Courtesy of NCSL
“The Democratic Party really, really does need a revival,” declared none other than DNC deputy chair Keith Ellison.
The Minnesota Congressman delivered his impassioned speech Aug. 9, 2017, on the closing day of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ 2017 Legislative Summit. His cheering audience comprised of Democratic state senators, state representatives, and legislative staffers from across the country.
When Ellison took to the stage just after 8:30 am, the clinks of forks at the summit’s Democrat breakfast halted. As the chatter in the ballroom faded, each back straightened, and each mouth quickly chomped down the last bit of croissant. Dozens of arms shot up into the air to snatch a picture of the congressman at his podium. Within moments, more two hundred Democrat eyes were on him.
“As state legislators,” Ellison began, “you guys are absolutely on the front line for the American people — far more so than Congress. I can tell you I’ve been in the state legislature and I’ve been in Congress, and I can assure you I felt way more effective as a state legislator.”
A collective smile crept across the ballroom.
Ellison’s tone then shifted; he spent much of his speech thereafter urgently calling attention to the worrying state of the DNC.
“The Democrats have lost about 950 seats since 2008,” he stated fervently. “What it’s meant is restrictions on voter access. It has meant limitations on expansions of Medicaid. It has meant a difference in the lives of people … When Democrats lose elections, bad things happen to good people … When we win, America’s just a better place.”
Cheers rose from the audience. Ellison responded with heated condemnations of recent health care negotiations on Capitol Hill, speaking of the well-publicized Republican pushes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“What compromise do you have,” he demanded, “when somebody’s demanding that?”
“Don’t tell me you want me to be bipartisan if that means cave in to unreasonable demands!”
His words contrast with the recurring theme of the NCSL 2017 Summit, which emphasized the importance of bipartisan collaboration in state legislation.
This cross-party collaboration seems much more fruitful on the state level. During an interview, Democratic state representative Earl Jaques commented that “in Delaware we have a pretty good relationship between the two parties … We’re not like Washington, D.C., at all in Delaware.”
Congressman Ellison, on the other hand, stressed that “of course we wanna find the common ground… but we are not going to cooperate in damaging the lives of the American people!”
He continued by emphasizing the dire state of the Democratic Party.
“We didn’t just lose the election last November; we lost over 1,000 [state and local elections]!”
Therefore, he said, “we,” the DNC, “are on a mission to do a few things, and we cannot possibly get them done without your full participation.
“We are gonna take the Democratic National Committee from a presidential party to an every single election seat party,” he said to widespread applause.
He discussed how the DNC has been overly focussed on federal positions, thus neglecting Democrats running for state and local seats. “You’re like, on your own,” if you’re a Democrat running for one of these positions, he said. But from this point onwards, Ellison assured that “[the DNC] want to do whatever we can do relative to make you win, help you win. Every seat, not just president. And certainly not just Congress.”
Whether or not the DNC, which has long been accused of elitism and hypocrisy, will actually live up to Ellison’s promises is left to be seen.
While confronting several of the DNC’s different flaws, Ellison quoted James Baldwin to remind that “you cannot fix what you will not face.”
He then advised the state politicians that “if you wanna win, you gotta make winning number two.”
Number one, naturally, must be the people.
“If you build community based on trust, then the voting thing is a no-brainer,” he said.
He then discussed and condemned various aspects of Trump’s presidency.
Trump’s administration, he summarized, is “a core threat to representative democracy.” Ellison then painted a picture of a dystopian, almost apocalyptic America. “The US is facing a challenge– in my opinion — as serious as the Civil War.”
“Democratic societies have slipped into authoritarianism. I hate to tell you this, but the only thing between authoritarianism and democracy is you.”
He expressed to the legislators the importance of pushing back on the presidential administration’s decisions on a state level.
“I’m telling you — I am not joking, I am not saying this for dramatic effect — I am telling you we are in a serious situation in our country and we must respond to it,” he said.
Emphasizing opposition and resistance, he urged the politicians to protect their constituents’ rights on a state level. He instructed them to “stand up and insist that the American people have a president that’s working for them not Russia or any other government.”
He ended with an uplifting, “You guys are ready for this. You were made for this. Man, you was born for this! You can do this!”
“If the president’s not gonna do what he’s supposed to do, we will.”
–Aug. 26, 2017–