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From The Vaults

Progressives Should Work To Build A Grassroots Democratic Party Movement

To vitalize representative democracy, progressives need to be working to bring two movements to reality: 1) a grassroots Democratic Party movement 2) a grassroots democracy movement. A grassroots Democratic Party movement would engage and empower grassroots Democrats to be positively engaged in the Party. A  grassroots democracy movement would engage and empower everyone of every political point of view in the grassroots to be positively engaged in our democracy. Both movements are of crucial importance, but of the two the grassroots Democratic Party movement is the one that right now seems more in reach.

According to the current Montgomery County Democratic Party constitution, at most, the Central Committee can have 360 members. But, why only 360 members?  Why not have a constitution that enlarges the Central Committee to allow every one of Montgomery County’s 36,000 registered Democrats who so chooses to have participation and voting rights?

MCDP actions that were appropriate for the horse and buggy age — greatly restricting the number of voting members and requiring members to be physically present to participate in meetings — needlessly encumber a 21st century MCDP organization. In the horse and buggy age, an MCDP organized as a direct democracy would have been impossible, but in the 21st century, everyone has a smart phone. Making a deliberative democracy work for groups of hundreds or even thousands of individuals is very doable.

A grassroots Democratic Party movement would be built on a new vision of the Democratic party.  The start of such a movement is when Democrats begin to brainstorm answers to these questions: What would a 21st century “party of the people” look like? How would such a party be organized? What would be its actions? What would its constitution contain?

The opportunity to engage in the local Democratic party organization is open to all Democrats — guaranteed by state law that empowers every Democrat in the county the opportunity to stand for election to the party’s governing Central Committee. Democrats in each precinct elect one person living in the precinct to represent them on the Committee. This opportunity comes every four years and the next opportunity to be elected to the Central Committee is 2018 — petitions are due on February 7, 2018.

 

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To Transform the Local Democratic Party, Democrats Should Focus On Preparing For 2018 Reorganization Meeting

Blue Ohio is a Dayton group that started in response to the horrendous 2016 election results.  Today, I sent the group an email urging that they focus their efforts on a big opportunity to transform the Democratic Party — The Montgomery County Democratic Party’s Reorganization Meeting scheduled for June, 2018. 

I’ve read notes of your meetings and these three statements stand out:

  • The purpose of “Blue Ohio” is to create a sustainable progressive Democratic electoral majority in Ohio.
  • motivate a strong majority of Ohioans to vote for Democratic candidates in local state and national elections
  • How: Through education and emotional engagement around progressive values, transform the Democratic Party into a vehicle that recruits competent, honest, progressive candidates, staff, and neighborhood leadership.

After my retirement from teaching high school math, I determined to get involved in the Montgomery County Democratic Party and was elected to the Central Committee in 2006.  In 2007 I started posting on a web-site — DaytonOS.com — initiated by David Esrati and two others and eventually when Esrati gave up the web-site, I became its owner. It is now a ten year record of my posts. I love the idea that your group wants to “transform the Democratic party.”  Transformation is essential. The purpose of this note is to give light on some background information and analysis that I hope will be helpful in achieving that goal.

The point I want to emphasize is this:  Your immediate opportunity to transform the MCDP is through the next Reorganization Meeting that will be held in May or early June of 2018. Each of the 360 precincts can elect a delegate to that meeting as a voting member of the Central Committee. At that meeting a MCDP constitution effective for the next four years is established by a simple majority vote and officers are elected by a majority vote.

Our best chance to transform the MCDP is through democratic means. In 2014 only 37% of Montgomery County’s 360 precinct had at least one candidate to represent that precinct at the Reorganization Meeting. Check out the map I made in 2014 showing the number of Democrats in each precinct in Montgomery County and showing which precincts were represented at the 2014 Reorganization Meeting. The MCDP is failing to franchise Montgomery County Democrats to have a vote in the local party organization.

Your group and Democrats who agree with your group should make it their goal to envision what a transformed MCDP that is ready for the 21st century would look like — what its constitution should look like. Make this vision of a dynamic local organization be what rallies Democrats to get involved and inspires Democrats to commit to working productively together. One big change to the constitution that I would like to see, for example, is the provision for online participation in MCDP meetings. What can the party do to meaningfully engage young people? What can it do to advance civics education for everyone?

If Blue Ohio agrees to use the opportunity of the MCDP Reorganization Meeting as a means of “transforming the Democratic party,” I hope the group will consider these questions a focus of its brainstorming:

  1. What is our vision of a transformed MCDP?  What is a MCDP Constitution that will support and accelerate bringing that vision to reality?
  2. How do we get the word out? What is our plan for using our vision of a transformed MCDP / New Constitution to inspire Democrats to register by the Reorganization Meeting deadline — 4 p.m. on February 7, 2018 ?

