Perez and Ellison: Is There a Difference?

I tried really hard to get interested in the chairman race for the Democratic National Committee and just couldn’t get into it. There were a few reasons. First, I had no vote in who would be leading the party. Second, the focus seemed to be on how to get Democrats back in power rather than a clear set of ideas that would make Democrats worthy of power.  Third, after reading the platforms of Perez and Ellison it seemed that they have shared ideas and goals. None of the coverage of internal party politics answered the one question that I have: how is the new DNC chair going to ensure justice and equity for all Americans in the current political moment?

At present, Republicans control the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. They control the vast majority of state legislatures and executives. However, 3 million more Americans voted for Democrats in the last election. The system is fundamentally flawed. I am encouraged to see that Perez’s platform included a Voter Empowerment office and that Ellison, with a proven track record of boosting voter turnout, will be serving as his deputy. However, ultimately, it is the strength of ideas and not strategic maneuvers that will win voters.

I co-created, a resource to help explain government policies, their impacts on everyday lives and how citizens can get involved. When I told my dad about the manual, what it contained and how we hoped it would be used to inform and engage citizens he asked me one question, “Hasn’t the DNC already made something like that?” The answer then, as now, is no.

In the absence of a political party engaging the energy of citizens to oppose Trump, the people have risen up and created organization on their own. We have not fought over credit or territory. We have worked together realizing there are enough challenges to go around and viewed others undertaking a task as one less thing for one organization to do. I would advise Tom Perez, and the DNC generally, to build off of the new organizations that have been created. For example, sending someone from the state party to register voters at town halls or helping to inform resources that exist about important legislation or elections. The DNC has an organized, energized base of voters and it would be a waste for them to try to control it or duplicate the work that’s being done.

There is an infrastructure to the Resistance against Trump that already exists. There are even alternate policy agendas being created, such as the newly released state-level agenda on mass incarceration that I compiled here. The DNC may have a role to play in helping convert this movement energy into electoral energy. However, even there, the DNC is late to the game. Tom Perez’s platform includes a desire to create candidate training hubs. Existing organizations have expanded and new ones have sprung up to fill that role. The Resistance Manual has compiled those organizations as well as listed out upcoming elections and voter registration information.

This is a moment for the DNC to follow progressive organizers who are working to build an intersectional and inclusive movement. They should amplify the efforts of the people and ask how they can help. Public servants should, after all, seek to serve the public. They could crowdsource the party platform and use available technology to get broad input from people. In an era where I can use Twitter to directly contact people without intermediaries, democracy will only feel authentic if our representative system feels more direct. People need to know that their voices matter. It is on the DNC to show us that they do and, ultimately, to earn our votes.

As we saw during the election, Donald Trump’s ideology of fear and hate and utter incompetence was not enough to drive people to vote for Democrats. People need something to believe in and, importantly, a sense of ownership over the political process and outcomes. Issue areas that people care about are necessarily intersectional so it is not a stretch to connect them to one another. However, this is not the type of engagement that can happen right before elections. It requires sustained engagement where there is an effort to understand what people are concerned about and how to tie the issues together into a cohesive platform. Big donors fund the party’s television advertisements, but I, for one, have never been persuaded by an advertisement. I want the chance to sit across the table from my representative and engage on the issues. I’d vote for the person who did that, regardless of party.

Aditi Juneja is a 26-year-old feminist hip hop head. She is an Indian-American with epilepsy. She is the granddaughter of refugees and the daughter of immigrants. She is a co-creator of the She believes in justice and equity for all people. Aditi is finishing her 3rd year of law school at NYU School of Law and is planning to use her education to change the world.