The Democratic National Committee has a new leader and the American left a new lodestar in Tom Perez, the Obama-era Secretary of Labor, who was elected party chair in Atlanta on Saturday.
His victory in the most fiercely-contested and politically charged chairmanship election in living memory has left in its wake a host of embittered grassroots activists who see Perez’s elevation as the triumph of the so-called ‘establishment’ wing of the Democratic Party over the ‘insurgent left’ wing represented by runner-up Representative Keith Ellison.
Bilious commentators – including, of course, Donald Trump – have denounced Perez as a stooge of Obama and the Clintons, whose sole purpose in entering the race was to wreck the left faction’s chances of gaining power and influence within the party.
Elsewhere activist message boards are littered with comments urging members to break from the party wholesale in wake of this alleged betrayal. One member of Rise and Resist in New York wrote on the group’s Facebook page:
“People who continually support the DNC [Democratic National Committee] makes [sic] me sick to my stomach. The events of the DNC yesterday proves that nothing has changed, nor will it. People in this group remind me of abused individuals who continually return to their abusers because they feel there is no way out. There is a way out, but you have to recognize the system is fucked and it doesn’t work. Overthrow it or continue to be abused. Your choice.”
Clearly, emotions are running high. Yet the rage seems misdirected. Perez’s election will not impede the march of the left within the Democratic Party one iota. The DNC chair is an administrator, not a messenger. His or her role is limited in the party’s charter to convening meetings and carrying out the “programs and policies of the National Convention and the Democratic National Committee.”
“The DNC should be about grassroots, ground work and logistics, almost exclusively,” says Jacob Schwartz, president of the Manhattan Young Democrats. “Yes, the party needs to have a platform, but the Senate and House members are much better suited to lead that charge, and even more so state legislators and municipal reps,” he adds.
A multi-layered party structure, where power is diffused at the county, state, and national levels, precludes any DNC chair from assuming a command-and-control posture. Perez is not about to turn the Democratic Party into an autocracy. He is just one of hundreds of thousands of elected Democratic Party officials who wield power over the party’s organization and platform. In New York state alone there are 62 county parties, each with their own elected committees. Manhattan alone has over 2,000 county committeeperson seats – around 700 of which are currently unfilled.
Left-wing activists aggrieved at Perez’s election could best serve their movement by organizing to fill as many of these county and state committee seats as possible with their own. Our Revolution, the Bernie Sanders-inspired grassroots network, recognized long ago that because of the Democratic Party’s amorphous structure, the question of who wields power at the local level is of much greater consequence to the party than who heads the DNC.
They have got to work promoting favored candidates for all manner of internal elections and have won a string of victories since the general election, taking key offices in the Washington, Hawaii, and Nebraska state parties.
The positions may seem parochial and the politics unglamorous. These officials are not tasked with articulating a grand vision for the future of American society in the manner of a presidential candidate. Yet they are central to rebuilding the party and cultivating a new generation of Democratic politicians who can take the fight to the White House.
That is worthy work, and work that Perez’s detractors among the grassroots can play a substantial role in advancing. So to those in mourning for Ellison and crying foul on the DNC race I say: don’t behave like the liberal snowflakes conservatives think you are. Get off the mat, run for county committee and change the party from the ground up.