To advance your goal to “motivate a strong majority of Ohioans to vote for Democratic candidates in local state and national elections,” the Democratic Party must demonstrate that it is a party organized for the 21st century that is engaging and inviting and — democratic. The “political boss” structure that historically has been the hallmark of the MCDP is a turn-off to the general public and is self-defeating. To engage and empower progressive candidates, the party must change its organizational structure and its practices.

 

Here are some excerpts that gives some background. 

Note To David Pepper: Go For the Big Win — Invite All Ohio Democrats To Become Voting Members Of The ODP February 11th, 2015

The ODP is a political institution consisting of only 148 voting members. This small group stands apart from the Democratic base. In the 2014 May Democratic Primary, there were 1,307,000 Democrats who voted. These active Democrats are the ODP “Infrastructure” and success for the party depends a lot on whether this group is “energized.” Very few of these Democrats feel they have any voice within the Democratic Party. To energize this base we need to expand opportunity.  We need to reimagine the Ohio Democratic Party as an extended Roberts Rules online community of Democrats who commit to working together, to listening and communicating with each other, and to making positive impacts in their local communities. Even a participation of only 10% of those voting in the last Democratic Primary would bring 130,000 Democrats into community, but even a start of only 10,000 would be very energizing.

Maps Show — Precincts With Lots Of Dems Will Have No Representation At The MCDP Reorganization Meeting April 10th, 2014

Of the total 360 precincts in the county, only 132 precincts (37%) — shown in yellow — are participating in the May 4 Democratic Primary to elect a member of the MCDP Central Committee. The first task of these elected members will be to act as a voting delegate to the reorganization meeting where the leaders and the direction of the party for the next four years will be determined.

The map shows that many of the 228 precincts without a candidate — shown in shades of blue — have a lot of Democrats. One question the party needs to address is why the suburbs, where many of Democrats live, there has been little effort or success in meaningfully organizing the local party.  If you click on the map it will enlarge to reveal the name of each precinct.

Imagining A Transformed Montgomery County Democratic Party — It’s A Systems’ Problem February 18th, 2014

The purpose that should animate the MCDP must be one that transcends simply winning elections. The purpose of MCDP that will inspire and motivate the action that is needed must be one that is more than simply acting as an advocacy group focused on marketing certain issues. We need to focus on something more fundamental. I believe we can find a source of motivation and civic action by focusing on democracy itself. The MCDP should see its transcending mission as promoting and empowering democracy. If we could actually fulfill such a mission — by educating the public, by facilitating opportunities for political participation, by creating community — then, of course, Democrats would win elections in droves.

The Key Question For The MCDP — How To Motivate More Democrats To Make The Needed Effort March 27th, 2014

Political party organizations, such as the MCDP, still cling to a top-down system, and, though the group is much diminished compared to a previous age, many of the most active members of the party still hold patronage jobs.  But, it is obvious, to be successful the MCDP needs to greatly expand the membership of its active community. It needs to engage more volunteers. There is a whole group of county Democrats who are waiting to be invited into meaningful action. The current MCDP system is failing to do so.

Volunteer organizations, such as political parties, must find ways to attract volunteers and to inspire, engage and empower volunteers. In Montgomery County, there are about 35,000 Democrats who vote in every Democratic Primary, but only a tiny number of these Democrats are active within the party. If only 10% of these Democrats could become productively involved in their local party, the results would be transformative.

The MCDP Is Disenfranchising County Democrats Of Their Right To Vote For New MCDP Leadership  January 18th, 2014

The insiders always stay in power because news of this important meeting is always kept a big secret from any county Democrat who is not a party insider. This deliberate disenfranchisement of county Democrats of their right to meaningfully participate in their party is reason enough to conclude that MCDP needs major change. There are plenty of other reasons.

There is a whole group of county Democrats who are waiting to be invited into meaningful action. The current MCDP system is failing to do so. Volunteer organizations, such as political parties, must find ways to attract volunteers and to inspire, engage and empower volunteers. In Montgomery County, there are about 35,000 Democrats who vote in every Democratic Primary, but only a tiny number of these Democrats are active within the party. If only 10% of these Democrats could become productively involved in their local party, the results would be transformative.

At MCDP Reorganization Meeting I Will Propose A Change In By-Laws To Prohibit Primary Endorsements June 2nd, 2010

The point of the endorsement process, as traditionally practiced by the MCDP, I discovered, is to suppress primary participation.

