A change of heart is not something that I easily endure, but sometimes it is necessary. I always face an internal struggle with these transformations. None has ever quite matched the significance of when I begrudgingly converted from being an outspoken Christian who led his immediate family in the faith to being an agnostic. When I reached that shift in October 2011 it completely devastated certain members of my family, I still hear criticism about it, and I believe I will never hear the end of it. Over the past month I have experienced a similar transition. This time, it is political in nature.
Before I go into detail about that transition, let me lay the foundation with some background information. I was raised by my single mother. She was a Democrat until her dying day in 2012. She was also someone who didn’t blindly vote for anyone, though. She used to proudly note that she had voted for Ross Perot. The best part about her was that she NEVER told me or my siblings how we should vote or think. The only thing she insisted upon was that we participate. To her, voting was essential as a citizen in a free country.
My maternal grandfather (her father, for the sake of simplicity) has always been the patriarch of our family. He is a centrist Democrat to his core and his deep devotion to the cause of organized labor helped instill in me an appreciation for unions. Even so, while he has lived his entire life as a Democrat, my grandfather has never held back on criticizing the party or the leaders thereof. My mother and her father taught me very important lessons throughout my life about the value of fighting for what you believe in.
Remaining silent and obedient is not in my blood. I can’t simply just shut up and tolerate wrongdoing or be quiet when something upsets me. I saw my mother struggle throughout her life and she always had to fight for herself. The same has gradually become my experience (though, nowhere near the degree to which my mother struggled).
It should be well known to all those close to me by now that my early life experiences involved near-endless chaos. From being homeless a handful of times – including living for a few weeks in a tent on a campground when I was 8 years old – to my parents separating a year later. We moved around once a year for several years in a row and I nearly failed in school several times as a result.
My life experiences in early childhood and now as an adult – including battling management at Goodwill when they punished me for taking time off work when my son was born, dealing with being an uninsured asthmatic for about two years, and then when I spent two years struggling to provide for my family bouncing between being unemployed and working as a temp – have instructed me and have made me someone with deeply-rooted core principles which guide my activism and my choices as a voter.
It is also worth noting that I am a passionate student of history and follower of current events. Learning about how we got to where we are and why things are the way they are has helped provide further guidance in my decisions. I’m profoundly open-minded and I take great pride in the fact that I am never blinded by allegiance to one group or another. If I see something which needs to be addressed I will address it, no matter how unpopular my opinion on the issues may be.
As a member of the Democratic Party since I was 18 (though, I’ve called myself a Democrat since I was 10) I have never sat silently and just voted for the Democrat like some programmed robot. There was a time when I used to defend the Party more willingly, but as I learned more about how things work and about current events I became more and more willing to criticize the Democrats and insist on them being better. This was something I did simultaneously with fighting hard within the party to make it more progressive.
At the age of 18, the first presidential candidate I ever supported was Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Interestingly, when I first got involved directly in politics (instead of just watching from the sidelines as a minor who couldn’t vote) I had considered myself to be a Conservative Democrat. I was deeply religious at the time (I attended a Pentecostal church several times a week from 2002 through 2004). I was strongly conservative on social issues but open minded on economic issues and foreign policy. Kucinich was the first candidate to fire something up in my “soul”.
Kucinich spoke passionately about the poor and the working class overall. He spoke passionately about ending our endless wars. He spoke passionately about Medicare for All (the first presidential candidate I had ever heard mention it). He spoke passionately about confronting the dangers of George W. Bush’s policies and the precedents they were setting for the powers of the presidency. I was excited about Kucinich and proudly voted for him in the 2004 Presidential Primary.
When Kucinich dropped out I shifted my support to former Senator John Edwards, who also spoke eloquently about the desperate condition of average Americans. His “Two Americas” speeches inspired me and directly resonated with me. John Kerry choosing Edwards as his running-mate made it easier for me to support Kerry in the end. I wholeheartedly volunteered in that ill-fated campaign. Doing my first phonebanking, Guest Column and Letters to the Editor, as well as canvassing. It was an exciting time, but my heart was broken for the first time in my life of observing politics when Bush was declared the winner of that race.
After the 2004 campaign, I took a few months off from politics to deal with the natural post-election depression. Then, I focused more on activism as well as online blogging about my viewpoints. This was a time of major change for me as I was becoming more progressive over time. I was questioning everything, from religion to how the world works. This was an awakening of something within me, and I wasn’t going to let myself slip back into blindly following anything or anyone (this was the timeframe when I left my former church out of protest, choosing instead to practice my former faith independently).
I also increasingly became more critical of the Democratic Party during this period of time. As I read more and more about Bush’s abuses of power (primarily as it pertained to the facts that were coming out about war crimes, unconstitutional exploitation of signing statements, and the use of torture) I became increasingly frustrated with the Democratic Party’s unwillingness to confront those abuses and say what needed to be said: Bush’s actions were impeachable. In May of 2005, I met John Kerry in person as he came to Utica, Ohio to do an event on the farm of Gene Branstool. Kerry talked before I briefly met him about how he supported the weak proposal to “censure” Bush (which is basically the congressional equivalent of wagging your finger at someone). Historical note: Democrats were actually in a strong position politically at this point as they had blocked Bush’s attempts to privatize Medicare and Social Security and they had managed to block a number of his hyper conservative judicial nominations, but I digress.
By the end of 2005, I was involved in a handful of activist causes. One of those causes was alongside a Gold Star mother who had lost her son in Bush’s illegal war in Iraq. To back track a little, the first time I ever remember being mad at Democrats was when I was 17, when Democrats voted for that illegal war. I knew then how wrong that vote was, and I never believed for a second that Bush would pursue anything but a war. Back to late-2005, the Gold Star mother and I had driven together to then-Congressman Ney’s congressional office in Zanesville to seek an audience with the Congressman. He wasn’t there, but we were in the paper for our peaceful demonstration and efforts to bring attention to the wrongness of the war.
My opposition to the Iraq War and suspicions about Bush’s abuses of power only grew stronger. By the end of 2006 I was publicly advocating for the end of the war and Bush’s removal from office. I circulated petitions at the time and began pestering Newark City Council (which I did again in late-2007) to adopt a resolution calling for Congressional action to at least begin hearings on possible impeachment.
It was obvious to me that my advocacy was annoying to the so-called “old guard” of the local Democratic Party. Most of them were uncomfortable with the petition for Bush’s impeachment despite all of his obvious abuses. Eventually, I had a chance to meet and discuss issues with the guy who would become our member of the House of Representatives: Zack Space. By the spring of 2007, Space came back to Licking County – then as a member of Congress – to address the annual dinner hosted by the local Party’s Club. While the Democrats had won a majority in both houses of Congress in 2006 on a message of rooting out the “culture of corruption” and even by attacking the Bush’s Administration’s illegal war in Iraq, the leadership of the Party suddenly pumped the brakes on doing hardly anything about either issue.
