by Sean Raycraft
I Like the majority of the country was in utter shock and disbelief over the election of Donald Trump. Those who know me, also know I was a strident supporter of Bernie Sanders. I felt like he had the right ideas, he had a consistent progressive track record on every issue I care deeply about.
Like many other Sanders supporters I was emotionally crushed after the Democratic primary. Like the vast majority of Sanders supporters (contrary to popular media narratives) I sucked it up, and fought for Hillary Clinton. Not because I thought she was this perfect, godlike paragon of virtue, because she isn’t, but because in life, we do not always get everything we want, especially in politics.
I went to phone banks. I walked precincts in Nevada, it was harder to do than it was for Sanders, because my heart just wasn’t in it as much. I care too much about workers right, feminism, the future of the world and democracy to let my differences with Hillary Clinton allow a right wing government led by an incompetent racist take control of the world’s only superpower. Then November 8 happened.
My journey to the California Democratic Party Convention started in late 2016. I didn’t know anything about the structure or workings of the Democratic Party. I had no idea what the ADEM elections were, what their function was, or why it matters.
For the record, ADEM means Assembly District Election Meeting, and they function similarly to other party caucuses.
Typically, these elections are glorified popularity contests, but this time many candidates and slates put in quite a bit of time, energy and effort into organizing. Citizens in our district were (still are) angry over the results of the November elections and clearly wanted to do something about it.
So, its late November, and I get a call from my friend Josh Jones about this ADEM . I have long been a community organizer, working on issues ranging from workers rights, to sick pay for all working Californians, minimum wage, farm worker OT, housing security and racial justice. Suddenly didn’t have anything to work on.
But what the hell was an ADEM election? Josh and I had worked together on a few of these issues, so I said sure, why not? I started organizing with people I hardly knew at all as part of this takeover of the California Democratic Party with people I hardly knew.
Nurses, community organizers, former Sanders campaign activists, and UCD student activists. I can honestly say these people are the most caring, dedicated, honest and decent people I have ever organized with. We were going to be part of a coordinated, statewide effort to take the California Democratic Party Chair from the established powers that be, to fight the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, and to fight the culture of extreme deference to incumbent elected Democrats.
I have seen this corrupting influence of money in politics up close. Local elected Democrats like State Senator Bill Dodd and Assembly members Cooley and Cooper seemingly care more about campaign contribution checks from the wine industry than social justice and basic human dignity. According to various government watchdog groups,
Senator Dodd received over $125,000.00 in campaign contributions from the wine, beer and alcohol industry in the last campaign cycle. Cooley took nearly 40,000 from the Farm Bureau and from the Wine industry. Cooper took 43,000 from these groups.
Unsurprisingly, they all voted against basic fairness for farm workers when they voted no on AB 1066, which provides a pathway to overtime after 8 hours of work in a day. Fortunately, there were other Democrats who saw the value in basic fairness, and voted yes. The Governor, in his wisdom saw the same and signed it into law.
So, all of us who had never really organized together, came together over the holiday months, and worked our butts off to organize for the January 8 election. Normally these caucuses are placid affairs, with low turnouts. To put it in perspective, in the 2014 round, enormously popular and all around amazing woman,
Marlene Bell ran away with the election with 100 votes for the entire assembly district 4. Her next closest competitor came in with 60 or so if memory serves. On January 8, in the middle of a driving rainstorm that flooded the parking lot and closed roads all over the district, I got 378 votes. Our entire slate of ten candidates got elected. Similar results happened all over the state, where reform slates won, capturing over 60% of the ADEM delegates.
For the vast majority of the public daring to read this, the California Democratic Party awards its delegates into thirds. One third are elected delegates like myself, 7 men and 7 women in each assembly district. There are 80 assembly districts in California, so 1120 delegates, can be elected. One third are selected through Democratic Party County Central committees.
The final third are Democratic Party elected officials and their appointed delegates, on a sliding scale. For instance, State Senate Pro Tempore has 30 appointed delegates at one end, while losing assembly district candidates have 3. The chair of the Democratic Party is a powerful person.
They appoint all the chairs of the subcommittees, and wield tremendous fundraising influence in endorsing candidates, where party funds are allocated and ultimately what the party agenda is.
The two major candidates are Kimberly Ellis, Executive Director of Emerge California, a non profit organization that recruits and trains progressive women to run for political office, and Eric Bauman, Male Vice Chair of the Party and insider favorite. It was commonly accepted that this election was supposed to be a Bauman coronation, not a bitterly partisan affair.
Kimberly Ellis organized at the grassroots, and with the help of veteran Sanders organizers, won 60% of the ADEM delegate seats. I myself am a strong Kimberly supporter, but there are things I like about Bauman. He is ardently pro labor, as am I.
There was a hit piece put out by a political blogger in LA that admonished Bauman for refusing to take his business card, as it did not have a union bug on it. He also personally walked the picket line with the striking CWA workers on Saturday. As someone who is adamantly pro labor, I like that aspect of Bauman, because I like Democrats who stand up for working people.