I was enlightened about what MCDP is all about during the short debate that occurred in response to my motion.  One insistent person demanded that the discussion be stopped and the question called.  I thought there was a lot more to discuss about the whole matter of MCDP endorsement policies and didn’t appreciate the steam roller parliamentary action to suppress discussion.  The chairperson of the MCDP, Mark Owens, is an elected official, the Clerk of Courts.  My AHA moment occurred only later, when I learned that the insistent person demanding discussion be stopped is an employee in Mark Owens’ office. As I looked around at the group in attendance, I realized that,  at its core, the MCDP is a small clique of elected officials and Democrats with patronage jobs. It is the self interest of this group that drives MCDP actions and policies, and this small group is very unrepresentative of Montgomery County Democrats, in general.

Reorganization Meeting For Montgomery County Democrats Unlikely To Bring Any Improvement May 13th, 2010

I attended my first Reorganization Meeting four years ago, in 2006, when I first became active in the county organization. At that meeting, I was actually shocked by the attitude and actions of those in control of the meeting — I observed a stifling of debate and a rush to push through a pre-established outcome. It was my first taste of the antidemocratic attitude of the leadership of the local party.

For this Reorganization Meeting, I personally recruited about seven people to run as a delegate and three of those individuals won, but most Democrats in the county had no idea that this opportunity for participation in their local Democratic Party, via the Democratic Primary, even exists. And so 184 of the 360 precincts in the county had no candidate. The party suppressed information about this delegate opportunity and even the DDN seemed in collusion to suppress information about the opportunity — refusing to print a letter to the editor I wrote in January urging county Democrats to become involved.

How Gerrymandering Defeated An Outstanding Candidate And Sent a Weak Candidate To Columbus  March 5th, 2008

When ordinary Democrats see that the Montgomery County Democratic Party has endorsed a candidate, they need to consider the source. A Party endorsement is not the result of an objective democratic process involving the deliberation of many MCDP active members. Far from it. The “Party” really boils down to a small handful of insiders who know how to get their way.

The explanation of why these insiders chose Roland Winburn over Vic Harris has to do with the concept of playing by Party rules, the concept of waiting one’s turn. It has to do with insiders seeking to advance their own political careers. Endorsement does not come from a fair analysis of who would best serve the people. Those Winburn supporters who know both Vic and Roland will admit that this analysis is true. These supporters do not claim that Roland is better qualified, or that Roland would be a more effective representative. They are loyal to the MCDP and feel that the Party should have the power to advance whomever it thinks most appropriate — for any number of reasons.

So, one way to look at it, Vic Harris is a victim of gerrymandering. In a competitive general election race, there is simply no question that Vic would be a much stronger candidate than Roland. There is no question that if given the chance, Vic would be a much more effective and energetic representative of the people than Roland. But gerrymandering gives a Party a monopoly, and monopolies have little motivation to innovate or produce quality.

Because of gerrymandering, the Party has a monopoly in the 40th OHD. Because of gerrymandering, the Party knew it could play insider politics, and could advance a weak candidate without the fear of penalty.

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If We Listen To Founding Fathers — We Need Fifteen-Fold Increase In Membership Of U. S. House of Representatives

The current size of the U.S. House of Representatives is much smaller than that envisioned by our founding fathers, who felt each member of the House should represent no more than 50,000 citizens. Now each member represents about 750,000 citizens. If the ratio recommended by the writers of the constitution was in force today, the House of Representative would have fifteen times as many members as it presently has — 6525 members. Ohio would have 240 members.

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If we followed the Founder’s wishes, the OH-10 region that now has one vote in the House — Representative Mike Turner — would instead have fifteen votes. OH-10 would be divided into regions of about 35 precincts each and each region would elect a representative. With such few precincts composing a region, efforts to gerrymander would have marginal impact. The influence of special interests would be diluted. There would be much more opportunity to elect representatives reflecting the diversity of points of view and backgrounds in the region. More minor political parties would have an opportunity to be represented.

If we followed the Founder’s wishes, the House would be closer to being the “People’s House.” It would come closer to fulfilling the ideal described by John Adams: “It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason and act like them.”

A fifteen-fold increase in the number of representative would not mean a fifteen-fold increase in expense since at present a representative with 750,000 constituents employs multiple helpers and such a multitude would not be needed for a constituency that is fifteen times smaller. The elected representative of a miniaturized district would do the work now assigned to staff in the current huge district.