The best that they were willing to do was passing an admittedly strong ethics reform bill which prohibited certain connections between lobbyists and members of Congress. That was well and good, but it left unaddressed the giant elephant (no pun intended) in the room: Bush’s abuses and illegal war. Pelosi, before she officially assumed her history-making position as the first woman to be Speaker of the House, immediately told voters that “impeachment is off the table” as it pertained to Bush. This was outrageous to me, and I have never forgiven her for it (this also ended my contributions to the DNC, DCCC, and DSCC).
When I had a chance to speak with then-Congressman Space in person about these concerns, he excused his opposition to impeachment by saying it would be “too divisive”. No, he couldn’t justify inaction by claiming that Bush committed no impeachable offenses. Rather, his only concern – just like Speaker Pelosi’s – was how impeaching Bush would “divide the country”. In other words, they were afraid that doing the right thing would harm them politically, Constitution be damned. Truth be told, I refused to vote for Space’s reelection in 2008 as a result of this (I had previously skipped Sherrod Brown’s race for the Senate in protest of his vote in the House for the unconstitutional Military Commissions Act of 2006).
Later that year, then-Congressman Kucinich used his privileged resolution (a right of all members of Congress) to force the House of Representatives to vote on his comprehensive Articles of Impeachment against Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the Bush Regime responsible for a slew of crimes against the rule of law. The cowardly Democratic Congress quickly killed the resolution with a “vote to commit”, which means that they sent the resolution to a committee that would never hear the resolution. As one might imagine, this enraged me. I was truly ashamed to be a Democrat in that moment.
Kucinich was then running for President again, just as he did four years earlier and I was again supporting him. This time I was working a decent job which enabled me to donate to his campaign (the first campaign for president to which I ever financially contributed). By the end of 2007 with the first presidential nomination contests starting in January of 2008, I wrote a letter to the editor which proclaimed that I was dead set on supporting Kucinich and was – at least at that time – not prepared to support anyone else in the 2008 presidential election. Additionally, I cited Kucinich’s political bravery in standing up for what was right no matter the popularity of his stance as a reason for supporting him so passionately.
What happened next was truthfully earth-shattering for me. The Tuesday after my letter to the editor had been published I attended – as I had practically all year in 2007 – the monthly Licking County Democratic Club meeting. At that meeting, the Party Chair at the time singled me out – not using my name, but his remarks were made with me sitting right in front of where he was standing – and cited my letter to the editor, declaring that (and I am paraphrasing) “Kucinich isn’t going to be the nominee, we’re not going in that direction”. NO ONE in the room (and there were about 30-50 people in the room) protested the Party Chair’s comments. I felt very strongly that the Party should remain neutral in a primary until a nominee was chosen, but apparently I was alone in that. This left me so angry that I left after the meeting ended and didn’t return to the party or club as a regular participant for about 6 years.
In 2008, I never got the chance to vote for Kucinich as he dropped out before the Ohio primary after his poor showing in early states. My second choice was Former Senator John Edwards again, but he was forced to drop out because of a scandal involving a mistress. So, I was left with my third and final pick, then-Senator Obama. His message inspired me in a number of ways and I was convinced that he was running for the right reasons. Plus, I could not stand Hillary Clinton because her ties to Wall Street and her votes for the Patriot Act and the Iraq War made her a tough one for me to support.
I voted for Obama in the primary and lobbied other friends and family to follow suit. While Obama lost Ohio, his momentum eventually caught on and I was excited to vote in November. That was, until then-Senator Obama voted for the so-called “Protect America Act” in the Summer of 2008, which granted retroactive immunity from lawsuits and criminal liability to the telecommunications companies which had helped Bush illegally spy on Americans. This was a betrayal of the Constitution which deeply disturbed me. After this vote I withdrew my support from Obama and began pondering support for Ralph Nader instead.
It wasn’t until John McCain picked the dangerously incompetent and demagogic Governor Sarah Palin as his running-mate that I decided to give Obama one last look. While I was absolutely appalled at Obama first dismissing the need to impeach Bush and then his vote to let Bush and his corporate cronies get away with attacking our liberties, I feared that Palin being a heartbeat away from the presidency would do serious harm to the country. For that reason, I let Obama appeal to me again. That November, I voted for Obama and cried with tears of joy watching history be made.
Even so, there was another series of betrayals underway which pushed me away from the party. Then-Governor Ted Strickland of my home state of Ohio was a Democrat, and he used his influence in the state to pressure the unions and related organizations pushing for AT LEAST seven days of paid family and sick leave in the state to remove their statewide measure from the November ballot. I had been looking forward to supporting the measure, but was deeply angered by the decision to pull it back, as pressured by a Governor for whom I had voted just two years prior.
The next year, after Obama assumed the presidency, I was left fuming when he decided that it was best to “look forward, not backwards” when asked about whether Bush’s crimes should be investigated. Like former Congressman Space, Obama was starting to show a lack of political backbone. He then filled his Administration with a number of neoliberal allies of big banks in the midst of an economic crisis which had been started and exacerbated by the greed of those same major banks. It was as if the team had been assembled by Hillary herself. He then refused to seek prosecution for the crimes committed by the heads of those banks. Lastly, after seeking a weak economic recovery package to start with (which did little to help the working class in the long term), Obama broke a campaign promise he had made in 2008 by refusing to support the proposal for the “Employee Free Choice Act” which would have made it easier for workers to unionize with stronger protections.
I was learning very quickly that Obama and the Democrats were more attuned to the concerns of their wealthy donors than the working class citizens whose votes they claimed to be part of their “base”. Further proof of this came in Obama’s quick pivot from his pitiful economic approach to his corporate-backed healthcare initiative. No, the insurance industry didn’t want healthcare reform AT ALL, but they were determined to water down any reforms as much as possible by dispatching their lobbyists to D.C. to help craft the bill being pieced together by the Democrats in Congress. Unfortunately, Congressional Democrats and President Obama were more than willing to let the insurance industry’s lobbyists influence the bill, even removing the compromise provision which would have provided for a “public option”. Republicans didn’t remove that provision, Senate Democrats did and Obama practically did nothing to put pressure on Congress to stop such.
When it was all said and done, Obama signed his “Affordable Care Act” (which I opposed, mostly because it was written by lobbyists and it mandated that everyone buy insurance they may not be able to afford), and then he let the moment die. He could have quickly pivoted to comprehensive immigration reform that summer – using a decent bump he had received in opinion polls at the time for having passed healthcare reform - and kept a promise to the Hispanic community, but the cowardly Democrats were petrified that it would cost them the election.