It is important to note, that both Bauman and Ellis were strong Hillary Clinton supporters. What has not been talked about much in media is how the Bernie Sanders activists are fighting and fighting hard for Kimberly Ellis, a black woman (and one of my favorite people). Despite what you may hear about “Bernie bros”, we absolutely love Kimberly, feminism, and people of color, and are willing to fight hard for them.
Kimberly is the unapologetic pure progressive in the race, who also walked the picket line with CWA workers. On the issues, the two are practically indistinguishable. They both are ardently socially liberal and pro workers rights.
On style of leadership and priorities, they are very different. Bauman is the status quo, and his argument would be that in California, Democrats are doing great. Ellis would point out that in California, there are many bright blue areas and bright red areas, and we need to spend more time and effort in every single county across the state to elect Democrats.
They also differ in leadership style. Bauman is seemingly the authoritarian, the party boss, and has a reputation for twisting arms and intimidating the opposition. Ellis wants to flatten the power pyramid of the Democratic Party in California and bring more people into the decision making process, diffusing the power.
Importantly, Ellis wants to change the culture of extreme deference to incumbent Democratic elected officials, which in turn earned her the ire of the established democratic powers that be.
One of the reasons I ran to be a delegate was to change this culture. The party endorsed Bill Dodd over Mariko Yamada, largely because he was a sitting legislator, combined with his strong fundraising record. Mariko was clearly the better choice for progressives, and had an amazing track record, but the party chose to endorse the sitting legislator anyways after a bitter floor battle at the convention. Needless to say, she would have voted yes on the farm worker bill.
I am hesitant to call the 2017 California Democratic Party a single convention, because I feel there were really two conventions going on. One for the party insiders, and one for the outsiders, who have elbowed their way in. Friday night, the newcomers held a well-attended dinner, with a full sticker price of 27$, and reduced prices for those who could not pay that amount. Speakers at that event were Congressman Ro Khanna, the California congressman who successfully unseated a sitting Democrat from San Jose, Roseanne Demoro,
President of Nation Nurses United, Dottie Nygard, congressional candidate and challenger to Republican Jeff Denham, and Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner. All these speakers talk about a fiercely progressive vision for California and America, and how simply resisting the Trump and the Republican agenda is not enough. They were all ardent supporters of SB 562, the Healthy California Act, which will create a single payer health care system for California if passed.
By contrast the official Democratic Party dinner hosted at the convention, was headlined by Adam Schiff, who has risen to prominence by becoming the media’s go to Democrat to criticize the Trump administration. I watched the whole speech on YouTube, and I found it rather dry and disinteresting.
It is exactly the kind of thing I would expect to find on MSNBC. A whole lot of talk about Russia, and not much in the way of substantive policy proposals, or economic populism. I did not go to that dinner, but I am told it was a lucullan affair, with a ticket price of well over $100 a plate.
The convention schedule was busy with free events, sponsored by the likes of Gavin Newsom, or the Chairman, or progressive groups. You could go get free drinks, or free ice cream, or even go to a free concert if you endorsed the right candidate.
While I certainly personally have no problem with people having a good time, it offends my political sensibilities to be partying hard at a time when Donald Trump occupies the White House, and the Republican agenda seeks to harm much of what I deem important in political life. Social justice, advancement of humanity, preserving democracy, union rights, gender equality, LGBTQIA equality, and the separation of church and state are all under existential threat from a united Republican government. Seemingly, its a time to put in the work needed to change that situation, not the time for lavish parties.
While reflecting on the extravagance of the Democratic Party in California, I am reminded of a famous quote by Voltaire
““History is only the pattern of silken slippers descending the stairs to the thunder of hobnailed boots climbing upward from below.”
In the case of the Democratic Party in California, I think one foot is wearing the boot, and the other, the slipper, and it remains to be seen which will become dominant over time, or if the Party will ascend the stairs or slide down.
Late Saturday night, the delegate votes were counted. Everyone thought it was going to be a close race. Both sides had good reasons to think they had the votes to win. I was at the Kimberly victory party. She was ahead in the count until the very end, when Eric Bauman pulled ahead in the final count, winning by a razor thin 62 votes out of 3000 cast.
Kimberly still hasn’t conceded the race as of this moment. Her supporters are emotional. We thought we were going to win and had good reason to think so. If you show me someone who is happy about losing, Ill show you someone who didn’t try hard enough to begin with. To my fellow Kimberly supporters, I would quote Joe Hill’s last words and say “Don’t mourn, organize”.
Much of the media has worked hard to build a narrative that California Democrats are uncouth for yelling “F- Donald Trump!” Loudly at the convention, and John Burton flipping the bird. Frankly, I think that is the wrong take away from this convention. The Party is clearly split between the activist class and the leadership class, and the media focuses on the cheap headline.
The party is split on priorities, rhetoric and style, and it is up to the new Party Chair to prevent these political divides from becoming unbridgeable political chasms. Should the future chair of the party read this, I would like them to know I will do my part to elect progressives, hold them accountable and push for a progressive agenda at every level of government.
I would also add they would be wise to make party reform and unity a priority, and that means being inclusive, transparent and democratic. Resisting the Trump agenda is *not* enough for California.
Sean Raycraft is an elected ADEM Delegate in AD 4 and proud shop steward.