The Democratic National Committee must change, radically, if it is going to be prepared for the challenge of opposing President-elect Donald Trump and the most right-wing Congress in American history. The DNC that could not stop Trump must be replaced by a DNC that can stop Trumpism.
That will require not just new leadership but different leadership. The DNC needs a chair who has an intersectional and activist organizing vision like that of former Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone, who taught us that “There is an elementary aspiration which undergirds the humane impulse in our history and our culture and binds us together as political activists. This is a simple, irreducible, indisputable aspiration. It is the ‘dream of justice’ for a beloved community, in which the level of terror in people’s lives is sharply reduced or maybe eliminated. It is the belief that extremes and excesses of inequality must be reduced so that each person is free to fully develop his or her full potential. This is why we take precious time out of our lives and give it to politics.”
Wellstone spoke those words after the heartbreaking election of 1984, in which Ronald Reagan won a 49-state landslide victory that led many Democrats to imagine that their party needed to ease up on its historic commitment to economic justice and its emerging commitment to a broader vision of social justice. Wellstone argued that the naysayers were misguided, that a turn inward that betrayed the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” represented an abandonment of the future. He was right, on so many moral and political levels.
Wellstone’s vision lives on with those who worked with him on behalf of economic and social justice and peace—and on behalf of a grassroots-focused and boldly progressive Democratic Party. One of Wellstone’s allies was a young lawyer from Minneapolis named Keith Ellison, who would become a congressman and is now emerging as a potential front-runner for the chairmanship of the DNC.
As top figures in the party, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who is expected to lead his party’s Senate caucus, endorsed Ellison, the congressman has continued to quietly consult other members of Congress and grassroots activists around the country. Ellison, one of the most active social-media communicators in Congress, tweeted a quote from Wellstone: “There are three critical ingredients to democratic renewal and progressive change in America: good public policy, grassroots organizing and electoral politics.”