When the 2010 midterms routed Democrats out of control over the House and decimated Democrats’ standing in legislatures across the country it saddened me, but it was not surprising. The betrayal of progressives and the working class had depressed turnout. Democrats didn’t even bother using their strong majorities in Congress to raise the minimum wage despite the fact that they held power in Congress and the Presidency. They didn’t even do so at the end of 2010 in the lameduck session of Congress when they repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – a homophobic law that Democrats themselves had passed under Clinton -, nor did they bother to repeal the harm done to the Postal Service by the Republican Lameduck session in late-2006 when the Republican Congress and George W. Bush mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund their pensions in a scheme to weaken the solvency of the agency and expedite the effort to privatize it.
In 2011 it only got worse. Obama attempted to pivot more to the center to try and duplicate Clinton’s “triangulation” strategy. Clinton had done so successfully in the aftermath of the 1994 midterms which had swept Republicans into control of Congress. He had outmaneuvered then-Speaker Gingrich by appearing willing to work with them in ways that helped Clinton politically at the expense of the working poor and minorities. Obama’s similar efforts in this regard came with his willingness to be open to cuts to the social safety net.
Obama asked a bipartisan team of former U.S. Senators (Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson) to come together and find out how to control the budget deficit. Their conservative-leaning solutions largely relied on cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. When the “Tea Party” Republican Congressmembers threatened to shutdown the government and default on the national debt, President Obama REPEATEDLY offered a number of cuts to these three social safety net programs as a tradeoff for keeping the government running and stopping a default. Thankfully, the Republicans backed off each time, but this alarming willingness to sacrifice the safety net rubbed me and many other progressives the wrong way.
By the end of 2011, two other major developments happened in my evolution in politics. I joined the Occupy movement and I watched on as Senator Bernie Sanders (who I had liked ever since I first heard of him as a member of the House back in 2006) became the ONLY strong voice in the Senate fighting the efforts to cut these vital programs. I even heard rumors of Senator Sanders floating the idea that someone should primary Obama to pull him back to the progressives, and I STRONGLY agreed with him. Obama was becoming too damn willing to concede to the Republicans. He was not leading, he was reacting.
If it weren’t for the fact that I was in college at the time, bouncing between temporary jobs and unemployment, and trying to salvage my marriage, all while raising two young kids and watching my mother die, I would have done more as an activist to protest this shift towards more neoliberalism. Instead, the only time I had for activism at the time was reserved for my Occupy group that I helped found, and my involvement in that even was disrupted greatly when my mother actually passed away in May 2012.
I watched on as Obama lucked out and survived a challenge from Mitt Romney in the 2012 General Election. I voted for Obama that year, but Romney lacked the ability to tap into the base of his party as he represented the status quo politics which had led to the rise of the so-called revolutionary “Tea Party” movement which had been co-opted by wealthy financiers like David and Charles Koch. Obama was still losing support amongst the base, though, and that’s why his reelection was not guaranteed. Like I said, he was lucky to have had an opponent who inspired no one.
In 2013, we saw Obama gradually fizzling out as a political powerhouse (a generous term, honestly). While his support amongst Democratic voters remained high, voters who sat on the edges felt disaffected by his numerous failures during the first term. I was certainly amongst them. Yes, I supported Obama, but I also started criticizing him and the party more during this period, especially as it pertained to his military policies, which I saw as increasingly resembling what I abhorred about Bush’s.
Obama’s few strengths – in my view – during his second term came in the form of his advocacy for criminal justice reform and gun reform (which he started to address following the Sandy Hook massacre). This was the area wherein I passionately spoke up in support of President Obama. I also appreciated his efforts to finally address immigration reform (though, I remembered throughout how he had dropped the ball in 2010). When he signed DACA I was supportive, but I was also worried that his newfound love of creating reform solely with executive orders was setting a new dangerous precedent.
This period of time (from 2011 through 2014) saw Obama becoming more overtly supportive of unconstitutional military action. From the unauthorized interventions in Syria and Libya to the drone strike which killed an American citizen named Anwar al-Awlaki alongside three other Americans (including Anwar’s teenage son). I had promised during my previous effort to seek out Bush’s impeachment that I would push for the same if a Democrat demonstrated impeachable acts and I followed through in mid-2014. This campaign was not well received at all by the party for obvious reasons, and I knew that going in, but I am a man of my word and justice is nonpartisan.
While I was pushing for action to restrain the powers of the presidency and preserve the rule of law, I was also getting back involved in the local party and club. I had rejoined both the party and club in part because I was finally finished with my college degree and I was planning to run for office. By mid-2014 I was advocating for progressive changes within the club, beginning my push for a pro-working class initiative called the “Summer of Labor” and succeeding in one effort to help the then-Club President secure a change in the Club’s annual fundraiser as we renamed it the “FDR Dinner” from the “Jefferson-Jackson Dinner”. By the end of the year, I was wrapping up my campaign to push for Obama to be held accountable and I was readying for my City Council bid.
When I was building my Council campaign I ran into some light opposition within the party at first from elected members. They were hesitant to support me at first because of how outspoken I was. Honestly, I expected such and didn’t hold such against them. After all, they would soon learn that I was not going to hold back on addressing an issue if and when I felt like it needed to be addressed, even if I was taking a position at odds with the position of the party establishment.
In 2015, there was a sudden emergence of a hot button divisive issue in City Council in Newark, Ohio. An organized group of citizens came to Council and demanded the repeal of so-called “Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)”, which prohibits or significantly limits the ownership of supposedly “vicious” dogs who are deemed vicious for no reason other than their breed. I listened to the pleas of these citizens with an open mind and came away feeling that it was best to repeal the restrictions. It felt like a no-brainer to me. Even so, I soon discovered that my position was at odds with all but one Democrat on Council.
The fight over “BSL” grew more and more intense as the year unfolded. Those advocating for a repeal were largely poor working class citizens who were tired of getting fined and being threatened by the persistent animal control officer. I decided that I needed to speak out on their behalf. As part of this, I composed a Guest Column which was published in our local paper wherein I proclaimed my support for the repeal and insisted that it was the right thing to do. After it was published I immediately received a facebook message from the local Democratic Party Chair who asked me to give them a call. When I did so I was subjected to a lecture about how it was not wise to “associate with those people” (the Chairperson insisted that the activists “aren’t good people”, though I knew otherwise) and how I needed to avoid taking a stand on controversial matters wherein my position could “hurt the other candidates”. Naturally, I rejected the effort to pressure me to censor my campaign.
When I lost that November – which I expected, to be honest, since I had the least amount of support of any campaign financially, and I had no one offering to help campaign for me – I was pleasantly surprised to be offered the opportunity to run to be the Licking County Democratic Club’s Second Vice President. With no opposition, I was elected for the 2016 calendar year. Immediately, though, my passionate advocacy for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign became a bit of a nuisance.
