When they came for me

Now that the Massachusetts Legislature has sold out immigrants, it seemed like a good time to affirm our responsibilities for one another and to our own liberties. Several friends have mentioned this poem in recent weeks (I wonder why?). There have been many versions of this but the martin-niemoeller-stiftung.de identifies this as the first:

Als sie mich holten

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Kommunist.
When the Nazis came for the Communists,
I was silent,
I was not a Communist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
When they locked up the Socialists,
I was silent,
I was not a Socialist.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
When they came for the unionists,
I was silent,
I was not a trade unionist.
Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr,
der protestieren konnte.
When they came for me
there was no one left
who could protest.

— Martin Niemoller

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Democrats did this

Today Marion Davis of MIRA issued a press release announcing that the Democratic-majority legislature had abdicated moral leadership by stripping four immigrant protection provisions from the 2019 budget. It echoed U.S. Congressional Democrats doing much the same thing last January. Sacrificing immigrants for budgets is becoming a Democratic habit.

In MIRA’s press release, Eva A. Millona, executive director of the MIRA Coalition, was quoted:

“We are deeply disappointed. The Massachusetts Legislature had a prime opportunity to stand up for civil rights and human decency, and under political pressure from Governor Baker and conservative Democrats, it backed down. The safety and well-being of tens of thousands of immigrant families will suffer as a result.”

Democrats did this.

“It is particularly disturbing that the Legislature succumbed to fear-mongering about ‘sanctuary’ policies. Though nothing in the four provisions approved by the Senate actually met the definition of ‘sanctuary’ used by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, prominent House members embraced nativist propaganda misrepresenting those provisions, using the falsehoods as political cover for their inaction.”

Democrats did this.

“We find it shocking that, with this agreement, the Legislature has tacitly accepted the notion that police should be able to ask people who ‘look foreign’ to show their papers before they can report a crime, and that immigrants should be kept in the dark about their legal rights, so it’s easier to deport them. The Legislature couldn’t even agree that Massachusetts should never contribute to a Muslim registry. That is stunning and embarrassing.”

Democrats did this.

“Our country faces an existential crisis, and in the face of horrific abuses by the federal government, it is morally imperative for states to act to protect their most vulnerable residents. By failing to pass the Safe Communities Act, and now failing to pass even basic legal protections, the Legislature has abdicated its moral leadership, and failed a large share of its constituents.”

Instead, the Massachusetts House chose expediency and making a Republican governor happy.

Democrats had better fix this.

Defiance

At the national level Democrats may be forgiven for doing little for DACA and TPS recipients or for immigration reform in general. But, in a majority Democratic state like Massachusetts, there is no excuse for the legislature dragging its heels on reasonable immigrant protections called for by the party’s own platform. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has repeatedly manipulated and maneuvered to shelve bills and limit votes on immigration, and now he’s trying to strip immigrant protection provisions from the FY2019 budget.

Of course we can’t blame it all on DeLeo — who now has exhausted every last cent of his political capital with progressives. House Democrats can’t — and shouldn’t — hide behind the Speaker forever. Ultimately they will be held to personal account. Too many members of the State House sound like Republicans in their willingness to “go along to get along” with cruel attacks on undocumented families. It’s simply hypocrisy for Massachusetts Democrats to chastise Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell for their lack of spine when they themselves are guilty of the same.

Last year I attended the Massachusetts Democratic convention in Worcester, at which a new party platform was drafted. Among the hollow declarations of resistance and highfalutin but ultimately meaningless verbiage added to the platform were planks calling for a living wage and sensible immigration polices.

It was left to groups like RaiseUp to fight to get living wages on the November ballot because Democrats themselves didn’t find it important enough. And even though the state party’s platform calls for immigrant protections, these proved to be hollow promises as well:

  • “Becoming a sanctuary state, where all immigrants and refugees feel welcome and safe in all communities of the Commonwealth.”
  • “Eliminating policies that make local and state officials responsible for the enforcement of national immigration laws.”

For many of us the MassDems platform has no value other than to document the hollowness of a party whose real-life politicians have no intention of standing by the party’s professed values.

Representatives, start acting like Democrats. Ultimately voters are going to look at your positions and voting record, not Speaker DeLeo’s. Do the right thing. Stand up for the principles we voted for last year. Stand up for some of the state’s most vulnerable people. Show some backbone. Defy the Speaker. Keep immigration protections in the budget.

Bring in the bulldozers

Here in Massachusetts we have 38 days to register for the Massachusetts primaries, 58 days until we vote in them, 100 days to register for midterm elections, and 121 days until the fate of nation is sealed. But it’s been over a year and a half since the 2016 presidential election and we feel only the faintest of pulses from a Democratic Party led nationally by septuagenarians older on average than Brezhnev’s Politburo, with few new ideas and little backbone. This is a party desperately in need of major rehabilitation, not the slow-moving suicide in progress.

