Bankole: Can Dems bridge divide?

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Is the political divide that got LGBT activist and outsider Dana Nessel the attorney general nomination over establishment favorite Pat Miles during the recent Democratic Party state endorsement convention a harbinger for things to come?

It depends on whom you talk to.

Still, behind the fracas that took place April 15 at Cobo Center, which demonstrated how Nessel’s camp outorganized Miles’ team, lies a seemingly disintegrating party structure pitting a new progressive wing that echoes the political sentiments of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders against the interests of establishment and longtime card-carrying members of the party.

The problem has deepened since Democrats left their endorsement convention with an all-white ticket — that includes attorney general, secretary of state and Supreme Court — to the chagrin of their most loyal base, African-American voters. Gretchen Whitmer remains the leading candidate for governor.

Now as party leaders and activists head into the fall, the million-dollar question remains: How can they rise above their own differences and unite behind a broad-based ticket to win in November?

“There is a war because of the progressive Dems striking back against the establishment. There is another war also between young Dems and even older Dems in a battle for control of direction in the party,” said Meeko Williams, a Detroit political activist. “This will hinder the 2018 ticket because of disengagement of voters and the continued rift from last year.”

Williams, 33, said what happened at the state convention should be viewed as part of the continued rift that played out between then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, heavily favored by the Democratic establishment, and her primary opponent Sanders, an outsider accused of hijacking the party who eventually won the state during the 2016 presidential primary.

“Now it has spilled into our convention this year because of the white female takeover of the Democratic Party to the exclusion of black and minority candidates,” Williams said. “Brandon Dillon, chairman of the party, can change this around, but some as well as myself fear it’s too late to make good on a promise kept.”

But Tanya Reza, 35, a member of the Progressive Caucus of Mid Michigan, the group that campaigned for Nessel’s candidacy for attorney general, disagrees that there is an open war inside the party.

“I think our differences are out in the open and under heavy debate. However, having such heated discussion about our values and opposing candidates is healthy and necessary,” Reza said. “All of our voices need to be heard equally and people who vote Democrat need to know the candidates and their ideas well enough to make informed decision in the primary.”

Reza says the lessons of the 2016 election are glaringly clear and will help Democrats of all stripes make informed choices in November.

“I think progressives and more traditional Democrats alike all learned an important lesson in 2016 in that we have every right in a democracy to advocate for our interests, but at the same time, the current reality won’t always allow us to make the choice we want,” Reza said. “I think a lot of people are maturing through their activism within and outside of their party. In the absence of a good candidate, we are obliged to choose the one that will do the least harm.”

Isaiah Bomar, 34, a card-carrying member of the party, wants more exciting candidates.

“I feel like as a voter I want a candidate that I can start getting excited about. I also want more information on how they will address racial inequity,” Bomar said. “I want to know when I cast my vote that I am casting it with a party that values my life. I want my political party to see me and embrace me more than just my vote. I want my ideas valued and I want them reflected.”

Bomar said he believes that the current chasm between progressive and traditional elements of the party is more about the need for true inclusion under the big tent.

“The traditional branches seemingly are not providing enough in the way of inclusion. So progressives are making new lanes. The divide is serious enough to threaten the ticket. Both sides must make concessions,” Bomar said.

He said unless both progressives and traditional members find a way to work together, “We will not be winning anything anytime soon.”

Much of the blame for the skirmish that took place during the Democrats’ endorsement meeting is being placed at the feet of the Progressive Caucus, the backers of Nessel. Some are even suggesting her nomination could potentially put the entire Democratic ticket in jeopardy because of her past comments, including one recently about male private parts.

Reza of the Progressive Caucus says not so fast.

“We believe that candidates should represent their constituents and not donors or corporations. We believe that candidates need to advocate for our interests and make ‘big asks,’ ” Reza said. “People are looking for substantive policy changes, like Medicare for all and free public college. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party is too beholden to corporate donors to rally their constituents and demand big shifts in policy.”

It is evident that Democrats have their work cut out for them in November.

While the question of real unity still lingers, another question emerges: which African-American male is being courted to run as lieutenant governor for the top of the ticket?

Until that answer is provided, the party may be well served with a unity rally in Detroit to demonstrate that it respects its biggest base, and to begin to make amends for the all-white ticket it currently has.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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