by KIM METCALFE – In his June 10th speech to the annual People’s Summit in Chicago, Vermont independent Bernie Sanders lashed out at the Democratic Party saying the party’s current model and direction is “an absolute failure.” Sanders further stated, “The Democratic party needs fundamental change. What it needs is to open up its doors to working people, and young people, and older people who are prepared to fight for social and economic justice.”
Democrats have a history to be proud of
Let me begin by saying I am not a fan of Senator Sanders. I supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and took a lot of heat for it. I was fine with that—it comes with the territory of having strong beliefs and sticking to them.
Sanders’ statements about the Democratic Party—the banner under which he ran for president—made me angry. The Democratic Party won the election in terms of the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. The Democratic Party I’ve been a member of since I registered to vote in 1968—is and has always been the party of working people, young people, and older people who have for generations fought for social and economic justice.
For Senator Sanders to suggest otherwise is disingenuous, but his remarks brought cheers from his supporters. I wish they would study the history of the Democratic Party in the United States and learn about the huge strides in civil and human rights made by Democratic presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
Were it not for Democratic presidents and legislators and the laws and policies they struggled for, we would not have Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a minimum wage, protection of labor unions, quality public education, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, protection of the environment, efforts to stop gun violence, the Violence Against Women Act, and of course, Obamacare.
Business as usual isn’t enough
Despite the fact I disagree with his view of the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders touched a nerve among millions of Americans. Although Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary by 15.8 million votes to Sanders’ 12 million votes, those twelve million people rallied to Sanders’ message of income and wealth equality, Medicare for all, free college tuition, good jobs with a living wage, and getting money out of politics.
Even though these issues are nearly identical to those the Democratic Party has advocated for generations, Sanders’ message was clearer than Clinton’s, and it was perhaps a new message to those who had never been involved in party politics or a presidential election.
Sanders’ remarks to the People’s Summit are a reminder to those of us who will never come to grips with the 2016 election that we cannot continue to do business as usual. Sanders is right about that. The Democratic Party must do everything in our power to heal our wounds and come together if we are to prevail in the 2018 election cycle as well as 2020 and beyond.
In Alaska, the Sanders wing took control of the Alaska Democratic Party at our 2016 state convention with over 80 percent of the delegates voting in support of Senator Sanders. They now have a mandate to make the changes they sought. The coming election cycle will be a test of their ability to field candidates, raise money, recruit campaign staff, go door-to-door, and make phone calls to help those candidates win.
Listening through doubts
In the weeks following our state convention, I attended a meeting held by Justin Parish, a newcomer to the Juneau political scene. Parish, a Sanders delegate, announced at the state convention that he would run for the Mendenhall Valley District 34 House seat. At the time I was doubtful that I could support Parish because I saw his politics as so different than mine. But Justin was running for a seat the state party thought we could pick up, and I felt it was necessary to hear him out.
I was surprised and impressed with what I heard. Justin came across as a very bright, positive young man, he had a solid grasp of the issues and was willing to do the hard work a campaign demands. Justin changed my mind to the extent I found myself volunteering to hold a fundraiser for him.
Justin went on to win the election and helped Alaska flip the leadership of its House of Representatives from hard right Republican to a coalition led by Democrats. And he is doing a great job as a freshman state representative—Justin’s a natural who loves meeting the public and doing the people’s work.
While the Alaska House leadership is a bright spot, the national scene is a much darker story. The presidency we are watching unfold is a frightening but fascinating lens upon which to view politics in its rawest form.
The Republican Party is demonstrating its endless greed for power and money by supporting a man who by any measure is completely unfit for office. Donald Trump is the sideshow that steals our attention while Congressional Republicans gleefully dismantle laws and regulations protecting workers, voting rights, banking, health care, and labor unions to name a few. Trump is destroying our standing in the world, embarrassing and denigrating our NATO allies while cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and dangerous dictators like North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Believe in our shared values, and we can believe in each other
My conclusion is that we Democrats and progressives must have faith in each other. While I am critical of Senator Sanders for his negative attacks on the Democratic Party, he raised the consciousness of millions of American voters. We can deconstruct the election all we want, but one thing is clear—we must come together as a group, put away our anger, listen to people we disagree with, and find common ground.
Demanding ideological purity won’t heal or unify the Democratic Party. It will fracture us further and help reelect Trump in 2020. And if Donald Trump and his Republican accomplices have not convinced Democrats and progressives to unite and fight for every local, state, and national office, nothing ever will.
Kim Metcalfe is Alaska’s former Democratic National Committeewoman. She also served for ten years as chair of the Juneau Democrats (now known as the Tongass Democrats). She is a retired union business agent for the Alaska State Employees Association/AFSCME Local 52 and a lifelong Alaskan.
Opinions in this article are those of the author and do not represent official positions of TongassDemocrats.com or the Tongass Democrats.