Word on the street is Hillary Clinton has a book coming out. In it, she is expected to write, from her perspective, about her 2016 campaign - what went right, what went wrong, her frustrations, the things she felt really good about. Some leaked excerpts include her expressing frustration in the way that Sen. Bernie Sanders lobbed personal attacks in her direction, dog whistling about the untrustworthy woman.
As expected, some people (mostly men) are lashing out. The idea that a woman would dare to express herself or her opinion or her viewpoint on events is beyond the pale. Folks seem to think that we have nothing to learn from someone who has a lifetime of public service that ended with an electoral vote loss, in part due to Sanders' and Trump's collective attacks against her for being "Establishment." Because a white man with decades of experience as an elected Member of Congress who was unable to win a Democratic Primary (thanks largely to skipping states where black and brown voters would dominate the vote in the Democratic Primary) is somehow in a better position to tell Democrats how to win. I'm afraid I'm going to have to call bullshit.
But this does get me thinking: what the hell does it even mean to be "Establishment"? From what I can tell, it's a way to insult people who have dedicated much of their lives to public service, being involved and engaged in the Party or civic life, and being effective at doing the same. I often crack wise on the Twitter and the Facebook about being part of the Establishment, but really, it's true. Let's look at a truncated history of my political involvement over the last two decades:
- 1998 - volunteer for then-Rep. Jeri Costa (D-38) as she ran, successfully, to unseat Republican State Senator Gary Strannigan
- 1998-2001 - volunteer and then employee of Planned Parenthood, working with high risk and homeless youth in Everett
- 2000, 2002 - volunteer for Rick Larsen in his first two bids for U.S. House, flipping a Republican seat to Democrat in 2000, and holding on in 2002
- 2003-2004 - Began being active in my LD Democratic Party organization, and volunteered and helped lead phone banks for Gov. Howard Dean's presidential campaign
- 2003-2005 - Active in my union, UFCW 1001, including serving on the bargaining committee, and as a delegate to the Snohomish County Labor Council and 2004 COPES Convention
- 2005 - Active in my new union, OPEIU Local 8, including participating in a statewide re-organization, writing and passing a constitution change for regional representation on the Executive Board
- 2008-present - Active in the 43rd District Democrats, including stints as Young Democrats Rep, Vice Chair for Events, KCDCC Rep, and Vice Chair for Communications (twice)
- 2009-present - Active in the King County Democrats, including stints as Endorsements Committee Chair, and currently 2nd Vice Chair and Bylaws & Rules Committee Chair
- 2010-2015 - Council appointed member of the Parks Levy Oversight Committee (picked by Council Member Sally Bagshaw)
- 2013-2014 - Member of the Parks Legacy Committee (picked by Council Member Sally Bagshaw)
- 2014 - Speakers' Bureau member for the Seattle Park District campaign (we won)
- 2016 - King County Young Democrats Chair
- 2016 - Campaign manager for the Housing Levy campaign (we won)
I mean, Christ, if that's not "Establishment," then what the hell is? Rather, it seems that folks who have put in years of work, often volunteer work, to build a Party or move public policy are essentially tools of corporations and cannot be trusted, I guess? I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to call bullshit.
This came up in a conversation Rob Johnson and I had back in 2015. He had been painted as the "Establishment" candidate, and I was the "outsider." One piece in Crosscut (by David Kroman) referred to me as a "political newcomer." Rob and I had a good laugh, because this narrative didn't fit. Two dozen current and former elected officials, 13 Labor organizations, all of the Democratic Party organizations, were backing my campaign. Sure, the business community backed Rob, but so did 14 Labor organizations, numerous elected and former elected officials, and activist organizations like the Sierra Club. We were both Establishment as f. And we were able to secure this broad support because we both had been effective at getting things done - just in different areas that never really overlapped (directly).
Now, I'm not saying that "establishment" folks are without flaws. We have many. One very well may be a touch of apathy from years of seeing our liberal ideas die in committees in Olympia or D.C. thanks to voter disenfranchisement that helps elect Republicans. Personally, I love that we are seeing folks with energy getting involved and engaged with the Party who haven't before. That doesn't mean I necessarily agree with the hyperbole we hear from some, in particular when vitriol is directed at those who have slight policy disagreements. To me - this may be your Party, but it's my Party, too. I believe I've written before about the impact that can have on those of us who have been keeping the lights on and fighting for a liberal agenda for decades - to hear folks who just got engaged tell us we've been doing it wrong. Maybe. But we keep getting elected to move things along, because we know how.
