Whose Party is It? Make it Yours

The Democratic Party. One day it lifts us so high . . . remember November, 2008? Of course you do. But then it wins and it tries to govern. And suddenly it gets completely torn between the interests of its grass roots supporters, and those of its corporate, big money sponsors. It tries to walk that narrow line and it falls on its face. And then we get Scott Brown. And then we do the bleeding.

I’m not going to detail here any further what’s wrong with the Party. If, dear reader, you don’t think anything is wrong, I would suggest that you save your time and your eyes, and read no further. But if you are fed up with the right wing drift, lack of coherence, and/or governing incapacity of the donkeys, then here’s what you can do about it this very Spring: BECOME THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD.

That’s right, every four years, and only one time every four years, the entire leadership of the Democratic Party is up for election, neighborhood by neighborhood, and in every neighborhood, throughout PA.

The Party is not some mysterious apparition that comes through the night to foist milky-toast political candidates on us. It is actually an elected leadership body, elected by thousands of committeepeople, each one of whom in turn is elected by party voters in a single geographical division (what regular people call a neighborhood.) Each one of these divisions contains somewhere between 500 and 1000 voters, and one polling place.

In Philadelphia, divisions are collected into larger neighborhood groupings that are called wards. (Sorry if this is old territory for some of you.) There are 69 wards in Philly, each with a ward leader elected by the Commiteepeople in that ward. These ward leaders, in turn, elect the Chair of the Democratic City Committee, who is now Bob Brady.

Ward leaders also get together to figure out who the Democratic candidates will be whenever there’s a vacancy in the middle of a term. That’s an incredibly important power. Lots of officeholders started their careers by being appointed in this way by the ward leaders, without having to go through a primary first. Once in office they become entrenched, making it incredibly hard for good, independent candidates to ever get off the ground.

So, here’s the bottom line: if you want the Democratic Party to produce progressive candidates, we need progressive ward leaders. To get progressive ward leaders, we need progressive committeepeople. That could START WITH YOU! And you’d be surprised how easy it is!

First, you need to get on the ballot. That’s right, the position is on the ballot, the same primary ballot you’ll be looking at when you vote to nominate candidates for Governor and Senator on May 18. And all you need to get on that ballot is a nominating petition signed by 10 registered Democrats who live in your division.

So how do you do that? Well, first you get the forms from the City Commissioners’ Office at Room 142, City Hall, or from the Committee of Seventy Office, 1628 JFK Boulevard Suite 1002. (They're not there yet, but should be soon.) The City Commissioners’ Office should also give you a “street list” showing the names and addresses of the registered Democrats in your division. Some of them will be your friends, others will be people you’ve passed in the street that you may have wanted to say hello to but somehow never did. Some will be complete strangers, but great people that you might never otherwise meet.

So here’s the other great part about doing this. It gives you a basis to start conversations that you really want to have with folks anyhow. Just knock on their doors, tell them you’re running, and ask them what they think Democrats ought to stand for. Odds are, you’ll agree with them on lots of stuff, and then you’ll be able to give them a way to practically advance their goals, namely by signing your petition, and then voting for you on May 18. After 25 or so of those great conversations, you’ll have the signatures you need (because you really should have about 25, even though, technically, all you need is 10.)

You might have a friend in the division who would like to help. That person can run as your partner, or just help you by also circulating a petition on your behalf.

Now here’s another important part: there’s a narrow window for getting these signatures, from Tuesday February 19, to Tuesday, March 9, three weeks later.

Want to know more? Well, the Committee of Seventy is holding a workshop on how to run for Committeeperson on Thursday, February 11 at 6 PM at their office. Go here: http://www.seventy.org/Resources_How_to_Run_for_Committee_Person.aspx for more info on Seventy’s technical resources for people running for Committeeperson.

In addition, Neighborhood Networks may be holding workshops in various areas of the City in which we help people understand the process. If you’re interested in helping put such a workshop together, or if you know a good spot for one, please be in touch with me at shapsj@comcast.net and we’ll be happy to work with you.

Remember, it’s now or . . . not until 2014. NOW is the time -- as we often told everyone who would listen just a year ago -- for all of US to be the change.

Northeast Philadelphia.

Is anyone on here running for a committee person slot in the Northeast? I only moved into the neighborhood from the suburbs back in June so I'm not sure I've been here long enough to reasonably make the run.

Northeast is a huge section of the city

Its sort of oversimplifying but basically each polling place basically represents a division and each division has two committepeople ideally. In the real world there are lots of combo polling places and lots of simply empty committee seats but perhaps you get the picture that your question is a little broad in terms of geography.

Not hard to figure out

If you send me your address, I can tell you your exact division and whether it has incumbents serving. You can be in touch with them to see if they're running again. Then talk to your close neighbors to see if any of them have heard of these folks. If not, or if they don't think much of what they've been doing, running as a newcomer might be a good thing. Of course, if the seats are vacant you might have a clear run.

Also, if you're in a particular legislative district, there's a candidate who might well help you put together your campaign to take one of the committeeperson seats.

You can reach me at shapsj@comcast.net.

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