A fifteen-fold increase in the U. S. House of Representatives would require new rules for how the House operates — bringing the operation of our republic into the 21st century. These new rules would allow most debate and votes to occur online, with members empowered as participants in an online deliberative democracy, and with constituents invited to observe and to give input in ways not now possible.

Changing the size of the membership of the House of Representatives can be done as an act of Congress. We need to ask House candidates to commit to working in Congress to greatly increase the size of House membership.

Here is some history:

For the first 130 years, the House of Representatives grew every decennial census (with one exception in 1840), in accordance with the Framers’ intent as seen in Federalist No 57. (1:50,000 ratio) In 1910, the House grew to its present size of 435 members. In 1920, due to a political stalemate, no reapportionment took place (a clear violation of the Constitution).

The Reapportionment Act of 1929 permanently froze the size of the House of Representatives at 435 members. While clearly out of step with the Framers’ intent, the Constitution did not prohibit Congress from placing this ceiling on the House size.

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Making Plans For A  “Small Group Of Thoughtful Committed Citizens” To Change OH-10

In response to my article outlining my Bock Scale of Republic Robustness (BSRR), Chet Bauch wrote an encouraging reply which started with this comment: “Hi MIKE: Your BSRR is dead nuts on. Problem: realistically people don’t have the time to participate in these activities, with the exception of a few.” This is my reply:

Chet, a small group — “the exception of a few” that you refer to — would make a huge impact if they were united in purpose and determination. The wise words attributed to Margret Mead comes to mind: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The DaytonOS masthead hasn’t changed in eight years. It includes this question: “How to make a better world?”  Mead gives an answer — become a member of a group of thoughtful committed citizens.

The group of “thoughtful committed citizens” that I’m imagining is: “The Fellowship Of Those Who Dare To Understand (TWDU).”

I like the notion of fellowship, friendship. Polarized partisans can still enjoy friendship and fellowship when they are united by a connector of more importance than politics. A commitment to family or to religion usually takes precedence over politics.  My thought is that TWDU fellowship would be a diverse group representing all points of view. The connector for the diverse members of TWDU would be a commitment to change the world by increasing theirs and the public’s understanding of the world in which they live. Part of each member’s commitment would be to do the work needed to understand each other and each other’s point of view.

My thought is that the initial goal of TWDU should be to change our congressional district, OH-10. If enough citizens in OH-10 could act as group, a deliberative democracy, to bring about a big boost in theirs and the public’s understanding of issues and politics, then OH-10 would be changed. It’s all about motivation. A big goal — if it seems feasible — can be very motivating.  The notion of changing OH-10 would be very motivating to a lot of citizens, particularly if there is shown a positive vision of what such change would look like.

A good question: To change OH-10, what would it take? How many citizens would be required? My conclusion is that 1% would be more than enough, and with the right plan, engaging 1% in a close-knit group is feasible. In OH-10, 1% of registered voters amounts to 5000 citizens — about 10 in each precinct. The idea would be for this group to use the latest technology to act as an online deliberative democracy — deciding the priorities and actions of the group. The notion of networking large numbers of individuals as voting members in a direct democracy would be motivating.

Thanks for your encouragement. Several months ago, I declared that I was putting together a plan and I’ve yet to deliver. It’s been a challenge but I’m still thinking through a five year project — based on generating the motivation and the leadership needed to establish a network of TWDU fellowships throughout OH-10.

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The Fellowship Of Those Who Dare To Know, Dare To Understand

I like the old gospel song that begins, “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms …”   I remember the congregation enthusiastically singing those words in the church of my youth — a congregation where there was a wonderful spirit of togetherness and fellowship. This is my dictionary’s definition of “fellowship” :

A community bound together in fellowship: companionship, companionability, sociability, comradeship, camaraderie, friendship, mutual support; togetherness, solidarity.

We are in an era of intense partisanship. One benefit of partisanship is fellowship — a solidarity, a companionship — with other like-minded individuals, just as members of opposing armies enjoy companionship and troop camaraderie. The problem is, our emphasis on partisanship is failing to produce the thoughtful and energetic government that we must have — if our republic is to survive the huge challenges coming our way.

We must move beyond partisanship. It is clear that a long-term answer to fixing our system will require a big increase in nonpartisanship — cooperation and unity within the system — it will require more peace, love, and understanding. I’m thinking it will require a big increase in the fellowship of those who dare to understand. Such a fellowship would be focused on understanding:

  • the social, economic, and political world in which we live,
  • the challenges of the future
  • competing points of view of others.

The “Dare to Understand” is a reference to Immanuel Kant’s famous essay, “What is Enlightenment?” The opening paragraph:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

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