Despite a progressive insurgency, the DNC and DCCC still can’t bring themselves to give up the Big Money donors and slick top-down campaign machinery they’ve always counted on. Their direction hasn’t changed — today it’s even further to the right with campaigns featuring more veterans, more members of the security establishment, more prosecutors, and more tech wizards and hedge fund managers. Capitalism may not be working for most of the country, but it sure is for these Democrats. When Tammy Duckworth quipped that Alejandra Ocasio-Cortez represents only the Bronx, it spoke volumes about a party unwilling to confront the future, much less the present.

Our last president left the Democratic Party in virtual receivership, according to Donna Brazile. And the losing presidential candidate called in the DNC’s chits to literally turn it into her own presidential campaign. Today the very existence of the Poor People’s Campaign is a symptom of how badly Democrats have represented the working poor — or anyone a paycheck or two from sliding out of the middle class. Yet, while Democrats do little for the average American, Republicans are doing their worst.

In November we again have a choice between truly evil or lesser evil, oligarch or technocrat. We’ve been properly conditioned to always vote for the lesser evil. And the Democratic Party can always count on us. Liberals smugly argue that Conservatives vote against their own interests, but that’s not entirely true. In 2016 White America got exactly what it always wanted — Reconstruction 2.0. Whether trade, taxes, budget, infrastructure, medical care, or even their children’s lives or their own retirement, White America was willing to take any hit to unroll and unwind everything the Black Guy had tried to accomplish. Last year the Democratic Party leadership traveled down to Berryville, Virginia to specifically court the white middle class. We should all be watching midterm results in Berryville to see how this works out for them.

Liberals won’t admit that they also vote against their own interests by supporting massive military budgets, corporate bailouts, and helping dismantle the social safety net. And centrist Democrats apparently love trickle-down economics every bit as much as their kleptocratic Republican brethren. The “Better Deal” that Democrats announced in Berryville focuses on “pocketbook” issues and, just like Republicans, claims that what’s good for America’s corporations is also good for America’s workers. But progressives take issue with this neoliberal fable, increasingly questioning not only income inequality but the Capitalism behind it.

Each year, those of us who recall — that the Democratic Party was the party of the Bay of Pigs, Viet Nam, the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates in American history. carte blanche for the Patriot Act, Libya, Syria, Drone Tuesdays, and the biggest corporate bailout since the Great Depression — each year we remind centrist Democrats they’ve been hoodwinked. And each year they call us irresponsible dogmatists. But history and newspaper clippings don’t do them any favors.

Some things simply have to be abandoned and created anew. In software refactoring only gets you so far: sometimes you need a complete rewrite of the code. With a dumpy old house, add-ons and endless tinkering with electrical and structural problems often turn out to be more costly than bulldozing and rebuilding. Now, because of widespread dysfunction and corruption, many Democrats have begun to recognize that ICE must be abolished and rebuilt from the ground up. What they don’t see is that the same applies to their own party.

Bowed Heads to Raised Fists

Yesterday I attended a “Families Belong Together” rally in New Bedford, one of hundreds of similar events taking place nationwide. Between 400-500 people attended, overflowing into the balcony at the Bethel AME Chuch on County Street. It was good to see friends, neighbors, my sister-in-law, and to hear heartfelt expressions of concern for detained children and famillies. It was a tangible reminder that we — our undocumented friends included — are all members of a single community. It was also an affirmation of our responsibility for one another.

Over the years I’ve been to a number of events like this, often following something horrible — mass shootings, acts of hate, threats to civil liberties. Now it’s the Federal government caging children. Over the years I’ve noticed the same concerned citizens meeting as one, praying as one, the same clergy bowing their heads in unity, making the same reassurances, hearing the same exhortations from politicians and community leaders. There’s a “feel good” aspect to it all that disturbs me. Why aren’t people marching in the streets? Why aren’t there fewer bowed heads and more raised fists?

To be sure, the good friends of immigrants showed up and were counted. Reverend Sharyn Halliday and the Bethel AME Church cared enough to host the event. Community, union and faith leaders lined the pews. New Bedford House Representative Tony Cabral brought a daughter with every reason to be proud of her dad. New Bedford City Council member Dana Ribeiro spoke warmly to her city, and Brockton Council member Jean Bradley Derenoncourt delivered a moving appeal for America to keep faith with those who arrive here just looking to survive. The Coalition for Social Justice’s Maria Fortes pressed for House adoption of Senate Amendment #1147 — immigrant protections being now considered in conference by the House.

