I’m an elected member of the Democratic Party

Hello readers. Today is my first day as a member of the Democratic Ward Executive Committee in Ward 18, Division 16. What is that, how did I get here, and what are my plans moving forward?

What is that?

You will never  read “member of the Democratic Ward Executive Committee” on this blog again. I am what is called a Committee Person. According to the Committee of 70, a committee person is:

A committee person is his or her political party’s representative in each division. Committee people serve as a point of contact between the voters in a division and elected officials and their political party. Committee people are considered party officers – not public officials or government employees. They are also volunteers and receive no taxpayer-funded compensation.

Committee people have a core responsibility to help “get out the vote” for their political party. But you can make the job as big or as small as you want. Some committee people just choose to work on Election Day. But many committee people are in touch with their party and their neighbors all year long.

https://www.seventy.org/uploads/files/19302649368555322-committee-person-manual-2014.pdf

Philadelphia is made up of 66 wards. Each ward has its own leader and committee (Philadelphia, oddly has 69 of these, rather than 66. However, this does not mean anything to me, so let’s move on.) Each ward is then subdivided into something called divisions or precincts. I was elected to represent the Democratic Party in Ward 18, Division 16. There are actually two committee people for each division.

How did I get here?

Have I always been a registered Democrat? Yes. Do I love the Democratic Party? Not always. Do I blame the party for the Donald Trump? They definitely get some of the blame. I generally don’t trust people who’ve made careers in politics. It has always felt like a bunch of privileged children reducing the real life consequences of organizing to a game. It’s probably why I love everything that Armando Iannucci makes. If you’ve seen Veep, than you know that Dan Egan is deplorable and dumb. Let me tell you that he is very real. These are the many reasons I chose labor organizing as the vehicle for change and not party politics. Yet, here we are.

What made me run? A few months ago, my neighbor Scott reached out to 2 of us on the block and encouraged us to run. That ask, made me actually sit down for a second and think about running for an office. The first thing I wanted to know was, “Is my other neighbor running?” I did not want to run against her. She’d be really good, the neighborhood would be lucky to elect her, and there are enough elected people that resemble me. She declined and I decided to stop being bitter about the Democratic Party for a minute and told Scott, “Yes. I will run.”

This led me to Jon Geeting of Philadelphia 3.0. He is a political organizer that started a democratic club in my area called Riverwards Area Democrats – RAD. Their goal was to promote an open ward (I’ll explain that in the future), and get some fresh faces as the committee people. Jon told me about the process to get on the ballot:

  1. Get some blank petitions.
  2. Get the signatures of >15 registered democrats in your division on said petition.
  3. Ge the petitions notarized. (now you are on the ballot)

I did what he said and a few weeks later, I found out that I was on the ballot. I also was surprised to discover that there was only one other person running for committee person, so barring a serious write-in campaign it looked like a victory was on the horizon. Since I did not have a challenger I decided to do 2 things in preparation for election day.

I made my first piece of campaign literature and had it printed. This cost me $135.00. I then organized a canvass of my neighborhood. Sam, Cathy, and a few neighbors went around the division on the Saturday before the election. They knocked on doors, handed neighbors my post card and reminded them to vote. Cathy reported that one person on 2nd Steet said, “A committee person has never knocked on my door before.” Sam spoke a ton of Arabic on Mascher Street and I met some enthusiastic folks on Hancock St. It was a good time on the doors.

The next thing I did, was stand in front of the polling place after work on Election Day. Personally, I felt this to be a waste of time that day. I know better and should have just started to knock on doors in the neighborhood. It started to rain, so I spent the last hour at home texting people that I knew in the neighborhood and reminding them to vote.

At the end of the night, Sam and I refreshed the http://phillyelectionresults.com/ every couple of minutes until the results were posted. I got 63 votes and won the election.

Moving Forward

Today I started serving my 4 year term. I think I am going to document what this experience, so other people can get some insight into what it means to be a committee person in Philadelphia.

