The Democratic Party is an interesting club (and make no mistake - it is a club). While, as an organization, we follow a grassroots system (PCOs elect LD leaders and County leaders, who elect other leaders that elect State leaders and DNC members, who ultimately elect the National Party Chair), we have a separate habit of making ourselves inaccessible and insular. Personally, I often joke about Robert's Rules of Order being the one thing Party insiders will support above all else...and then will find myself being "that asshole" using the rules to "win" when I don't have the votes.
Ostensibly, the Party serves a few distinct purposes: Organize Democratic activists to elect Democrats to all levels of government; provide support and training for activists; act as a conduit for ideas to flow from the Party to elected officials. Depending on the organization, there may also be informational panels, events that are designed for fun, or community service.
Quite possibly, however, the most important thing that we do as a Party is endorse candidates and educate our community about those endorsements. While the importance of these endorsements ebbs and flows, and is really dependent on which office is being sought, at the end of the day, an LD endorsement comes with a sample ballot delivered to voters based on data in the VoteBuilder system. Decades of work has been done by Democratic activists to create this system to target likely voters.
I am excited about the influx of people interested in being part of the Democratic Party. However, I remain concerned about a rejection of the history of how we got to where we are. Without the decades of work by those considered "establishment," all of these toys we are using to contact voters wouldn't exist. Email lists, social media follows, mail lists, VoteBuilder, bank accounts, PCO lists, etc. etc.
Historically, the "cost" to candidates seeking endorsement by Democratic Party organizations has been one request: declare yourself a Democrat. To get the club's endorsement, you have to be part of the club (except for judicial races). While some discuss certain offices as being "nonpartisan," the reality is every person is a partisan.
Currently there is a growing movement in the Democratic Party in Seattle to no longer ask candidates to publicly declare themselves to be a "Democrat" before receiving an endorsement and the resources that come along with that. The VoteBuilder database, for all of its flaws, has been built from years of work from Democratic activists, and Democratic candidates entering information into the system. By removing that requirement that you be part of the club, folks then get a free ride. It seems similar to an "open" shop, where members of the union pay dues, and people who opt out and don't pay dues still reap all of the rewards.
Conversely, I wonder if now is the time for strict adherence to this principal. Is sharing values enough? Would it make more sense for us to work alongside those with whom we generally agree, but have separate organizations thanks to barriers we have put up around our club over the years? Are fights between left and left the best use of resources? I confess myself conflicted on this issue. Hell, do we even know if the People's Party, for instance, would endorse someone running as a Democrat? Do we care? (we know that Socialist Alternative won't - they have made that clear, and I appreciate their clarity).
(Side note: my Party friends from outside Seattle, even the hard left ones, don't understand why the hell Seattle Democrats are even having a conversation about allowing non-Democrats to be endorsed and have access to our resources.)
Throughout all of these conversations, one name continues to pop up: Nikkita Oliver. For those who haven't heard, Ms. Oliver is running for Mayor, and has opted to run as a member of a new political party, the People's Party. I confess I don't know much about this Party, their platform, their bylaws, how they function, etc. From what I can gather, Ms. Oliver is choosing this path, because she believes it is more in line with her values than the Democratic Party. To the extent there is alignment of values, this should be read as another example of how we as Democrats need to change our processes to be more accessible and less racist.
The idea during these conversations appears to be that people want the opportunity for Democratic Party organizations to endorse non-Democrats, specifically Nikkita Oliver. But one question seems to be missing: Is this what Nikkita wants? By choosing to run as a People's Party candidate, she made a choice to eschew the Democratic Party. In changing our bylaws to endorse her because we want to feel better about ourselves, aren't we forcing our Party on her?
The Democratic Party remains an overwhelmingly white Party. And I wholly understand the desire to be less racist. But I can't help but question whether forcing a black woman to change her course, or throwing an endorsement in her direction that she specifically is running against, is inherently racist. By knowing better than Ms. Oliver, and making choices for her so we feel better, are we not indicating that she can't make her own choices?
I want the Democratic Party to be a place where people from all of our various factions feel comfortable. And when I am an obstacle to that, I enjoy being informed as such so I can check myself. But if people make a conscious choice to not be part of our organization - as Kshama Sawant has done - I don't think that means we change our organization to force them in. I expect that most people engaged in this level of political discourse are smart enough to make up their own minds and fully weigh the consequences of their choices.