (and non-binary was considered one with either of the procreative genders).
I do not know what to do about these overlapping caucuses, but I did not like it. I felt that it was just another way to subdivide and specialize closer to the ground, while the party bosses and establishment cliques look after everything else. We get to see a piece, but the view of the whole remains with the gatekeepers.
I had listed my name for Congressional District 7 for two things — a delegate to the progressive caucus from CD-7, and a CD-7 candidate for State Central Committee on the “Big Tent” slate (their tent is actually bigger than ours right now, but there’s a way to change that). I “won” the first one, based on the fact that we had only 12 people from our district in the progressive caucus, and I was the only one who raised my hand. I didn’t make the proportional cut for State Central Committee.
The most annoying practice I had to sit through was state elected officials — among them Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Senator Gary Peters (the latter rubbed me hard the wrong way) who were allowed to roam into and out of the rooms like visiting potentates where meetings were happening, interrupt the whole process, give shitty, predictable, content-free stump speeches, wait for everyone to whoop and clap obediently, then go on their way. (Abdul El Sayed and Dana Nessel hung around, but did not impose themselves on the meetings that way . . . as far as I could see).
The theme of everything was Beat Trump, like that was going to solve any of the problems that led to Trump; but it fired a lot of people up . . . understandable because Trump is still the psychotic baby hippo running lose in the capitalism’s own Pottery Barn. Policy issues were tread upon carefully, because there was an undercurrent of acknowledgement that there the establishment was sitting alongside an incursive movement that is tilting at that establishment’s grip on power.
There was a peculiar racial dynamic going on, too, but that will require a totally separate post with race-class analysis. The convention was refreshing to me in that sense, after having spent eight years in Adrian, to see as much brown skin as beige . . . I felt as if I’d been dropped back into Durham, North Carolina (my favorite city in the Triangle), where I loved the mosaic of people and the food (I’d kill for fried okra right now), but where climate change has rendered the consistently drought-stricken summers nearly unbearable. But back to our story . . .
The state votes were held in the afternoon, after a goodly number of those not wearing suits were eating sack lunches on the expensively carpeted hallway floors while they gazed onto a kaleidoscopic patchwork of ice covering the Detroit River from the near shore to Ontario. When we went to the critical State Central Committee vote, we had to vote within our Congressional District, where the Central Committee is drawn from. Each of us was given a colored card, different colors for each county in the district. Mine for Lenawee was a kind of oxblood purple . . . very arresting in its strange dark brightness.
Now, here is where I figured out how to take over the Central Committee.
I know, I know . . . keep it a secret, so they don’t know what you’re doing. I’ll just fall back on what my late Haitian friend, Harry Numa, told me once. He said, “People think you can make the revolution while the bourgeoisie sleeps, but the bourgeoisie never sleeps. You have to make your revolution right in front of them.”
We had like eight people from Lenawee County, whereas Monroe County had loaded up (for the establishment) with like thirty-five (some on the ball organizers!). When Lenawee raised their cards, we had a majority for the Big Tent (lefties), but still a couple who voted for the establishment.
The reason I was reluctant, and many not even interested, is the confusing opacity of this whole process. But we can correct that, at least in Lenawee County. I had thirteen people show up to a DSA meeting in Adrian (Lenawee’s county seat) with hardly any publicity, less than a month ago, so getting some people to one DP convention is surmountable without breaking a sweat.
Next time this happens, we will have been recruiting for a year, explaining to each person how this works, and getting them signed up. We can rent vans if we have to, but we need to send forty . . . lefties. Minimum.
For those working in other Michigan counties, you can do the same. And that is how you take over the Party. The biggest surprise for me yesterday was that — once you figure out what is going on — the Michigan Democratic Party is quite assailable. It’s the opacity that makes it seem otherwise, but that is an illusion.
Break the cliques.
In the meantime — and this was the one message all day that went beyond platitudes — run for office. Will Garcia and I are doing some research now on ways to do that, and at some point we’ll report our findings. But figure out how to run, then do it. Even if you lose the first time out . . . it’s a way to learn.
The next step here, it seems, is for some of us comrades to form teams that attend every county Democratic Party meeting, learn the boring little ropes, then build a majority in that office that devotes as much time and energy as possible to getting your new candidates elected.