Progressives Ponder Next Move After Ellison Loses to Perez in DNC Chair Election

Posted March 1, 2017

MP3 Interview with Shannon Jackson, executive director of Our Revolution, conducted by Scott Harris


As the Democratic Party was adjusting to being iced out of power in Congress and the White House under the Donald Trump presidency, the long-awaited election of a new chairperson of the Democratic National Committee was held in Atlanta, Georgia on Feb. 25. The two main contenders for the post were Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a supporter of Bernie Sanders' presidential bid and former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez. When Perez won the chairmanship by a vote of 235 to 200, there were concerns that many Sanders supporters and other progressives who had supported Ellison may walk away from the party and invest their time and energy in independent political projects.

But Perez, a supporter of Hillary Clinton’s failed bid for the White House, immediately offered an olive branch to his opponent and his many union supporters by offering Ellison the post of deputy chair. Despite serious divisions within the party over issues such as the role of super delegates in the nomination process, a vote that rejected extending the eight-year ban on corporate political action committee donations to the party – and anger at the DNC for tilting toward Hillary Clinton in the primary campaign, Ellison joined Perez in calling for unity in opposing Donald Trump and his right-wing agenda.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Shannon Jackson, executive director of Our Revolution, a progressive political action group formed by Bernie Sander’s supporters after the 2016 primary campaign. Here, Jackson reflects on the victory of Tom Perez over Our Revolution’s endorsed candidate Keith Ellison for DNC chair, and the challenges ahead for a party that has seen historic losses in Congress, governors' races and state legislative seats. [Rush transcript]

SHANNON JACKSON: At this point, we really saw an incredible leader in Keith (Ellison). We thought he embodied exactly what we wanted to have the Democratic party become. We thought he had a transformative organizing energy that would have really brought the values that we feel the majority of the electorate that make up the demographic party care about. We felt Keith was, is an incredible leader. He's been an incredible leader while organizing and through his campaign in Minnesota, and on the countless races he's been involved with throughout the U.S., including Sen. Sanders' run for president. It needs to be stated that we are very disappointed that his run was unsuccessful. But we are hopeful that Secretary Perez, now DNC chairman Perez will work with Keith to learn from his skills and supplement his ability to lead the party in that direction. His move to give Rep. Ellison the position of deputy chair was, I hope it could actually become something. It could be said that was a consolation prize. I would hope that Keith does play a very large role in forming a new Democratic party and something that our supporters at OurRevolution want to be a part of.

Regardless of the direction the DNC takes, I'm actually very worried where it goes after the vote it took before the DNC chair was elected. There was a vote accepting large corporation moneys, donations with a ban that had been lifted after eight years of being in place under the Obama administration. It was voted upon by the same members that elected Perez to reinstate it. That does concern me because it does not show me that they are learning from what works and what doesn't work. Our supporters at OurRevolution really are concerned with where money comes from, who we answer to. OurRevolution is proud to have a full disclosure policy and not take any corporate money and we would wish that the DNC followed suit, had the same standards.

But I really do encourage people to get involved locally. I think that we were looking at the DNC race in a two-part strategy. We had the "how are we going to transform the Democratic party?" We were supporting Keith on top; that was our top-down approach. And then we had the bottom-up approach, which we're still actively engaged it, win every state over the next two years as they re-organize their state party for the DNC. There are state party elections and there are precinct races on every level for people to get involved with. I think in total, there's something like 6,800 positions that people can run for locally to be involved at the local level of their Democratic party and make their Democratic party something to be proud of.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Shannon, of the many serious issues that the Democratic party confronts now where they no longer have control of any branch of the federal government, have lost the majority of governors' seats over the past eight years, lost nearly 1,000 legislative seats in state legislatures across the country – what are some of the big issues that you think the party needs to confront internally before they can really tackle the major issues of the all-important message to people around the country as to why Democrats should be trusted with positions of power and decision-making?

SHANNON JACKSON: That's a great question. I think if you look at the country right now, as you said, we've lost over 1,000 seats nationwide at local levels. We do not have – I think the Republicans are just a few governorships away from being able to have a constitutional convention, which they can completely rewrite this country in a direction in which would not to live under. And it's scary, at this point, it's a huge red flag that the Democratic party has been receptive or hearing the people's needs relating to the working class Americans and give them a reason to vote for them. I think they need to take a hard look at their message and see how they can attract the working class Americans back to their party. They have these listening tours that they showcase as they go around and listen to people that are actually living in their communities – I think there should be more than just a show of faith, I think that they should really listen to their constituents. I think that they need to understand that the minimum wage and the progressive platform that we crafted after the election is exactly the direction people need to hit. The Democrats have a very good social platform. They have all the great talking points of bringing people together of rallying around social issues that on a large swathe basis, you could say the Republicans are very divisive. The Democrats are meant for people to come them. They should have everyone racing to them and they should be the ones in power, but they are not, and they have to take a long look at what are the issues that are actually resonating with people. I believe they had issues of economics and the platform that Sen. Sanders ran on. The majority of things the senator spoke about were the issues and the issues that meant the most to people were what they doing in their everyday life – whether it was healthcare, whether it was family leave, whether it was something that affects them today in the workplace, a paycheck. The Democratic party needs to find those values and run on them and talk to the people.

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