I found myself regularly fighting with Party Establishment figures online over the nomination process. The foundation for this fight had been set earlier in 2015, though. As a candidate for Council in May 2015, I was invited by a good friend of mine to have a free seat at the Club’s FDR Dinner that year. The keynote speaker was the then-newly elected State Party Chair of Ohio, David Pepper. In Pepper’s speech, he excitedly proclaimed that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next president of the United States, and this was despite the fact that Hillary already had two challengers for the nomination at this point: Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Fast forward back to the early stages of 2016 and I am debating the OFFICIAL Facebook Page accounts of Democratic Party Organizations, the worst one of which was the page for the Ohio Democratic Party’s County Chairs Association. This was a page meant to represent the 88 County Chairpersons, the very definition of Party Establishment. Just before 2016 started, this page became very aggressive in attacking the candidacy and campaign of Bernie Sanders despite the ongoing primary contest. It was very reminiscent to me of the former Licking County Chair singling me and other Kucinich supporters out as being out-of-touch back in 2007.
What made these attacks worse was something which continues through to this day is that the Party Establishment and even certain candidates were attacking Bernie by asserting he wasn’t welcome in the primary because he is “not a Democrat”. While technically true, they always conveniently left out how he has caucused with Democrats ever since he first entered Congress in 1991 and that he was only running as a Democrat because he feared that running as an Independent would harm the Democratic Nominee and help the Republican. If anything, he was doing the party a favor by not mounting what would have been a very significant third party or Independent challenge. Yet, Bernie and his supporters were and still are portrayed as foreign invaders of the party who are constantly told by party faithful that they must both find/create their own party AND (if this makes any sense) ultimately support the Democratic nominee lest they be forever deemed a supporter of the Republicans by default.
In other words, the message was loud and clear from the Party Establishment: shut up and vote for us. That was effectively the same thing I had been hearing more and more over time throughout each of my personal experiences as listed above and going forward. When the primary was over and I became an advocate for a strong progressive Vice Presidential nominee as well as hinted that I was undecided in the 2016 November Election, I was scolded repeatedly for thinking for myself. I needed to “grow up” they said, because I was being a “brat” some said. All sorts of insults were hurled at Progressives like myself simply for insisting that our vote be earned for once, instead of just expected.
After the Convention, I buckled and decided to support the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, without any real enthusiasm. I still didn’t trust her, but I felt compelled by the overtures to the slightly more progressive party platform for which Bernie and his surrogates had so passionately fought. However, it was in the final two months of the campaign when the wheels completely fell off of it. While the world came to be hyper focused on the Access Hollywood scandal of Trump’s, I was increasingly aware of Hillary’s refusal to campaign on why people should vote for her. Instead, she insisted on campaigning almost solely on the message of “I’m not Trump”.
I encountered numerous fellow citizens all around who were swing voters, Democrats even, who were not inspired to support Clinton as a result of this increase in negativity. They knew Trump was a terrible human being, but they weren’t seeing any reason why Hillary was any better than the numerous other politicians who’ve let them down. While I was at this time convinced that Trump was too incompetent to benefit from his fake-populism, I was convinced that Hillary was doing the American people a disservice by not campaigning on the issues. She was playing into the character attacks and making it all about personality despite her lack thereof.
I saw this and was alarmed at how the people were being deprived of the issues-oriented campaign that we so desperately needed. So, I composed and submitted a letter to the editor which was published prior to the election. My letter ridiculed the Clinton campaign despite feeling that the former Secretary of State was likely to win; at the time, because of the aforementioned scandal and Trump’s obvious incompetence. I condemned the lack of focus on issues and the honing in on the personality question. It was a disappointment, as I was illustrating, for Hillary to deny the people a chance to compare and contrast policies. I wanted to go on record for saying that we deserved better, because we did.
The interesting thing, though, is that I had predicted that Trump was on a path to win the presidency much earlier in the campaign. I saw the signs of the great era of populism in which we are living, a phenomenon which emerges when the economic and political systems of a society begin to collapse and fail to serve the needs of the people. It is the thing out of which revolutions emerge. I was blind-sighted by the Access Hollywood scandal as well as my mistake in watching Mainstream Media coverage at the time, wherein they made a bigger deal out of the scandal than the American people were making. For that reason, as well as Trump’s refusal to shut up or stop tweeting every last insane thought which comes to mind, I had become convinced that Trump would botch his moment in history. I should have stuck with my initial inclinations, because they proved correct in the end.
Following the disastrous election of 2016, I spent the next few weeks assessing the results and revisiting what I had felt in the weeks and months leading up to it. After doing so, I had another letter to the editor published wherein I acknowledged how I was wrong to predict that Hillary would win and that I and most political experts missed the mark because we overlooked the significance of the fact that Trump gave people a reason to vote for them while Hillary failed to do so. Needless to say, people in the party were not happy that I said these things about the nominee who failed to defeat Trump.
That December, I was vying for the Presidency of the Licking County Democratic Club (LCDC) for the 2017 Term. I had been Second Vice President of the Club for all of 2016, but the sudden resignation of our Club’s President in October of that year let the First Vice President (the former President from the year before) ascend to serve as the President to finish out the year while I was promoted to being the Vice President (we effectively had no Second Vice President). There was even one month in the midst of this wherein I had to preside over the Club’s meeting because I was the only one out of all three of us who showed up. That experience and my determination to see to it that the party and club became more progressive compelled me to pursue the presidency. I had hope that we could right the ship and avoid repeating the nightmare of 2016 going forward.
However, at the Party Meeting in November 2016 (which took place at the end of that month), I was approached by the Interim President of the Club, as they asked me what office I was interested in pursuing for the Club’s election in December. When I mentioned the Presidency they took note of such (this person is a friend of mine and they were just jotting down notes of who was interested in what offices, because this person was not interested in pursuing another term in any office of the club). The revelation that I was going to run for Club president sent off alarms throughout the local party, though, and that’s when things got interesting.
Prior to the Club election I caught wind of a rumor that the Party was organizing to prevent me from winning the presidency of the Club. When I arrived at the Club meeting in December 2016 to prepare for the Club elections I was taken aback as to the near-solid opposition to my candidacy. Only one friend of mine in attendance would second my nomination and that friend and I were the only two votes for me out of about two to three dozen people involved. The person who didn’t want to run for Club officer again was encouraged to run for the office to thwart my efforts, and after the meeting that person invited me to stay after everyone left to explain what had gone down.