Some of the criticisms of "establishment" politics that I wholeheartedly agree with center more around the patriarchal and institutional racism within the "establishment" that are left unchecked. The thing is - people get influence in public policy after years of being engaged, and giving up that influence is hard. So by embracing policies and procedures that discourage participation from young people, communities of color, and poor folks, these (predominantly) upper-middle-class white people (mostly men) keep their self-identified "power." I continue to work to change that dynamic, and continually reflect to ensure I am living up to my own standards. Sometimes I'm not, and I have to reflect and change that.
But this does get me to how this plays out in local elections. Not that it matters, but I haven't made a personal endorsement in the Mayor's race. There's Jenny Durkan, who I have some serious policy disagreements with around homelessness (which is more an edges disagreement), municipal broadband (fact: there's an argument against that is reasonable, and she hasn't made it), and I thought the Seattle income tax (she was against it, but now she's for it?). There's also the modality prioritization for transportation - cars should never go before pedestrians.
But she's also long been an opponent of I-200, and has stated that she would work to have the City of Seattle lead on overturning this unjust law. She was the lawyer who ensured we did not get a Governor Dino Rossi in 2004. She lobbied her friend, Governor Christine Gregoire, and helped Gov. Gregoire "evolve" her stance on marriage equality, leading to its passage in Washington State. All the same, she is derided for being "Establishment." It's a lazy way to imply policy disagreements, instead of actually engaging in any sort of meaningful discussion about the issues affecting the people of our city.
I do not believe that the ability to be engaged in the community and in public policy to a point to effectively influence is inherently bad. The attacks on "the Establishment" by Cary Moon are a large part of why I haven't personally endorsed her campaign. "The Establishment" brought us marriage equality. $15 was brought to us by workers, with the political capital and support of "the Establishment". Sick and Safe Leave was brought to us by "establishment" Democrats elected to the Seattle City Council and Mayor's office. We get shit done.
This is also playing out in the City Council races. Folks are so anti-"Establishment" that they have lined up behind a man who has a history of creating a toxic work environment for women and people of color, and recently was reported aggressively harassing women volunteering to support Teresa Mosqueda. When confronted, instead of admitting a mistake or lapse in judgment, this man has chosen to say that she can't be trusted, and has lashed out at Labor. He then went further to speculate about some conspiracy theory, and that his aggressive verbal attack on a woman volunteer somehow led to the creation of an Independent Expenditure supporting Teresa Mosqueda. Here's the thing - you can say all of the right things, but when you exploit a patriarchal system with institutional racism to win...well, that's entirely your right. In 2015, I made clear to my team I would rather lose than run in a way that contravened my values. That's a bar I wish most politicians - especially white men from privileged backgrounds - would set for themselves.
Now, the target of these folks: Teresa Mosqueda, a woman of color who's entire life has been dedicated to elevating the voices of working families, and empowering women and people of color in politics and public policy. Not just by spouting hyperbole, but actually being an effective advocate - whether for improving health outcomes in low-income communities, protecting health care access for low-income families, expanding access to affordable housing, to helping write and lead the charge on passing a statewide minimum wage increase and sick and safe leave standards - Teresa has done more before age 40 than most will do in a lifetime. And for this, she is tarred as an "establishment" hack.
My point: The Establishment is the place to be. We get shit done. Do we need to work to re-prioritize what that shit is? Of course. More of us must work to make room and elevate new voices - especially women and people of color. And I highly encourage people to force your way into the Establishment if folks try to keep you out. Lord knows I didn't get here because of my name or money. It was work - a lot of work. It didn't happen overnight. But I know I try to use what minor influence I may have to empower folks traditionally blocked from our systems, and encourage and demand my cohorts in the Establishment to do the same. Because if we rely on the system "as-is" to maintain our power, then we're really no better than the racist fucks we purport to fight against.