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 DemsBlog offers our membership a platform to air their opinions, musings, and experiences related to the Democratic Party and Democratic politics. We are always soliciting new work! Op-eds, informal musings, and other creative pieces are always welcome. Email Travis DeShong (travis.deshong@yale.edu) and Emma Chanen (emma.chanen@yale.edu) to contribute or for more information about DemsBlog!

The Win We Needed?

By Xan Minan

The past few months have been a tumultuous time to be a Democrat, to say the least. After the unceremonious resignation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) last July, the embattled race to fill the vacancy of DNC chair came to a close, though not quietly. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), frontrunner and expected victor during most of the race, lost to former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. This loss for Ellison came despite having garnered major endorsements from a large portion of the party, namely former Minority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), his successor Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), other members of both the establishment and progressive wings of the party – even a fellow candidate for the position, New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Raymond Buckley, who ended his campaign mid-February to publicly endorse Rep. Ellison.

Despite the notable support the Ellison camp gained, his competitor, Secretary Perez, proved difficult to shake. A few weeks ago the Perez campaign announced having secured the 180th DNC member in its support, a tally that sent reverberations throughout the party. According to the Washington Times, Rep. Ellison said to DNC members following the claim: “One of the other great candidates for this race released an unverifiable public whip count earlier this week. You received a voicemail, email and text message trying to make the race sound like it is over. And the goal is clear: to exert pressure on you.” Either Secretary Perez’s claim of voting gains was true and indicative of a changing tide that could not be stopped, or Rep. Ellison’s attempt to dismiss what might not have actually been true put off some of those same voters he hoped to reach.

Rep. Ellison, popular particularly among progressives in the party, has faced criticism for his past ties with the Nation of Islam, an African American political and religious movement which has been accused of black supremacy and anti-Semitism. Though Rep. Ellison has denied claims of close ties with the organization and has publicly denounced its anti-Semitic sentiments, writings from his time in college have been used to link him to defending anti-Semitic figures such as Stokely Carmichael. Carmichael, who later assumed the name Kwame Ture, had come under fire from the president of the University of Minnesota for claiming that Zionist Jews had worked with the Nazis during World War II and calling for their destruction. (Seriously, in his words, their destruction.) Rep. Ellison, attending law school there at the time, wrote for the student newspaper under the name “Keith E. Hakim” and defended Carmichael’s right to question the movement.

Secretary Perez symbolizes to many in the party the mainstream-establishment ideology of the Left that has recently come under fire during the past election cycle, embodied most readily in the public consciousness by Secretary Hillary Clinton. Having won elected office only once before, Perez expected to garner most of the support of the labor movement within the party, which constitutes about a fourth of the DNC membership.

Many see the shadow of the two Democratic 2016 presidential candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Secretary Clinton, in Rep. Ellison and Secretary Perez respectively. Interestingly though, their roles during the DNC race switched: Perez, the establishment candidate, snatched a slight surprise of a win against the heavily favored (though divisive) progressive candidate, Ellison. Each chair candidate was endorsed by their presidential doppelgangers.

What were formerly only cursory ripples in the Democratic Party – which functioned more or less as a well-oiled machine through much of the Obama administration – have become major cracks within the foundation of the party. The rise of the active and vocal Sanderite Democrats has led to infighting, with many Democrats even going so far as to prefer Donald Trump over Secretary Clinton as president.

Well, now they can have him.

With the win in Chairman Perez’s hands, his first act was to name Rep. Ellison as his deputy, perhaps signifying an end to the bickering between the two wings. The direction of the party as a whole is more important now than ever, and with the contentious race behind them, the Democrats may finally begin to rally more cohesively in response to the Trump administration. With a rocky start during his first month in office, the fledgling president has been under constant fire from the media, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and the public-at-large. If the Democrats can craft a unified strategy to put more pressure on the executive, we may be able to better curtail the rampant disregard he has shown in his policy decisions.

Hopefully, this win will prove to be the one we needed.


Moving Forward

By Jordan Cozby

As Democrats move forward following both a bruising 2016 primary and general election cycle, it’s important that we learn from our mistakes and improve our message. However, we should also be cautious about ignoring the nuances of the 2016 elections. In many Democratic races shaping up for 2017 and 2018 elections, journalists and activists alike have often framed potential primaries within an oversimplified Clinton-Sanders dichotomy. This paradigm does a disservice to the Democratic Party’s big-tent ideology, its candidates, and voters as a whole. For instance, Yale alumnus Tom Perriello is running in this year’s heated Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary. Though Perriello is attempting to garner support from progressive voters, he’s disputed comparisons between himself and Senator Sanders, instead believing himself to be more of an Obama-style reformer. In other races across the nation, similar competitive, healthy primaries will be taking place. We should encourage all candidates and evaluate potential Democratic leaders on their own merits, not by simply comparing them to Clinton or Sanders.