I agreed to stay and hear them out. So, with copies of my two most recent letters to the editor presented, the “President-Elect” of the Club explained that my harsh criticism of Clinton and record of being outspoken had left a number of influential members of the Party threatening to leave if I became the Club president. I was advised to be kinder to the party and basically police my critique so as not to harm it. It was also brought to my attention that I and the progressives I represented were seen as a possible “Tea Party of the Left” which the leadership wanted to avoid hijacking the party. I made it clear that I didn’t want to have a hostile takeover of the party, but rather that I merely wanted the base to be heard for a change. We ended the conversation and I decided to try and go about changing the party from a different route: by starting a local organized progressive movement.
In January 2017 the Licking County Progressives was officially born as an attempt at grassroots organizing. I had actually created a Facebook page by the same name in the Spring of 2016 (to make it clear that Licking County, Ohio isn’t entirely conservative). Establishing the Licking County Progressives (LCP, for short) was an essential step in my mind to help pressure the Democratic Party to adopt more progressive policies. This organization specifically was born by remodeling the Occupy group I had helped establish in 2011, which we called the “99% of Newark and East Central Ohio” (99% of NECO, for short).
Part of what compelled me to create this new group was my controversial failure to become LCDC President in December, the connections built with other local progressives through the Bernie campaign, and the successes in organizing that we saw in the 99% of NECO. The greatest success that we had as an organization with the 99% group was in managing to make history in Newark, Ohio as the first ever campaign to successfully get an initiative on the local ballot (our “Move to Amend” initiative modeled after other like actions across the country). Our initiative failed by under 10 percentage points, but we were truly excited by the organizing in which we succeeded to get it considered in the first place.
The aftermath of my LCDC bid for the presidency in conjunction with the fallout from Trump’s win convinced me that the Progressives needed a stronger and more visible presence. I was hearing a lot from other progressives in the area about leaving the Democratic Party altogether and starting a new party. While part of me had long desired a genuine Third Party alternative I had concluded through my knowledge of history, political science, and the current state of our broken political system that no third party would succeed in building a viable coalition required to confront the Democratic and Republican Parties. The game was and still is essentially rigged against anyone and everyone who doesn’t pursue office within the two major parties.
So, the LCP was established primarily to lobby for progressive policies and progressive candidates. In the first few months everything was very exciting as our numbers of participants in gatherings was growing ever so slightly with each get together. However, our momentum was killed when we hit a snag in our debate of what we should do next. A number of members wanted us to establish a clear platform made available for all to see and others wanted us to immediately get out there and demonstrate for action. People don’t like talking about change, they like to see change, and they want it IMMEDIATELY. That frustration with developing a consensus for how best to move a group of Progressives forward led to about half of our participants bowing out by the end of the Spring in 2017.
There was also another challenge I had. We had members who wanted nothing to do with the Democratic Party, but who wanted to support a progressive movement. I offered to still be involved in the Party as a representative of the LCP. By this point another friend of mine made us some great buttons and it was a new badge of honor for Progressives to sport. I wore this button to serve as a spokesman of the LCP while participating in the Party. For a time, this seemed to work out ok.
While I was still bitter about what happened in 2016 from start to finish, I was determined to help defeat the rise of fascism as led by Trump. I made sure to bring the importance of this up each time I had a chance to engage fellow Progressives and Democrats. As I had concluded based on the knowledge I have, the current trend towards authoritarianism was a consequence of our system collapsing upon itself and the remedy was progressive policies to lift up the working class and reinvigorate democracy.
2017 also saw some other activities on my end. I had recently joined a nonprofit educational organization called the “Freedom School of Licking County” (FSLC) and had soon been elected as Chairman thereof. I was also in the midst of running a campaign for School Board, and I was resuming my push for a “Summer of Labor” through the LCDC and the LCP. This time around, the “Summer of Labor” was building some more interest and the Party Chair let me use the party Headquarters to help organize such (the Chair even let us use the Headquarters for some LCP meetings in the beginning, to their credit). The problem was that I couldn’t get enough support to make my ideas materialize (one member actually told me that my Summer of Labor idea was effectively dead in the water). No one would help me establish the connections with labor organizations to even begin getting the ball rolling.
As the summer started to come to a close my attention almost entirely shifted towards my School Board campaign. This was where my next area of frustration came from. With hardly any financial support (I had a few friends within the party who gave me what they could, but I know there were others who could have helped make a difference, but they likely wanted me to beg for it), I went out and canvassed for office. My ONLY help that I am aware of in canvassing for my campaign came from a handful of awesome progressive friends (old and new). Two of whom worked their butts off helping me: my friend Jen Kanagy (who was running for a City Council ward seat and had hardly any help herself outside of our small group) and my friend John Peters (who was a teacher preparing to run for Congress the next year).
John and Jen have no idea how much I love and appreciate them for their help and support. There was a small contingent of friends who helped us – another friend who I will refer to as “Ashley” for the sake of recognizing her and her family’s help while also protecting her identity, and an honorable mention goes to my longtime friend Garry, whose wealth of knowledge about politics absolutely helps -, but the majority of volunteers in the party who could’ve helped never bothered even offering to help. After the election came and went, I was demoralized a little, but I was also inspired by how close my friend Jen and I got to winning without more help from the party (out of the contested races in our city, she and I had the closest margins).
This was when I decided I would try to run for LCDC Chair one more time. This time my friend Jen and I planned an aggressive (not mean, but proactive and more engaging) campaign waged online to promote my candidacy. Throughout 2017 she and I (alongside some others) promoted changes to the LCDC Constitution to make it easier for people to join the club and help it grow. This was a major part of my platform, as was the “Summer of Labor”, and doing more to help all candidates. We were truly going all out in this effort.
As we were organizing our plan of action for the Club election, I again started hearing credible rumors of the Party Chair rallying support for the other person running for Club President (someone who had only been a member for about a year and a half, maybe less compared to my lengthy experience with the Club going back off and on to 2004). I took the advice of an ally and good longtime friend within the Party and grabbed the list of phone numbers for Club members so as to make calls and ask for the support of the membership. That same friend who was informing me about the backdoor efforts to elect the other person sent me a screenshot of a text message wherein my opponent was gloating that my solid phonebanking effort was actually increasing their turnout as well.
When the time came for us to vote I had a better vote tally than I did a year before, but my support was overwhelmed by my opponent’s. Even people who I had long admired and cared for voted against my candidacy. Perhaps they saw the other candidate as the better choice, I concede that from the viewpoint of someone less willing to ruffle feathers, but it still hurt quite a bit to not be trusted with the reins of a Club that I only wanted to see grow and improve.
As had been the case after I lost in December 2016, the winner pledged to work with me. I promised that I wasn’t going away, and I kept that promise. I kept attending meetings, but I never renewed my membership. I was done with the Club. This experience was the last straw for me, but it was the culmination of events from the past three years beforehand which led to the decision to leave it all behind. One of the efforts to change the Club and Party involved me and a few of our progressive allies within the Club (including Jen) to try and Amend the Club’s Constitution to make it easier to join and vote. This – as noted earlier – later became part of my platform in running for Club President, but the opposition we faced in this effort became quite toxic. It was very revealing in its own right.
