The Democratic Platform Committee Now Has a Progressive Majority. Thanks, Bernie Sanders.

The Democratic Platform Committee Now Has a Progressive Majority. Thanks, Bernie Sanders.

The Democratic Platform Committee Now Has a Progressive Majority. Thanks, Bernie Sanders.

Sanders adds Keith Ellison, Cornel West, and Bill McKibben to a committee that also includes progressives Elijah Cummings and Barbara Lee.


Bernie Sanders indicated in early May that his campaign was “going to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with as many delegates as possible to fight for a progressive party platform that calls for a $15 an hour minimum wage, an end to our disastrous trade policies, a Medicare-for-all health care system, breaking up Wall Street financial institutions, ending fracking in our country, making public colleges and universities tuition free, and passing a carbon tax so we can effectively address the planetary crisis of climate change.”

Win or lose in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders said, “we intend to win every delegate that we can so that when we go to Philadelphia in July, we are going to have the votes to put together the strongest progressive agenda that any political party has ever seen.”

Sanders has won a sufficient number of delegates—and a sufficient opening in the debate—to influence the shaping of that agenda. And his representatives on the convention’s newly selected platform-writing committee share a commitment to make it profoundly progressive.

Take the issue of climate change, as an example. Sanders has secured a place for author, activist, and co-founder Bill McKibben, on the 15-person Platform Drafting Committee—which is responsible for outlining the platform that will eventually be approved at the party’s late-July convention in Philadelphia.

McKibben will have plenty of allies—among the Sanders-aligned members of the drafting committee, among members who are aligned with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, and among members who are seeking to strike a balance between the two campaigns. It is fair to say that the drafting committee has a progressive majority.

The boldness with which that majority will act upon its progressive inclinations remains to be seen, however. There will be plenty of pressure on the committee from the campaigns, from party leaders, from interest groups, and from grassroots activists. It is a good bet that there will be wrangling over domestic policy (perhaps with regard to a 15-dollar minimum wage, and almost certainly with regard to banking reform) and foreign policy (regarding everything from trade issues to Israeli-Palestinian relations). But this is a far more engaged and activist committee than was anticipated, and it has the potential to write a platform that reflects the demands of new movements and of a political moment that has seen the Sanders campaign pull the debate to the left.

The drafting committee was forged through negotiations among the Sanders and Clinton campaigns and Democratic National Committee leaders. The Sanders camp pressed hard for a real voice in the process, and an agreement was reached to form a committee that would include five members proposed by Sanders, six proposed by Clinton, and four picks by DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (In addition, Maya Harris, a senior policy adviser to Clinton, and Warren Gunnels, who serves as policy director for the Sanders campaign, will be official, non-voting members of the committee.)

The Sanders selections are all noted progressives: Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison, academic and activist Cornel West (the author of the groundbreaking 1994 book Race Matters and a leading member of Democratic Socialists of America), Native American activist and former Tulalip Tribes Vice Chair Deborah Parker (a key advocate for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act), and Arab-American Institute President James Zogby (a veteran of many conventions who was an adviser to the campaigns of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Vice President Al Gore and President Obama).

The Clinton list also includes several progressives. Carol Browner, who directed President Obama’s White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, will be sitting at the table with McKibben. So, too, will Paul Booth, a veteran activist who for four decades has been a key figure in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. They’ll be joined by former under-secretary of state for political affairs Wendy Sherman (who once directed Emily’s List), Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden, Illinois Congressman Luis Guttierez (an outspoken advocate for immigrant rights), and Ohio State Representative Alicia Reece (a former deputy mayor of Cincinnati who has a long history of working on economic-development and racial-justice issues).

The drafting committee will be chaired by Congressman Elijah Cummings, a highly regarded Maryland Democrat who has worked with both Clinton and Sanders in the past. Cummings endorsed Clinton in April but attracted attention by saying, “My advice to [Clinton] would be to try to first of all embrace the types of things that Bernie Sanders is talking about and speak to the needs of those folks who really want to be supportive of progressive policies, and to me that’s most important.”

Cummings is one of the four members selected by DNC chair Wasserman Schultz. Among the other members named by the chair are former California congressman Howard Berman (who served for 30 years in the House and left in 2013 as the ranking member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs), and former retail executive and author Bonnie Schaefer (who has been active with the Women’s Media Center and Equality Now).

The final member of the drafting committee is Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the veteran leader for peace and economic justice who has not made an endorsement in the presidential race. Lee’s experience at conventions goes back to 1972, when she was a California delegate backing Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s presidential bid.

Lee is perhaps best known as the only member of the US House or Senate to oppose the 2001 authorization for the use of military force that has been used repeatedly as an excuse to engage in military action without congressional oversight. She remains the House’s most ardent advocate for dialing down militarism and dialing up diplomacy, arguing that Congress must “repeal this blank check and restore Congress’s constitutional oversight to matters of war and peace.”

Lee helped to develop the congressional Out of Poverty Caucus, and she chairs the House Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity. As a former aide to Congressman Ron Dellums and a member of the House since 1998, she has a long history of working to get the national Democratic Party to focus on economic-justice issues. With Ellison, she serves on the leadership team of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, while both Cummings and Gutiérrez are members of the CPC—which Sanders helped to organize in the 1990s.

Lee will be a key figure on the drafting committee, because of her background and because of her close connections to progressive labor, racial-justice, and peace groups. She also brings a good deal of experience to the task. An early supporter of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential bid, she served on the 2012 platform committee and presented the party platform to the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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