-Jordan Cozby

The Future of Feminism

By Adrianne Owings

Amidst the hype and excitement leading up to the monumental Women’s March on Washington, there was also, of course, controversy. There were calls for more intersectionality and representation of marginalized populations, specifically that of women of color and transgender women. For example, fashion designer Bob Bland, who had proposed a similar event and decided to merge with what would eventually become the million-person march, reflected on the fact that “the reality is that the women who initially started organizing [the march] were almost all white.” Others spoke up for the sake of diversity, eventually convincing the organizers to add an explicit diversity statement to the original mission of the march. And while the mission sought to “reflect…multiple and intersecting identities,” there was one community in particular that was explicitly ousted: anti-abortion feminists.


The New Wave Feminists, a feminist group that claims to work in order to make abortion “unthinkable and unnecessary,” was originally partnered with the march before significant backlash made organizers distance themselves from the group and reaffirm their pro-choice stance. The leader of New Wave Feminists, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa said her organization was “really excited to be included in…a strong, united female voice to say [to the Trump administration] ‘we’re watching you and we’re holding you accountable.’” After the march’s organizers denied the partnership, she was disappointed, saying that she would still have been willing to have her group as part of the march despite the disagreement on this single issue. “We have a different opinion, but there are so many ways our beliefs overlap,” she told Slate.


Although I strongly support reproductive justice and freedom for all, which includes supporting a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body, I was left asking myself questions I had yet to really consider. Is feminism truly intersectional if it doesn’t also include the voices of more conservative women, or even women who disagree with one or more typically feminist stances on women’s issue? How much does a woman have to disagree with mainstream feminist beliefs in order to have her title of “feminist” invalidated? Who has the authority to define feminism, as narrowly or as broadly as possible?


And to be honest, I’m still torn. On the one hand, my initial reaction is to agree with the decision of the march organizers because I agree with what they believe on the issue of abortion. After all, feminism is the belief in equality of the sexes, and men don’t face the same obstruction to reproductive justice and freedom that women do. Period (no pun intended). Therefore, feminism must include the right to choose. But on the other hand, I understand the sentiments of Herndon-De La Rosa. I was raised in Arkansas, a red state in the deep South, so I’m used to compromise on some issues in order to work towards a greater goal. And, to loosely paraphrase Simone de Beauvoir’s ideas in The Second Sex, women tend to identify with other groups (i.e. political affiliation, race, ethnicity, social class) before they identify with other women. Maybe this is a step in the right direction, even if we’re not in perfect harmony. Is it more productive in an administration that threatens the rights of women in so many other ways to include conservative women in the fight? Isn’t that the true inclusionary feminism for which we strive?


Defuniak Springs

By Paige Swanson

For my spring break, after spending a wonderful few days in New York with a friend, I hopped on a plane to visit my mom and grandparents in Defuniak Springs, Florida. Getting to Defuniak is by no means easy. The closest major airport is a full six hours away in Atlanta, Georgia. A layover there is inevitable and some choose to make the six hour drive rather than catch a connecting flight. From Atlanta, you have a choice between various small, local airports—all of which being rather expensive. From there, you have at a minimum an hour and a half drive home. Due to Defuniak’s near isolation from any major city, many people rarely leave. Defuniak Springs is in no way unique. There are thousands of other towns like it in the rural South and scattered across our country.

Defuniak Springs is representative of other towns throughout the South and the United States in its customs, traditions, and political demographics. 76% of Walton County Florida voted for Donald Trump in the past election—typical of northern Florida. You can’t deny the conservative southern heritage. If you walk through the Walmart parking lot—one of the few stores in the town—it’s not unusual to see bumper stickers pledging allegiance not to the United States of America, but to the Confederate States of America.

These are the people that won Donald Trump the election. However, we can’t blame them. They live in the towns that the Democratic Party left behind. I, like many others, sat in a state of shock on the night of November 8th, watching the fight for Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan’s electoral votes. It’s one thing to see county after county in northern Florida turn red, but it’s another to go visit one of those counties. Seeing building after building boarded up, business after business leave the area, it’s not difficult to see how Donald Trump’s message appealed to these people. Even the Po Boy’s Gun Shop, a central business in town has closed. The surrounding area is scattered with the deserted buildings of auto repair shops, diners, and local businesses that have left town—all largely replaced by Walmart. The residents there are angry. Their towns are quite literally falling apart and they don’t see that their voices are being heard. Donald Trump spoke to these people and made them feel that they would be represented under his administration.

As we move forward as a party in the next few years, we have to make our message more accessible to these people. Of course we feel that we have these people’s best interests at heart, but if they don’t feel the same way, it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that it will be easy, rather the opposite. The ideology here has been deeply ingrained in the culture for essentially all our nation’s history and it won’t change overnight. However, people here are still angry. Donald Trump isn’t living up to their expectations. The election results were clearly not what we had hoped for but they made one thing very clear: we are at a point of huge political change. If the Democratic Party wants to regain lost ground and appeal to the voters it’s lost, the time for change is now.