Needless to say, my heart was hardening by the time 2018 got started. I was regularly struggling within myself to justify remaining as a Democrat. My primary reason for remaining was the lack of viability for any Third Party to mount a serious campaign for office. No Third Party – let alone any progressive alternative - had the infrastructure needed to build organizational strength at every level. This became the singular anchor keeping me in the party. Still, I kept coming back to the Party Meetings (stopped attending Club meetings altogether), in part because I had shifted gears to helping my friend John Peters run for Congress as he had asked me to serve as his Communications Director.
John had reached out to me for advice on his campaign a few months earlier. He was new to politics – having been a great intervention specialist in public schools for years – and he wanted desperately to make a difference. Earlier in January of 2017 John had spoke up very passionately about being a teacher and about the need for people to be heard. He insisted that the people who typically attend political meetings do more to reach out to people like him; someone who doesn’t live and breathe politics. John is a wonderful husband and father of two little girls. Their future and the future of his students over the years is what were making him so passionate.
When we sat and talked about his campaign I was still on the fence about which campaign I would support for the Democratic Primary for Congress. John was getting involved, a longtime friend of mine was getting in, and one other awesome guy was running as well. John’s determination to reach out and seek advice from me meant a lot. Then, - as noted before – he canvassed HARD for me and my friend Jen in our local election races within a few months. He started attending some of my LCP meetings, and he ultimately voted for my bid for Club President. Seeing his devotion to the cause and the fact that he was willing to help me when I needed support in making this system work for the better, accepting his offer to become part of the campaign was an easy yes.
I don’t regret supporting John Peters or working with him in his campaign. I know John the person as being such a loving person, but he is also bluntly honest about what he believes. He spoke directly from the heart when he was campaigning and if there was someone he didn’t trust, he said it. The fact that he spoke out bluntly – and with a very unconventional attempt at humor – about his distrust of one of the other candidates in the primary (there were 7 of them, in total) made him a pariah very quickly within the party.
While I was John’s Communications Director I always tried to prevent myself from holding him back too much. It was his campaign, after all, and when he got an idea for something he wanted to do to stand out, there was really no stopping it. Did I agree with everything he said or did? No, but I also knew how serious he was about the issues which needed to be addressed and which he saw so few of the other candidates being willing to tackle. The establishment-favored candidate (and ultimate nominee) was someone John deeply distrusted. John and I wanted more debates, and all we ended up getting was one debate and a handful of candidate forums. This was frustrating to us. The establishment favorite at one point in an interaction with John just after a forum had indicated that he would miss the only scheduled debate because he had a fundraiser to attend. John was rightly angered by that and made sure to jab at this person for the remainder of the race purely because that moment of arrogance (and some others from their interaction) left him believing that this guy (who jumped in the race only after the incumbent Republican resigned) was nothing more than a party hack willing to serve the few and not the many.
The more John spoke out the more seemingly-coordinated backlash he received from major figures in the party, and this was before he decided to wrap up the final couple of weeks before the primary with a series of childish-fun videos (his videos were absurd, but that was the point, as he was trying to be funny) teasing about the guy who looked likely to win. Eventually, there were party figures trying to cost John his job by attacking him as a teacher and threatening to turn him in to the School District. That was something I will never forget or forgive. I get that you don’t find things to be funny and that you don’t agree with his policy proposals or tactics, but attacking someone’s ability to make a living in order to silence them is an unacceptable low in politics.
John lost and was humble about it. Yeah, he had wanted to win, but when he realized how the cards were stacked against candidates like him he had stopped taking the campaign seriously. John, after all, was not a career politician. Being civil with people he distrusted was not something which came natural to him. He wanted to see a system and policies which would protect his family and their loved ones beyond, and he had depressingly concluded that such wasn’t in the cards yet.
Still, despite the feelings which usually accompany an election loss, John took a few weeks to recuperate and enjoy his family. Then, he reached out to me. John wanted to help me figure out a path forward. I told him I was running for Council again and he - AGAIN – pledged his support, including financial support. He and his wife contributed more financially to my 2019 campaign than any other individual supporters. The man was true to his word, and he loved my kids too and always made them feel welcome when they were around (even going as far to help teach my son how to ride a bike, which meant a lot to me). When I lost in the 2019 primary, the last thing I heard from John was him offering words of encouragement. I love the guy. Again, I will NEVER regret helping him.
Also in 2018, I had a chance to hear every candidate for Governor in the Democratic Primary speak in person. The local party opened their office to all of them, except one (I’ll return to this in a moment). Each of the candidates which visited the headquarters in Licking County had a chance to speak about their vision and take some questions from the attendees. This is what was missing with the candidate they left out (again, I will return to this momentarily). The leading and establishment-favored candidate – Richard Cordray – had the biggest appearance.
Cordray’s appearance happened to take place around the time of the Parkland school shooting. Cordray had stepped down from being the holdover Obama appointment as Chair of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to run, and when he addressed questions he answered in noticeably vague terms. His response to questions about the gun violence issue piqued my interest for how weak they were and I was irritated with his centrist proposals on healthcare and wages. I later found out about his connections with the gun lobby and how he was supported by them when he had last run for statewide office as Attorney General.
I wasn’t okay with that. I was also not okay with the dismissive attitude that he and the party seemingly took towards my preferred candidate, Dennis Kucinich. When I would speak out demanding that Cordray be better – come at least closer to where Kucinich stood – I was faced a very similar wave of attacks as I had when I supported Bernie two years earlier. Additionally, the party never even seemed to try and invite Kucinich to Licking County to speak and field questions. I only had a chance to hear from Kucinich in person (and shake his hand) when John Peters had me tag along with him to a candidate event in Columbus (an event noticeably skipped by Cordray).
I fought regularly – just as I had in 2016 – with certain establishment figures on social media about this obvious effort to muffle the progressives. Following the aforementioned Ohio Democratic County Chairs Association facebook page – again, an OFFICIAL page representing the County-Level leadership of the party – provided for the most frustration as the page regularly attacked Kucinich just as they did Bernie beforehand.
I also had joined a number of so-called “Resistance” groups wherein Democrats (and some members unaffiliated with the party) came together to brainstorm how to protect our democracy from the rise of fascism. These pages largely became corrupted with rhetoric that was obviously anti-progressive. If you saw a need for a change in how the system works for the few you were demonized, called a Russian bot/troll, and banned. I mostly just stayed in these groups to see what they were saying as it was quite clear to me that my independent thinking was not welcome, just like it seemingly wasn’t welcome in the party.
