Members of the Democratic National Committee held their winter meeting in Washington DC February 14-16. The DNC has 447 members, including the Chairs and Vice Chairs of the 50 states plus 7 other entities. Most DNC members are elected from their states based on population. Members must be evenly divided between men and women.
The highlights of the meetings were short speeches from Stacy Abrams, who narrowly lost the race for Georgia Governor last year, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Al Sharpton, who has run for several offices in New York state.
Stacy Abrams is clearly being promoted for higher office by the Democratic powers that be. She was tapped to give the Democratic response to the State of the Union address on February 5, and is being featured at events around the country.
Before speaking at the DNC on Feb. 15 she spoke at the Brookings Institution. The latter was full long before her appearance. The DNC meeting was not, largely because the DNC didn’t let the general public know that the meeting was open to the general public. (You just had to register as a guest but you couldn’t find that out from the DNC webpage).
Abrams theme is voter suppression, which she calls the crisis of our time. In fact, voter suppression by other names is normal American politics. Parties have been trying to shape the electorate to their liking since the country was founded. Sometimes this is done through laws and rules and sometimes through practices. Voter registration was introduced in the late 19th Century to limit who could vote. The printed ballot was a defacto literacy test. During the populist/progressive period this was done to “purify” the electorate by all parties in different states. They gave different reasons, most resonating with morality and righteousness, but the purpose was to win elections.
That is also the Democrats’ purpose (surprise!). At the winter meeting DNC officials both celebrated the many 2018 Democratic wins, and salivated at the thought of demolishing the Republican Party in 2020. They presented various plans to meet every voter and knock on every door, as well as use social media and data bases to “create the electorate we want,” as the Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Florida, Juan Penalosa, put it. Toward this end the DNC has purchased cell phone numbers for every registered voter for whom a number is commercially available. This will be shared with the states. Expect a lot of robo calls in the next election.
The DNC has created a “Trump War Room” with everything it can find on Donald Trump, including personal stories from people all over the country who have been hurt by his policies. If the 2020 Republican candidate turns out to be Mike Pence, it would put a major snag in Democratic plans. On the other hand, a Stacy Abrams v. Mike Pence race would be really exciting. Like Trump’s 2016 victory, it’s highly unlikely, but not impossible.
Unlike the Republican Party, the Democratic Party is composed of constituencies. These have changed over time, but they have their own agendas. At the winter meeting fourteen different Councils and Caucuses met separately for 90 minutes each. I went to five: Senior (which met jointly with Disability), Labor, LGBTQ, Women’s and Black.
At each of these meetings I heard how important each group’s 2018 vote had been to the Democratic wave – even when a little “interpretation” was required. For example seniors continued to favor Republican candidates in 2018, but not as much as in previous years.
Even though the number attending the Labor caucus was low, unions are the 800-pound gorilla in the Democratic Party. DNC Chair Tom Perez said there are more union members on the DNC than ever before.
Subgroups such as the Alliance of Retired Americans was founded by the AFL-CIO to focus on Social Security and Medicare. They prepared a slide show on “How Seniors Voted” for the Senior Caucus. Election work by retired unionists are one reason seniors were more likely to vote Democratic in 2018 than in 2014.
The LGBTQ Caucus was addressed by Annise Parker, former Mayor of Houston and current President of the LGBTQ Victory Fund. She bragged that “the blue wave was a rainbow wave” by identifying all of the offices now occupied by LGBTQs.
The Women’s Caucus met at a different time than the Black and various ethnic caucuses so that women could go to both. Both caucuses were among the first to be formed, many decades ago. Under Perez, the DNC has put even more emphasis on diversity than before. The number of African-American DNC officers has doubled and those on staff have increased by 36 percent.
There were multiple celebrations of February as Black History Month throughout the winter meeting. No one said a word about February 15 being Susan B. Anthony’s birthday.
Jo Freeman has been to every Democratic national convention since 1964. She has been to only a few DNC meetings between conventions. She has written three books and dozens of articles on women and politics. Copyright © 2019 by Jo Freeman