The Democratic National Committee (DNC) recently issued its official Call of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. The Official Call sets forth the procedures to be followed by State parties in selecting delegates to the Convention. The Rules boldly address the past injustices of the Democratic Party while advancing procedures to ensure that such injustices remain a thing of the past.
As we embark on the Delegate Selection process for the 2020 Democratic National Convention at which the next president of the United States will be chosen (keep hope alive!) it is only fitting that we look carefully at the process to determine its importance both presently and historically.
“The promises of a democratically elected government and the right to vote have not always been extended equally to all Americans.”
These words represent not only a historical fact but also a mandate that the party ignores at its own peril. I say this because the Call also states in pertinent part: “The Democratic National Committee reaffirms its commitment to the 1964 resolution, and requires the national and state parties to incorporate the Six Basic Elements, as updated, into their Party rules and to take appropriate steps to secure their implementation.”
The Six Basic Elements
The Six Basic Elements are actually anti-discrimination standards that have grown along with the constant push for more inclusion and empowerment. The Six Basic Elements are:
1. All public meetings at all levels of the Democratic Party in each state should be open to all members of the Democratic Party regardless of race, sex, age, color, creed, national origin, religion, ethnic identity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, economic status or disability (hereinafter collectively referred to as “status”).
2. No test for membership in, nor any oaths of loyalty to, the Democratic Party in any state should be required or used which has the effect of requiring prospective or current members of the Democratic Party to acquiesce in, condone or support discrimination based on “status.”
3. The time and place for all public meetings of the Democratic Party on all levels should be publicized fully and in such manner as to assure timely notice to all interested persons. Such meetings must be held in places accessible to all Party members and large enough to accommodate all interested persons.
4. The Democratic Party, on all levels, should support the broadest possible registration without discrimination based on “status.”
5. The Democratic Party in each state should publicize fully and in such a manner as to assure notice to all interested parties a full description of the legal and practical procedures for selection of Democratic Party officers and representatives on all levels.
Publication of these procedures should be done in such fashion that all prospective and current members of each State Democratic Party will be fully and adequately informed of the pertinent procedures in time to participate in each selection procedure at all levels of the Democratic Party organization. Each State Party should develop a strategy to provide education programs directly to voters who continue to experience confusing timelines for registration, changing party affiliation deadlines, or lack of awareness of the process for running for delegate, to ensure all Democratic voters understand the rules and timelines and their impact on voter participation.
6. The Democratic Party in each state should publicize fully and in such a manner as to assure notice to all interested parties a complete description of the legal and practical qualifications of all positions as officers and representatives of the state Democratic Party. Such publication should be done in timely fashion so that all prospective candidates or applicants for any elected or appointed position within each State Democratic Party will have full and adequate opportunity to compete for office.
In other words: all meetings must be public, open to all Democrats, adequately publicized, held in places accessible to all and large enough to accommodate all with no discrimination in registration based on status. Finally, the publication of a complete description of legal and practical qualifications for all positions as officers and representatives of the state Democratic Party.
These common sense measures re-affirm the DNC’s commitment to the 1964 Resolution and its continuing mandate for 2020 and beyond.
The Importance of the 1964 Convention Resolution
The resolution, adopted at the 1964 convention, was intended to insure that discrimination on the basis of race, creed or national origin did not occur at future conventions. The Call does not mention what happened at the 1964 Democratic National Convention held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It is important, therefore, that we give context and meaning to the events of the past that all may recognize the importance of the Delegate Selection Process and the sacrifices made by those who came before to make it possible.
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
For those of us who have forgotten or who were to not yet born the 1964 Democratic National Convention was the one at which the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) challenged the seating of the official (all white) Mississippi Democratic Party delegation on the ground that it systematically excluded African American Mississippians from representation through closed primaries and other discriminatory practices. This was the first time in history that the selection process in the south was challenged.
Confrontational Politics at its best
I have written about the concept of confrontational politics before. Briefly it is characterized by continuous agitation and relentless demand. Specifically it is the tactic of in-your-face, head-on confrontation with the forces that oppress us. When African Americans in Mississippi learned they had the right to vote but were not allowed to participate in the democratic process because of the racist policies of the official Mississippi Democratic Party they decided to confront the party by challenging its right to be seated at the national convention. They claimed that the segregated delegate selection process violated the DNC rules and federal law. It must be noted here that although the Mississippi party was in violation of national party rules it was no secret that it’s segregated policy had been in place for decades. We need only note that the DNC was always aware of the discriminatory policies of its southern counterparts. The DNC simply looked the other way. Recognizing the need for confrontation the MFDP set out for the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Their plan was to demand to be seated as the Mississippi Delegation.
Although the MFDP was not seated at the convention and the (all white) Mississippi Democratic Party was seated despite its having passed a resolution that stated in part, “We opposed, condemn and deplore the Civil Rights Act of 1964 … We believe in separation of the races in all phases of our society. It is our belief that the separation of the races is necessary for the peace and tranquility of all the people of Mississippi and the continuing good relationship which has existed over the years …” the confrontational effortsof the MFDP bore significant fruit.
Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer
Today we recognize the importance of African American women to the ongoing struggle for power proportionality in America, so it should not be surprising that once again an African American woman led the fight to democratize the Democratic Party.
An examination of the contribution of Fannie Lou Hamer to the push for more inclusion and empowerment is beyond the scope of this essay. Let it suffice to say that she was a Mississippi sharecropper and the granddaughter of slaves. It was her being “sick and tired of being sick and tired” that helped galvanize the civil rights movement and reluctantly the Democratic Party. She was not a lone voice by any means. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) played important roles as well. But her powerful message and willingness to speak truth to power set her apart. At the heart of her message was the willingness to fight Jim Crow and the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party. As a direct result of her courage and charisma the DNC was forced to make the changes that are now embodied in the Six Basic Elements which is the real point of this essay.
The fight against Jim Crow and For democracy in the Democratic Party
Mrs. Hamer (I refer to her as Mrs. Because she referred to herself as Mrs.) fought for the same issues we are confronted with today. Our vote is still being suppressed and violence and intimidation continues at the hands of the armed agents of the state. This can only mean that we have not yet won the battle. The difference is that as its core constituency we now represent a significant voice in the Democratic Party. Mrs. Hamer did not abandon the party she forced it to confront its hypocrisy. We must continue to do the same in her memory.
What this means is that the spirit of those courageous freedom fighters of the MFDP lives on and must be remembered as we embark upon the Delegate Selection process in South Carolina. The entire country is watching what we do. As the first primary in the South we must set the example. The message must be clear and unequivocal. African American Democrats will no longer be taken for granted. African Americans represent at least 57% of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina.
Make no mistake about it the Democratic Party has come a long way since Freedom Summer 1964. We applaud the progress. But still African Americans must be represented in all Democratic Party activities, including delegate selection based on our percentage of the electorate. To that end the development of substantive, specific and effective affirmative action plan is essential. We demand no less. Change can’t wait!