We can’t expect to align many of the Democratic positions on social or cultural issues with southern voters—large scale cultural change of that nature won’t happen overnight.  It’s not that these issues should be discarded—respectful discourse is essential to the progress of this nation. These issues, however, are not where we can make significant ground. Therefore, we need to focus on our other political end-goals that do align. The residents of towns like Defuniak Springs are interested in having local economies strengthened instead of the continued reign of big businesses. These people don’t want to lose the limited health coverage that they already have. If we can adapt our political rhetoric to appeal to these voters, we can lead these voters to see that we’re on their side. However, if we continue to leave out these marginalized voters, we will continue to suffer losses like the one that we did in November.


The Left Will Not Be Left Behind

By Neil Goodman

This past year gave the American public a master class in epithets. Our politics proved capable of synthesizing all opinions, positive or negative, about a person, a type of person, or a people into two little words. Crooked Hilary. Bernie Bros. Special Snowflakes. You get the idea.

In the old days, political commentators had to contrive catchy turns of phrase in order to pull this kind of thing off (See: Tricky Dick Nixon). Now, the dynamics of defining have changed, and Democrats have to learn. If not, the Left will simply languish under their other-imposed labels and will be left behind.

It is not enough to simply identify against these epithets. If a Democrat says, “I am not a special snowflake, and here’s why,” there is a body of research (here, here, and here for starters) that shows that this argument doesn’t achieve the intended objective. In fact, it only reinforces the association between “Democrat” and “special snowflake” in the minds of those with a prior bias, dubbed: “the backfire effect.”  Nixon saying, “I am not a crook” only reassured us that he was a crook.

So what does one do to dispel this damaging stereotype? Myth-debunking literature has some answers. First and foremost, we have to offer a non-refuting, positive narrative. Think of people's opinions as water coursing down a river; in order to control the stream, we can’t just clog the river’s path in order to stop where the water’s going. The water will just increase in pressure (just as people’s opinions will gain in intensity when refuted) and push through the barrier. Instead, one must offer an alternative path (without alternative facts, please) through which the water can flow. To redirect opinions personally, we most offer a new narrative path.

Now let's take a look at two narrative paths: "Hope and Change" and "Make America Great Again." The two are strikingly similar and have two distinct parts. (1) Both imply a sentiment that things currently are not ideal, and (2) each phrase (vaguely) points to a way forward. Interestingly, I'd attribute the first aspect of these phrases as the main attraction for many displeased voters; if they don't like one aspect of their lives, these candidates will fix it.

The surprising number of people that voted for both Obama and Trump speaks to the similarity of these two narrative paths. These voters were able to support two incredibly opposite partisan issues such as Wall Street regulation ("the big banks are exploiting average Americans") and border security ("illegal criminals are taking work away from average Americans") because they both fell within the narrative path of "I don't like how things currently are, and I want them to be better."  Side note: "Forward," Hillary Clinton's proposed narrative path, differed from these two because it implied a continuation of past processes (aspects of which irritated many Americans).

Let's get back to my earlier claim about ineffective refutation. It seems that simply saying "America doesn't need to be made great again because it's already great," still reinforces the notion that America needs to be made great again in listeners' minds. Refuting seems to be unfortunately futile, but offering an unrelated alternative narrative path can be effective.

Readers, the next time a Fox New anchor calls you a special snowflake, shoot back with what you really are. Don't waste time refuting their claim. Focus on your passion, the issues your support, and why you think that your ideology will do the most good. Provide a narrative path to progress that will divert flow of opinion away from the opposition's.


The Democratic Supermajority in California

By Albin Quan

In 2016, given the overwhelming support for Hillary Clinton and the 14.6 million ballots cast in November, California voters handed Democrats a narrow supermajority in both state chambers. With this mandate of progressive action, Assembly and Senate Democrats must work together to address the most critical problems within the state and cannot afford to delay. No longer can they blame intransigent Republicans but now they must implement ambitious solutions for the state and lead the country as the vanguard of progressive energy.

While the House Freedom Caucus handed the Republican party and President Trump a defeat last week over the showdown on healthcare, the California Democratic party will need to confront its own intraparty differences if it wants to avoid a similar reckoning in the State Legislature. To do this, the Democratic leadership should seek to assuage concerns from pro-business members that its agenda will harm the state’s economy by promising incremental implementation and bipartisan deliberation. Restraint, compromise, and pragmatism are the tools of the governing party and to demonstrate their cooperation, Democrats should continue to work with moderate Republicans to enact common sense reform throughout the state.

With Governor Jerry Brown’s leadership, Democrats have already proposed a multi-billion dollar transportation and infrastructure deal to improve California’s aging roads, a sweeping financial aid proposal to address college affordability for nearly half a million students, and a legislative package addressing immigration policies in the state under the Trump administration. While the supermajority has not changed the fundamental dynamics of Sacramento, visionary policies and dramatic gestures of defiance have given California Democrats a unifying agenda that they can offer as an alternative to conservative politics throughout the United States.