But the event did not reflect well on an overwhelmingly blue Massachusetts House that refused to vote on the Safe Communities Act and on Congressional Democrats who have done little for TPS and DACA recipients (both of whom were present yesterday). With the exception of Tony Cabral, not one other state representative bothered to show up at the New Bedford rally. And the lone U.S. Congressman who spoke should never have been invited.

Bill Keating (MA-09) gave an energetic shirtsleeve speech — all clenched fists and outrage at the Trump administration’s caging of six year-olds. The problem with Keating’s performance was not its dramatic fist-pumping; it was the hypocrisy. Keating has voted repeatedly for GOP anti-immigrant bills. H.R.3009 punished Sanctuary Cities. H.R.4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, restricted absorption of Syrian refugees. H.R.3004, “Kate’s Law,” took a hard line against desperate people who re-enter the United States. And Keating’s “On the Issues” statement on immigration reads like it was written by Jeff Sessions himself:

“Bill Keating opposes amnesty. As a District Attorney, Bill Keating enforces our laws and believes that everyone must obey them. His office has prosecuted thousands of criminal cases that resulted in defendants being detained for immigration and deportation action. Bill believes that we must secure our borders, and wants to punish and stop corporations that hire workers here illegally. Bill does not support giving people who are here illegally access to state and federal benefits.”

Toward the end of the rally a group of local children recited ‘families deserve to stay together” in multiple languages, sweetly honoring children now sitting in ICE and CPB cages. With the event ending, clergy lined up awkwardly, a long interfaith blessing was delivered, and attendees filed outside into the hot summer air.

Fighting for the soul of the Democratic Party

It does not surprise me that the tagline for the Poor People’s Campaign is “a national call for moral revival.” In politics, given a choice between money and morality, you know which will win. It’s also no surprise that the demands of this campaign are not strictly economic but target racism, the environment, criminal justice, voter disenfranchisement, healthcare, foreign policy, militarism, budget priorities, and democratic institutions. The very existence of this movement is a clue that, for all their lofty platform planks, Democrats simply haven’t been listening to America’s most vulnerable people.

Tip O’Neill famously said that all politics is local. Perhaps. But local politics are now national. Dozens of Congressional primary races highlight the ideological wars being fought within the Democratic Party — viciously and with considerable help from out of state donors.

UMass Amherst political science professor Raymond LaRaja writes that, for all the Democratic Party’s disagreements, “if there is one thread that links party adherents today, it is a view of themselves as outsiders trying to gain for themselves and others a share of the fruits of American democracy and capitalism, which have been denied to them by social status.” But there any agreement ends.

In this authoritarian age a lot is at stake. Democratic Party centrists think they can tinker with and improve Capitalism, while progressives and socialists know that only radical change — and a stronger defense of democracy — will make life better for working families. These are irreconcilable philosophies that must eventually end in divorce. But for the moment — here we are together in a very odd bed.

Unlike Republicans, who abhor heterogeneity and tightly enforce party discipline, Democrats function more as a coalition than a party. LaRaja writes, “Coalitions do not make it easy to come up with coherent campaign slogans. But a more profound problem of Democratic pluralism is that the party can be biased toward a few moneyed and highly organized factions who do not reflect the broader rank-and-file. These factions include pro-environment groups, abortion rights organizations and public sector unions. They may champion important causes, but their dominance over the party’s agenda has a powerful impact on who runs for office as Democrats and what kinds of issues get pushed in government.”

No surprise, then, that the “moneyed and highly organized factions” run their political races differently too. Since their objective is to win and not necessarily fight for principles (either during or after an election), Democratic centrists run campaigns based on “viable candidates” while progressives are more interested in principles. Centrist Democrats won’t waste a dime on a candidate who can’t win, and they will look for one who can — even if he is barely distinguishable from a Republican.

Progressives, on the other hand, are willing to see their candidate go down in flames — if only for the chance to have her issues heard by voters or to keep the party from sliding even farther to the right. And progressives often have to fight the good fight with little or no support from Democratic Party institutions like the DNC or DCCC. This too is an irreconcilable difference that must eventually end in divorce.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) doesn’t yet have a Fifty State strategy but is trying to get there. It previously conceded elections in some states and put all its chips on “sure things” in others. The DCCC’s “Majority Makers” program is targeting dozens of Red districts thought to be winnable. The special Alabama Senate election of Doug Jones provided the party with new energy — but lowered the bar for its candidates. The DCCC doesn’t even conceal its bias toward Blue Dogs like Henry Cuellar over progressives and has even gone out of its way to sabotage the campaigns of progressives like Laura Moser. In the New York primary DNC Chair Tom Perez endorsed Andrew Cuomo, breaking a promise that the DNC would never again interfere in a primary election.