During the primaries of 2018 and in the aftermath of the General Election, these groups consistently attacked insurgent progressive candidates and incoming officeholders like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and others from the so-called “Squad”. These people were attacked for daring to suggest that we have a “change of the guard” and that the Party was out of touch with working people. Likewise, when I spoke up suggesting that Pelosi shouldn’t be Speaker of the House again I was subjected to that same treatment, even called sexist at times. More and more the tribe mentality of the party was becoming overwhelming.
By the end of 2018, I was feeling very demoralized as a member of the party. Still, I wanted to prepare for a run for Council and I desperately wanted my friend Jen to run again (we both wanted John to, but he declined). I turned in my signatures for the race by mid-January 2019. Then, with three days to spare before the signature deadline, Jen sent me a text telling me she was going to run. I helped her get on the ballot within those three days. Our teamwork was fantastic, and I absolutely adore Jen for a number of reasons; 1) she is a great and reliable friend, 2) she means what she says as an advocate for the downtrodden (she and another friend started an organization called “Newark Homeless Outreach” to serve some of the needs of our growing homeless population), and 3) I saw a bit of my beloved mother in her.
Jen and I fought to try and secure a series of debates for our contested Council primary. We were only afforded one debate and a couple forums. It seemed like our campaign was going fine until my Grandmother passed away and my car broke down on me. The last month of the campaign was rough for me for this reason, but I managed to give one last handful of sales pitches for the primary, both of which I insisted on using to promote Jen as a candidate who should’ve absolutely been elected, even if it meant not electing me. That’s how much I trust in her and I felt it was necessary given that she was also something of an outspoken pariah in the party. I didn’t want Jen to suffer the same fate that John did the year before.
Compiling matters and making them worse was the fact that Jen’s life took a sudden turn for the worst in the summer. As she tried to figure out how to weather the storm of a life crisis the year seemingly passed us all by. By the time the Election came around Jen had not been able to do much campaigning because of the sudden changes in her situation. She suffered for it in November, but there was honestly only one Democrat on our ballot in Newark who won, and it was a candidate whose name has been well known in the area for decades.
2019 was also the year when the announcements for presidential candidates were rolled out. Naturally, I supported Bernie again with ease, and naturally I saw some of the more vocal establishment Democrats either downplaying or demonizing him and his supporters again. (Establishment Democrats: these are not the Democratic voters, but INFLUENTIAL Democrats fighting on behalf of maintaining the status quo in leadership positions and other visible positions such as corporate-financed partisan pundits) I saw the increase in anti-Bernie rhetoric in all the familiar places and I spoke up when I could.
I will have more to say in detail about this pertaining to the 2016 and 2020 campaigns, but the bias in media coverage was far more overt this time around. From the outset Democratic Establishment types were beating the drum of “Bernie’s time has passed” and “Change isn’t needed”. Propping up cherry-picked tweets from angry Bernie supporters as being representative of the entire movement became commonplace (just as in 2016) for the media’s narrative that Bernie was “just like Trump”. Being treated like you are an enemy of democracy when you are part of a movement to strengthen democracy is extremely disheartening.
Let’s not forget the role played by the Billionaire Michael Bloomberg in this race. Serving as the Great Rich Hope of this race as the Establishment Media and Democrats scrambled to find a savior to save the party from the resurgent Bernie and the movement, Bloomberg had signaled in 2016 and again in 2020 that he would run if it looked like Bernie would stand a chance. With Biden’s campaign seemingly in free fall and the hoard of secondary establishment candidates fighting for third place behind Bernie, Bloomberg offered his services to save the campaign from the Revolution. Despite his racist, sexist, anti-teacher, and anti-labor background as a Republican Oligarch Mayor of New York City who happily endorsed Bush in 2004 and praised the Iraq War, the Democratic Establishment welcomed him with open arms, accepting his large donations to the party, and changing the rules of debate participation so that Bloomberg could steal the spotlight. While he proved to be his own worst enemy when forced to face the music for his record, this willingness to sellout any supposed principles was a truly revealing moment for a corrupt political party.
Across the board, from the debates and rhetoric of other candidates to the vocal loyalists as they presented their views online, the one attack line they consistently made against Bernie (like in 2016, again) was that he “isn’t a Democrat” and that his supporters should find their own party (again, they say all of this while insisting that we “vote Blue!”). This got more hostile as Bernie actually started to build momentum and mainstream media coverage became so unbearably unwatchable, especially after prominent figures made comparisons to Bernie and the movement to the Nazis (which wiped out much of Bernie’s family) and to the coronavirus.
The debates were also framed (with the apparent approval of the Democratic Party, given that they were partners in each debate) with questions meant to attack Bernie’s vision. Most questions gave the candidates a chance to tear his message apart as opposed to comparing and contrasting everyone’s views on a plain and broad set of direct policy questions (example, instead of asking “what is your plan for x” the questions were more often than not something along the lines of “do you agree with Bernie on x”). No two debates were more transparent as an attempt to undermine Bernie’s momentum than the Iowa and South Carolina debates on the eve of those respective contests.
Back in 2016, Bernie supporters rightfully condemned the media for the favoritism they displayed towards Secretary Clinton. Part of that obvious bias was unveiled as part of the infamous Wikileaks dumps when it was revealed that Democratic Establishment member and superdelegate Donna Brazile leaked CNN debate questions to Hillary Clinton in advance of one of the debates. To these same supporters, the 2020 season was becoming 2016 on steroids.
In the debate before Iowa, CNN made it a point to exaggerate the importance of a claim made by Senator Elizabeth Warren that Bernie supposedly told her that a “woman can’t win” the presidency. Despite Bernie quickly denying that he ever said such, the moderators treated the claim as the undeniable truth when they proceeded with questioning. In their framing, Bernie was a misogynist and a liar and Warren was the victim (now, compare their treatment of this dubious claim by someone with a record of exaggerations with their treatment of former Senate Staffer Tara Reade’s allegations against Biden).
At the South Carolina debate, the hosts – the network and the party – charged attendees thousands of dollars a piece for entry, practically guaranteeing that only the wealthy and well-connected would be able to attend. With Bernie as the frontrunner upon entering the debate, the format was blatantly open season on Bernie, with a format which permitted a handful of candidates to attack Bernie before he would be given a few seconds to respond in general. Moreover, the media pundit class manufactured drama about the endorsement of South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn, who holds a high-level leadership position in Congress and is thereby the very definition of an Establishment Democrat.
It was a true insult to the intelligence of anyone who pays attention to politics for there to be any suggestion that Clyburn’s endorsement would go to anyone but Former Vice President Joe Biden. Bernie was NEVER seriously in consideration by Clyburn – who insisted that all remaining debates be cancelled and that the race come to a halt after Biden swept through Super Tuesday -, but the media and party surrogates in media certainly wanted everyone to believe that Clyburn’s endorsement was the most important of the primaries.
