Rep. Ellison says it needs to become ‘an everyday party’
Democratic Party gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey earlier this month have generated optimism a year after the party lost the White House and at a crucial time for the party. All 435 Congressional seats, 33 U.S. Senate seats and 39 state governor offices, including Minnesota’s, are up for grabs in next year’s midterm elections.
“No elected official owns the office they are in,” U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) stressed. He, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and others spoke October 22 at the University of Minnesota’s Ted Mann Concert Hall on their party’s forward movement after the 2016 presidential election.
Ellison, who was elected Democratic National Committee (DNC) co-chair this summer, predicts that the Democrats can be successful next fall only if they move from their current national focus to being more state-based. “The Democratic Party has allowed itself to become a presidential focused party,” he said. “They should be an everyday party, a 50-state party, [and] reemphasize the grassroots part of our party. It’s to elect Democrats up and down the ballot.”
Inclusion and welcoming more young people and progressives, as well as ending the practice of taking the Black vote for granted, can serve as starters, continued the Congressman, whose district includes North Minneapolis.
“We might have to knock out a few walls to get more folk in,” Ellison boldly declared amidst thunderous applause inside the packed theatre hall. “We should be engaging everyone” whether they live on the North Side or outstate Minnesota.
“We have to keep recruiting people to challenge our current [political] structure,” said Jessie Ulibarri, a Wellstone Action vice-president, on a grassroots organizing panel.
Political strategist Jessica Byrd asked, “How do we take the passion that we have in the streets into the ballot box?”
The Democratic Party shouldn’t choose between White working class folk and Black Lives Matter in order to win elections — there’s room for both, said Sen. Warren. “They both deserve a Democratic Party that makes their fight our fight.”
Democrats can be “stronger and more responsive, and adapt itself to new realities,” Ellison continued. “Change can be a bit chaotic,” especially for longtime party members, but it must be done before it’s too late.
“Everyone is valued,” said Ellison. “We should be doing everything we can to be hospitable and welcoming” and shed the party’s current “club-like” image.
“You have to put together a campaign that is central to your values as well as be competitive,” advised Byrd.
More importantly, the Democrats’ strategy must be more than “hate Trump,” Ellison pointed out.
Ulibarri surmised that a “multi-racial coalition” might be needed for a successful 2018 midterm election for the Democrats.
“The question,” said Ellison, “is what are we going to say? What is our message?”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.