I am interested in recruiting a block captain for every block in 18-16.   I think this will be a good way to keep the neighborhood clean.   I’d like to host a community meeting this summer, so that we can collectively identify some neighborhood priorities.  I’ll be reading lots of Paulo Freire to prepare in the meantime.  I hope to work closely with my co-committee person.  His name is Michael Bradley.  He is young and enthusiastic and I think that will be greatly needed in the years ahead.

I have no interest in stating what the priorities for 18-16 are or should be in the future.   We can figure those out together, and we can work to solve the most immediate problems at hand.

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Go and vote today!

Please go and vote today.

 

A Year Later

There is a scene in Casablanca where Captain Renault explains to Rick that he is shocked to find gambling going on in the nightclub. He then turns to immediately collect his winnings from the night. Whenever I hear disappointment for President Obama’s policy choices and priorities I tend to think of this scene.

When talking to friends and neighbors I am shocked that they are appalled at the President’s lack of movement on queer rights. “Why are you shocked?” He’s doing exactly what we he told us to do. Now, I am not blaming you; I also fall for his waxing eloquence. It sounds so good to hear a president who enjoys the English language for its magnitude rather than its flexibility. However, it’s not just how you say it, but what you say that counts.

From the beginning he has been a lukewarm ally in our constant struggle for equality. He openly opposes our efforts for gay marriage. His White House says that priorities like The Defense of Marriage Act have fallen from the agenda. The reality is that after the first year of his presidency the romance is wearing thin.

Our community should not feel tricked. We really did not have any other place to turn. The republicans had proven themselves to be repugnant sadists, benefitting off of our suffering. Third parties, though tempting, are still a joke in the United States. The Democratic Party was our best choice and the party knows it. The reality is that the queer community is not going to get the attention we deserve any time soon.

How did we get ourselves in this predicament? How did we align ourselves with a party that takes us for granted and another that bullies voters with tales of us? There was a time in the United States when the queer community was aligned with all sorts of progressive groups and communities. We were part of a movement that was tired of being crushed and dramatic social upheaval seemed near. We were women, latinos, blacks, queers, differently abled, asians, socialists, basically everyone that was sick and tired of being marginalized. And we didn’t rise up. Before we knew it the movement splintered and fell apart. Everyone was left to decide their own fates. For many that was the last time the queer rights movement was to be part of something bigger.

HIV/AIDS ravaged our community and left us in the precarious position of working with politicians not out of love of their politics, but because of the government purse strings they held. Democrats were more generous on health issues than Republicans at the time so we found friends in the party. People will do anything to save their family and in the 1980’s the queer community was its own family. Saving the ones we loved introduced us to a political arena devoid of radicalism and we did what we could to make sure people survived.

By the time the 1990’s had arrived there was no doubt we were a constituency of the Democratic Party. The Republicans had proven themselves to be inadequate when it came to helping those with HIV/AIDS. This led us to herald in a new Democratic President. We then watched Bill Clinton stab the queer community in the back, and then turn us over and stab us in the gut. The community should have risen up and said “No more!” but we did no such thing. There was no movement of seething anti-establishment groups left for us to reach out to and the Republican Party was no “safe zone.” We took what the Democrats gave us.

There is no need to rehash the nightmare decade as it should be remembered, but we came to the democrats again in 2008. In any other time we should have been wary of the party that had treated us so poorly in the past, but it was a time of hope and change. However, none of it really happened. There was little change. By 2010 I have lost hope. We have seen no big legislation pass that would help the queer community, unless there is some hidden Wall St. investment no one told me about. The Bush-Obama Wars continue on at full speed and in some cases accelerating. Rendition continues as an official U.S. policy. Warrantless wiretapping is still around too! At least queer people aren’t being used as a political whipping boy.

This is why I am not shocked by the President’s lack of usefulness to the queer community. At the end of the day, he’s still a democrat.