On Monday, November 18, 2019, a traditionally laconic Rhode Island Democratic Party conclave turned into a lachrymose commotion, with the party chair at one point exclaiming, “This is not the Jerry Springer show!” Could this perhaps foreshadow another case of overkill on the part of the broader party establishment that alienates the base and delivers President Donald Trump key voters that otherwise would support Senator Bernie Sanders?
The conclave concerned the right of caucuses in the Democratic Party, in particular its extremely active Women’s Caucus, to endorse candidates autonomous of the Old Guard party leadership diktat. The Old Guard prevailed and Pat Ford, the Rhode Island Libertarian Party Chair whose perpetual contrarianism inclines him towards showcasing these brawls, succinctly described the implications below:
- Power to establish caucuses now resides solely with the Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair.
- Caucus membership rolls are now the property of the RIDP.
- Caucuses may raise money for party building, outreach, and election activities. Monies raised may not be used to support individual candidates. All funds, become the property of the RIDP. Caucuses may not form Political Action Committees.
- Caucuses may not endorse, support, or assist unendorsed candidates for office during the pre-primary or primary period. During general and special elections, caucuses may not endorse, support, or assist any candidate other than a Democratic nominee. Caucus members may not use the resources, funds, logos, or name of a caucus or the Rhode Island Democratic Party to support any individual candidates other than the endorsed candidate during the pre-primary or primary period.
What made all these restrictions — and there were many more — necessary? “Attempting to marginalize a newly energized grass roots, left of center uprising, these changes are a dagger at the heart of a reform effort aimed at returning the Rhode Island Democratic Party to the, well, Democrats,” Ford wrote. (For the record, I beg to differ, the Democrats in this state have always been extremely conservative and the claim of Ford and progressives to the contrary is at odds with the record in this single-party dictatorship.)
Back in 2016, at the start of the primary season, Bernie Sanders swept the Ocean State in a victory that demonstrated just how much trouble the Clinton campaign was in. His triumph was hailed (prematurely) as an augury of an impending progressive tidal wave that was about to obliterate from existence the sclerotic, reactionary old party guard. (Of course within the next 12 months Donald Trump would turn the state deep purple and some time later the Party leadership would go on to endorse an alt-right troll over an incumbent single working mother, but that’s another story.)
One of the major progressive grassroots female leaders in the Ocean State is Lauren Neidel, who also happens to the major supporter of the Sanders campaign. Before this caucus conclave she wrote on a public Facebook Event invite:
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH… We must have a great showing of people who are opposed to the bogus bylaws redo! No reforms, anti-democratic and a complete mockery of what should have been a democratic process. NO BERNIE OR REFORMED MINDED PEOPLE ON THE COMMITTEE! IT WAS RIGGED!
Despite the consternation of the Women’s caucus, the party poobahs paid homage to Al Gore’s cousin Lesley and forced through the rule changes.
This very much looks like the first indication of the state — and national — party’s preparations to again try to block Bernie Sanders from winning the nomination. (Even though he would likely endorse whatever hack the Democrats put up in 2020 if he doesn’t get it.)
Mind you, I have a lot of problems with the Sanders project, as I’ve noted before. He has a diverse staff of middle class workers and his appeal is clearly broader than during the 2016 go-round, bringing in demographics who then supported Hillary Clinton. DSA and Our Revolution, which are semi-autonomous from Sanders’s Senate office and campaign organization, do make certain interesting waves. But the candidate is still running a Northern white liberal campaign and not creating a movement.
I have been an activist for the past four years in multi-racial spaces trying to build solidarity with working class and impoverished BIPOC communities. I work daily in the urban core of Providence, epicenter of poverty, where the number of homeless people wandering the streets these days is astonishing.
The Sandernistas and DSA aren’t there and I don’t see them building a movement directed to meet those needs. There are no DSA marches trying to build a Poor People’s Campaign along the lines that Martin Luther King, Jr. was charging at before he was murdered 50 years ago.
The greatest success of the Sanders project would not be his election. It would be the creation of a genuine movement that gets past its electoral politics fetish in order to build power whether he wins or loses in 2020.
Progressives in the Rhode Island Democratic base need to embrace their African American neighbors condemned by our state leaders (ergo their mutual enemy) to live in dire poverty. If they fail to expand their coalition dramatically and cross the color-coded class divide, they will remain a minuscule middle class minority in a state that dragged out the same sex marriage debate far too long, only legally codified abortion protections this year, and is chock full of rabid Trumpkins who already outnumber them in ballot power.