Braisted has a long, but important, post up today about the struggles within our state Democratic party to actually be a party of the people who consider themselves Democrats–which means not just letting women and black people and Hispanic people and gay people and young people and people with disabilities and on and on come to stuff and participate at the level of being bossed around, but making room for them to lead.
Unfortunately, it appears that there are some folks within the party’s executive committee and outside of it that don’t support such goals. At the TNDP Exec Committee meeting this past Sunday, the committee voted to create a new committee to review the plan instituted by the affirmative action committee (Democrats sure do love their committees). Luckily, Chairman Forrester put in charge of this committee a co-chair of the Affirmative Action committee, Chris Anderson, who was instrumental in getting these youth inclusion goals to where they are.
This new delegate selection committee will meet tomorrow to make recommendations on the plan. My understanding is that some of the old guard is fighting to either reduce or eliminate some of the youth inclusion, disability, or LGBT goals. This is the wrong path to be taking.
Of course it is. I don’t often praise Forrester, but I will in this case. Good thinking on his part to put someone from the affirmative action committee in charge of this committee.
But I have to slightly disagree with Braisted about why this is happening. Yes, I think the excuse many Democrats tell themselves is that tired old affirmative action canard about promoting unqualified minorities over well-qualified white people (to which I say, Exec Committee, if you’ve been hiding well-qualified straight white male Dems, fuck you! Do you not see what trouble we’re in? But shoot, if your complaint is just that some unqualified minority might get a spot instead of the usual unqualified straight white dude? I can’t sweat that shit.), but I think there’s something deeper.
Yesterday, over at Feministe, Jill linked to this post by a woman who used to try to help feminist organizations diversify. And the conclusion this woman comes to also hints at the structural problems the Tennessee Democratic Party faces:
More often, however, splits emerge along racial lines — the white women simply aren’t receptive to the core ideas put forward by the women of color. Those ideas are “too expensive” in money, time or resources. They’re outside the boundaries of “the purpose of the organization.” The white women “don’t think they’ll work” or don’t feel they’re “fair.” The donors might object. And so on. White rejection is usually passive aggressive, and resembles the Transactional Analysis game of “Yes, but…” The women who attempt to bridge are shut down by both communities because the women of color feel that “it’s happening all over again,” and the white women experience the list of proposals as some kind of “attack.”
This is the moment when personal prejudice can be coupled with power to enforce discrimination at an institutional level: this, in short, is where racism lives. It is a small group of 4-5 women who really control all the decisions and resources of the organization, and who will set a tone of cooperation or poison the atmosphere. 501(c)(3)s — especially the small ones — are personality driven. This means that a small group of women pour their hearts and souls and much of their financial resources into building the organization, and feel a strong proprietary interest. They are comfortable with each other, often because they are all the same race and class, etc. Mary and I eventually came to realize that unless the core group wants the change, no change will ever happen. Short of voting with their feet (which many feminists do), the members of the organization have no instrument with which they can force positive change that the Powers That Be don’t want to make.
This, I believe, is where we are as a Party. Not just in terms of race–though there’s that–but in terms of everyone who might be new or different. The Party just isn’t very receptive to the ideas of people who aren’t already in the in-group and the things the “outsiders” want feel like they are outside of the purpose of the Party.
But I think this also explains why, even though bloggers have been begging, pleading, and cajoling the Democrats for years to just articulate what being a Tennessee Democrat means so that we can decide if that’s for us or if we want to work to change it, they refuse to do it. It’s because, in order to actually say what being a Democrat means to people on the Executive Committee and in office, it means saying out-loud “Being a Democrat in Tennessee makes me feel good about being me, first and foremost, and doing good for the state and how we might do that is something that comes far second.”
And, don’t get me wrong. I don’t say that as a criticism of Democrats. I think that’s a part of being human. But it’s not something we can lie to ourselves as a party about. If being a Democrat is just a feel-good club for people who don’t like the feel-good club of the Republicans, then everyone who thinks it’s a political party needs to know that so that we can do something else with our time.
But if it is indeed a political party–which it occasionally still shows signs of being–then there’s something we have to face: If we are achieving our goals, we should become unnecessary.
If we want young people to be excited about the Party. If we want more black people to show up for shit. If we want Hispanics to turn out to vote for us. If we want these things and work for these things, eventually, the Party won’t need us. That will be a sign of success when we look around and say “Wow, who are all these women? Shoot, I didn’t even know we had thirty wheelchair basketball players in Jackson, let alone thirty who would come out and phonebank for our candidates!” or whatever.
It’s hard, believe me, I know. You care about something. You pour your whole life into it. And when you see that, if you maneuver just right, you can be grand marshal of a parade of people who love you, it’s hard to resist not sitting on the back of the car and practicing your wave.
But the future isn’t for us. We set the route as we can, march as long as we are able, and then, if we want the parade to go on, we have to accept that other people with different ideas are going to take up deciding where we go.
And that’s what success looks like.
But if we can’t let go of “leading means succeeding,” we’re never going to see that.