Larry Krasner wins the Philadelphia Democratic Primary

Larry Krasner won the Democratic primary against an opposing Democrat, Carlos Vega, for District Attorney of Philadelphia. Vega’s most significant endorsement was Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). A union so far to the right that it is going to tip over.  In my tiny precinct (ward 18, district 16), 75% of voters chose Krasner. If that’s the case, why did the Citywide Democratic party decide not to endorse Larry Krasner, and why did my ward struggle to support him as well. 

Philadelphia Election Results (source)

I’ve always been skeptical of the Democratic Party. I find them inefficient organizers, well-meaning people, and a party that centers ego over strategy. However, it is the water we swim in, and the Republicans are a white supremacist fascist party, so I vote Democrat.  I don’t just vote for the party, but I’m an elected Democratic committee person in Philadelphia!   I never sought the position but a neighbor recruited me, I decided to do it and won my unopposed election in 2018.

The official Democratic Party of the city of Philadelphia decided not to endorse anyone in the District Attorney’s race because they said too many people (party insiders) had reservations about Krasner. It is virtually unheard of that an incumbent Democrat in the citywide election would not receive this endorsement. 

The democratic party is ultimately a conservative institution trying to hold on to power in a world changing around it. It’s not interested in change, it wants to preserve the status quo, and the best call to action it can muster is “we are not white supremacists. Oh, and Donald Trump sucks.” There is hope with the election of left officials like AOC, Tlaib, and Omar and the new role DSA plays in politics, but the official party is an out-of-touch monolith.   

The Philadelphia Democratic Party (City Committee) certainly does not listen to democratic voters and barely represents them. This is illustrated by the 65% of Philadelphia voting Democrats supporting Krasner and the party not realizing his popularity. I think the decision not to endorse Krasner is evidence of how deeply radical groups like the FOP have infiltrated the Philadelphia Democratic Party. This infiltration stops the party from doing even the bare minimum of what voters ask for today, like endorsing the incumbent Democrat for district attorney.

I don’t know how the decision not to do anything happed with the citywide Democratic Party, but I can tell you how it went down in the Democratic Party’s 18th ward. The 18th ward is an open ward (that means the ward leader cannot arbitrarily endorse a candidate). In our ward, committee people vote on who should be endorsed. My ward has 38 committee people, and we each get a vote in this process. Every candidate needs 60% of the committee people (about 23) to be endorsed. One of the problems my ward has run across is that no more than 2/3 of the committee people are genuinely active in the ward at any given time. This means that many votes are cast (via absentee) with little explanation or defense (or advocacy). There’s not much to do if these absentee votes are cast as a bloc.  In my experience, this bloc votes with the City Committee.

This frustrating reality came to a head in our ward because of the Krasner race. The City Committee chose not to endorse anybody, and our ward had the votes to follow suit. I was frustrated because I’m a Krasner voter and because lots of the people (my constituents) in my precinct were with me.

I only speak for myself,  but my first thought after realizing Krasner would not get my ward’s endorsement was to throw my hands in the air and say, “Whatever. This is typical of the Democratic Party.” I didn’t want to do anything about it. I have already written party organizing off as ineffective in challenging power, so I rolled my eyes and went back to my day-to-day life.

However, some committee people are not as cynical as I am.  Lauren Rinaldi gets all of the credit for moving my ward to a place of endorsement. She’s the hero of this story.  She spoke up about her frustration with the absentee bloc that kowtowed to the City Committee and forced our ward into a conversation about this race.   This act was enormous for me because the ward never felt like a place of discussion.   The same people speak at every meeting (mostly white guys, if you can imagine), the same tactics are deployed each election day, and the same listserv filibustering spams my email box.   On that night, it felt like we were edging toward an actual discussion amongst peers.

The ins and outs of the meeting are private, but we left that meeting endorsing Larry Krasner. I want to emphasize that 70% of the 18th ward voted for Larry Krasner, and the elected democratic committee people were planning on not endorsing him, before that meeting. The City Committee never did endorse him, even though 65% of voting democrats supported him. The party is out of touch with its base. I was ashamed when I saw that was going to happen, and I am embarrassed that I decided to acquiesce to cynicism rather than simply organizing. 

Lauren rallied the left of center committee people, forcing the ward to not just go along with what feels inevitable, and inspiring me (even for a moment) to imagine that the Democratic Party can not be disappointing. It’s terrific that Larry Krasner was re-elected to District Attorney.   Our criminal justice system needs to be overhauled, and he is willing to try at least.  Tough on crime has done nothing but incarcerate the most vulnerable people, so I am hopeful that the arduous path we’re on leads to a more just Philadelphia.

PS.   Watch the Krasner documentary on PBS.

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.

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.