Last April I attended a meeting of Marching Forward in Dartmouth. The group was recruiting campaign volunteers after deciding to support four swing state Congressional candidates in the midterm elections. Three of their four candidates were DCCC “Majority Makers” — Andy Kim (NJ-03); Mikie Sherill (NJ-11); and Perry Gershon (NY-01). Volunteers would travel to these swing states and essentially take their marching orders from the DCCC.

It’s difficult to begrudge Marching Forward’s efforts. After all, each of their candidates is challenging an especially noxious Trump Republican. Each was chosen, like genes for therapeutic treatment, to target a specific defect in a specific Congressional district with precisely calibrated politics and personal attributes. Andy Kim, for example, is a former Defense Department analyst; Mikie Sherill is a decorated Navy helicopter pilot and “get-tough” federal prosecutor; and Perry Gershon is the Chief Investment Officer at Jefferies LoanCore Capital Markets LLC. None is what anyone would call a progressive. And the number of DCCC candidates waving military and national security resumes should worry everyone in post-911 America.

These candidates, to use LaRaja’s words, all want “peace, protecting the environment, separation of church and state, guarding the right to an abortion, and quality of life issues like eating locally-grown food.” But generally absent from the campaigns of these genetically-engineered DCCC candidates are issues important to brown, black, and poor people. Each represents the Clintonite wing of a Democratic Party that Thomas Frank describes in “Listen, Liberal” — gatekeepers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, prosecutors, the security establishment, technocrats.

Of course, the U.S. Congress is not the only battlefield. Republicans must be fought in state houses too. EveryDistrict has an approach similar to the DCCC’s, but aims to put more Democrats in state government, neglected for decades by the DNC. And who in their right mind would wish for EveryDistrict to fail? In 26 of 50 states Republicans have a trifecta — total control of both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office. In contrast, Democrats have only 8. EveryDistrict’s strategy is to pick horseraces it thinks it can win, and Democratic winners twill then make the state more liberal. At least that’s the theory.

The Bernie wing of the Democratic Party consists of idealists, progressives, and socialists. Funding their candidates are various PACs that endorse and support progressive campaigns and/or candidates of color — people with a serious personal stake in making real change. They include: Color of Change, Democracy for America, Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, and The Collective PAC. They don’t take corporate money, they don’t have much support from the Democratic Party, and their campaigns are funded by individual donations. Sometimes even their campaign videos are self-produced, as in the case of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is challenging Blue Dog Democrat Joe Crowley in the NY-14 Congressional primary.

Massachusetts primaries will be here in roughly 90 days. The primaries and the general election will provide more clues about the future and the soul of the Democratic Party. Last September I pondered where Democrats were headed:

It’s still a bit early to definitively answer the question of what kind of Democrat represents the future of the party, but we should know by the time the Democratic primaries come around. If Reagan Democrats like Keating remain unchallenged, and a slew of Baby Keatings appear on ballots, then we’ll know the party’s true character — regardless of whatever lofty language is written into the platform.

We are indeed knee deep in Manchins, Joneses, Heitkamps, Moultons, and Baby Keatings. But I no longer think the future of the Democratic Party can be divined so quickly or easily. The fight for the party’s soul could take a decade — after all, it took the Tea Party twelve years to turn the GOP into a bunch of goose-stepping kleptocrats. This fight will continue as America becomes browner and poorer — and as our democratic institutions struggle to recover from the shocks of years of authoritarianism.

If you compare the two videos in this post there are obvious differences between Democrats. The America I want to live in will not be led by PAC-reliant, flag-waving technocrats but by courageous working people with moral centers and very personal stakes in an inclusive democracy. But for now we may need the technocrats — and they us — to keep the Republic from sliding even further into the abyss.

We did it

Senator Jamie Eldridge’s amendment #1147, which includes four key provisions to protect immigrant families and other minorities in our Commonwealth, was approved just now by a vote of 25-13, after a long and thoughtful debate. This is a huge victory, and a major show of support by the Senate leadership for members for our most vulnerable communities.

We need to thank them in a big way, celebrate this victory, and then start working on the House to make sure these provisions make it into the final Conference Committee budget and onto the governor’s desk. If you have social media accounts, please post enthusiastically! Or send an email to your Senator thanking them for supporting this amendment. Tell them how much it means to you that they did it, and how proud you are to have them as your Senator.

Next stop is the Conference Committee and the much more conservative House. Stay tuned for details on how we’ll be working to secure their support. This isn’t over yet, by a long shot — but take a moment to celebrate! We did good. We did really, really good.

How did your senator vote? Make sure to thank — but also feel free to register your unhappiness if s/he was one of the 7 Republicans and 6 Democrats who turned their backs on human decency.

Supporting the amendment

Voting against the amendment

** Democrats voting with Republicans