Coming Together in the Name of Progress


July 28, 2016| Madeline Coffey

In April, the Democratic Party and I had a huge falling out.  An avid Bernie supporter feeling more and more betrayed each day by the party, things finally had come to a head at the College Democrats of North Carolina (henceforth CDNC) Convention.  It was my first convention, and I wasn’t quite ready for the cunning political games that were sure to ensue. I figured, after all, that we college kids were much more open minded than our senior counterparts.  I was wrong. I noticed early on in the convention that anyone running for state office with a history of supporting alternative candidates like Bernie Sanders or Ken Spaulding was quickly ousted. Even more obvious was the alliance between state schools’ candidates that sought to eliminate opponents from smaller, private schools through manipulation.

I walked in bright eyed, with hope in my heart for a stronger Democratic Party that would welcome people like me and my far left friends.  I believed that we were the party of progress, and that my approach of uniting the party with the far left would be respected and admired. I’ve always had a foot in both doors.  As a democrat growing up in the red south, I learned early on that compromise and understanding is necessary. I learned that nothing would change without unification. Democracy is built on what the people want, and unfortunately, what the people want isn’t as far left as I’d like.  So with this, I set out on a mission. I ran for Political Director, a position responsible for managing the CDNC caucus system. As former caucus leader, I should have been perfect for the job. My opposition was a freshman college student with no experience in the caucus system. What my opponent had that I didn’t have, however, was connections and a background at a state school.

I remember being warned before the Convention.  I was told in advance that my opponent would turn folks against me and that no elections are fair within CDNC.  When I inevitably found this to be true on my own, I was disheartened and, frankly, pissed off. I saw this as a reflection of the Democratic Party as a whole: if college students couldn’t manage to host fair and honest elections (also evidenced by the College Democrats of America controversy in 2015), what does that say about the folks who have been in this game for years?  I immediately decided right then and there: I am done with the Democratic Party. I’ve stayed silent for the past few months. I have been a democrat since my grandmother bought me a John Kerry-Edwards 2004 T-shirt at the Tennessee Valley Fair way back when.  The Party held special significance to me as the party of progress that would help blue collar families like mine to, in the words of Hillary Clinton herself, “get ahead and stay ahead.” It made my decision to split a hard one, and I never declared it officially to anyone in case I changed my mind.  With these party politics, I guess, I didn’t want to risk being ousted and losing all of my connections completely.

You might be asking, now, how I am going to manage to come back into the party with this revealing blog post that sheds light on the horrific realities of the party system?  Here’s how. I have been reunited with the Democratic Party. Their leadership at the DNC this year, the replacement of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz with the incredible Donna Brazile, and the most left platform in all of the party’s history brought me back in.  It seems that although many of our far left candidates lost out in the end, the Party is telling us that they’ve heard us loud and clear. So, I’ve returned but with conditions.

I will no longer accept the party politics of allowing candidates who have less progressive ideas but abundant party connections to win.  Now that our grassroots movement has taken its place in American society, I think we have an excellent opportunity to reform the party. What I lacked at this year’s CDNC convention was my peers’ support for increasingly progressive ideas and candidates who reflect moving forward rather than stagnation.  This week at the DNC, I have been inspired by the folks who are there. On a national level, thousands of delegates, Representatives, and Senators have acknowledged the move toward more progressive ideas that I was precisely looking for. From our very first event in Philadelphia this week, Nina Turner reminded us that we can work within the party to reform the powers within that inherently disadvantage people of color, queer folks, and other marginalized groups from taking office.  These folks sparked some ideas that made staying in the Democratic Party more appealing than ever over the past year.

I have struggled with this issue for months.  Although many of my friends disagree, I see dualism as an inherent quality of the American political system.  I don’t think we can change our country by voting for a third candidate, and I don’t honestly know if a pluralistic system can work within our constitutional set up.  I’d love to change the constitution, but it just isn’t possible right now. So, we must seek alternative methods to moving our nation forward toward a political system that respects many different ideas.  My solution? Let’s work to reunite the Democratic Party by making it less monolithic. Let’s stop kicking out candidates who are “too far left,” and let the people speak for what they want. One way we can do this is through bringing far-left progressives back to the table.

This week at the DNC, my excitement has been renewed.  I know, now, that the party can be reformed and moved farther and farther left.  I just need others to join me. Reject the notion that the party system must inevitably create a monolithic policy stance.  Let us have disagreements. Let us allow ourselves to deviate from the platform so that we can broaden our ideas. Let us let our imaginations run free and stop relying on past successes to inform our future ones.  I’m done with the old Democratic Party, but I’m ready to make a new one. I can’t do this alone, but if we reunite the party, it is possible. Through reunification we can oust this corrupt system that plagues progressive ideas while working within a system of dualism.  We don’t need to pick one side or the other when both sides can come together for an ultimately progressive cause.