When Bernie won the popular vote in Iowa and the Iowa Caucus fell apart from a slew of controversies surrounding the reporting of results, the media let Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg get away with declaring victory despite NO ONE knowing the official results of the state. They jokingly poked fun at him, but they more reported that it was a loss for Bernie more than a blunder for Pete.
When Bernie won New Hampshire the media made a bigger deal out of the finishes for the candidates in 2nd through 5th place than they did with Bernie winning the state. They actually treated Bernie’s win as a loss because he failed to crush the crowded field like he crushed Hillary there four years earlier.
Seeing Bernie’s momentum from two consecutive popular vote victories, the media and Democratic Establishment started attacking Bernie relentlessly, with more fervor than ever before. Their favorite topics to discuss in between New Hampshire and Nevada were how some rabid Bernie supporters attacked a union in Nevada for not endorsing Bernie (something Bernie REPEATEDLY disavowed) and an old interview where Bernie did just as other Democratic politicians have in acknowledging the good things accomplished in Cuba. The Establishment’s narrative here was that Bernie was - again – just like Trump and that he seemed to favor dictators quite a bit (which is nowhere near true).
All of this was very reminiscent of the coordinated media attacks on Bernie at the height of his primary challenge in 2016 against Hillary. The most prominent and undeniable example of this coordinated effort came in the form of over a dozen anti-Bernie articles posted on social media by the Washington Post in as many hours on the eve of an all-important primary. As mentioned before, when the corporate-owned media wasn’t ignoring Bernie they were attacking him, so long as he represented a viable threat to the status quo of American politics.
After Biden won South Carolina – a state he was ALWAYS favored to win, primarily because of the fact that he was President Obama’s Vice President -, the media and the political establishment predictably swarmed to demand that all other candidates not name Bernie or Biden drop out and endorse Biden immediately in order to stop Bernie’s momentum from earlier states. About a month or two earlier it had been reported that former President Obama had told wealthy donors that he would be forced to intervene if it looked like Bernie was on track to win. Well, in this moment wherein the media and the political establishment was doing everything they could to frame Biden’s victory in South Carolina as a “resurrection” of his campaign and as a moment for the party to unite around him it turns out that Obama may well have done just as he promised, by “nudging” Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar to drop out and join Beto O’Rourke in an unprecedented “unity” endorsement on the eve of Super Tuesday.
The media predictably gave this massive endorsement wall-to-wall coverage and used it to sell their narrative that Biden was back in the proverbial game – after his terrible performances in previous primaries, dismal rally and event attendance, and after his questionable debate performances throughout the campaign – and that it was time to bring it home for “Joe”. Bernie managed to win 4 of the states which voted on Super Tuesday, with California being the biggest prize while Joe ran the table on the rest, including a close victory in Texas. Within the next day, Michael Bloomberg dropped out and endorsed Biden – his fears of a Bernie nomination having been averted (the SOLE reason he ran to begin with) – and Tulsi Gabbard held on just a little longer before dropping out and endorsing Biden as well, leaving Warren silent as to who she supported following her campaign suspension (her silence only ended after Bernie suspended his campaign) and Bernie standing alone facing the fire of the entire elite power structure.
For me, the decisive moment when I realized that I could not be a Democrat anymore came with the refusal of former Vice President Biden and the Democratic National Committee’s leadership all refusing to call for a delay in the March 17th Primaries despite the swift spread of the deadly coronavirus. They didn’t even bother calling for a delay and a shift to all mail-in ballots until AFTER the Primary elections which were still held on that day in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona. In fact, when the Governor of Ohio – Mike DeWine – took executive action to delay Ohio’s primary from March 17th until early June so as to guarantee a safer vote, the Ohio Democratic Party actually appeared to oppose the safety-based move and even took it to court, citing that the Legislature must take action (which was true, but that’s not the point).
Making matters worse, when Bernie hinted after the unique March 15th debate between him and Biden that it was questionable for primaries with in-person voting to be held in the midst of the outbreak – hinting that the vote should be delayed -, he was attacked by a high-profile Biden surrogate on CNN – Symone Sanders - when she mocked the Senator’s concerns and blatantly lied to viewers, claiming that the CDC had supposedly said it was safe to vote. Biden would later go on to suggest in a tweet that voters who weren’t showing any symptoms should go out to vote.
This opened my eyes more than anything leading up to it. Why? Because it proved to me that the Democratic Party Establishment would rather risk the lives of countless citizens (a number of poll workers in Florida and elsewhere had later been diagnosed with the virus) than risk losing their manufactured momentum for Joe Biden. Biden handily won the series of the illegitimate primaries (illegitimate by virtue of the fact that the primaries taking place posed a risk to all involved and thereby should not have taken place). His delegate lead expanded to an “insurmountable” number, which ultimately forced Bernie to suspend his campaign and endorse Joe.
As if the situation could not get any worse, Biden actually never called for any primary to be delayed, not even AFTER the Democratic Party itself made an official plea for providing for all mail-in voting. He and the rest of Party Leadership instead passively allowed risky in-person voting to continue so as to build his illegitimate lead in the delegate race (note: despite the obvious interference from Establishment forces to compel the unprecedented pre-Super Tuesday endorsements for Biden, I don’t consider the Biden victories on Super Tuesday to have been illegitimate at all, because the risk of death from the virus was not yet apparent).
To Bernie’s credit, he tried to stay in the race. He fought hard (albeit with some mistakes) to win this nomination, and the good changes he made to his campaign from 2016 actually had him on a path to winning the nomination. However, he was overwhelmed by the oligarch-supported power structure which refused to let legitimate hope pierce through the veil of our collective despair. His decisions to bow out and endorse Biden were fulfillment of pledges that he made at the outset of this campaign. As a man of his word, Bernie endorsed Biden because he knew Biden was going to be the nominee, and his goal then shifted to trying to push the party in a more progressive direction just as we did in 2016.
The problem here is with those in powerful positions in the party, including Biden. When Bernie and the campaign successfully influenced a progressive shift in the 2016 Democratic Party Platform it was significant. I was even a little encouraged – as mentioned earlier - when Hillary referenced it in her nomination speech. It gave me a reason to vote for her, which is what I was looking for. The problem with Hillary was that she didn’t actually campaign on any of it. She had expected to coast into victory on an anti-Trump message alone, and that proved extremely inadequate.
Now, in 2020, the party is on track to nominate someone who has explicitly said that he would VETO a Medicare-for-All bill. For all of her faults, Hillary never once said such a thing. Biden outright promised to stand in the way of progressive legislation all the while claiming to have a “progressive” agenda. This same guy who voted in favor of Bush’s wars and the Bank Bailout in the Senate without regard for the cost now declares that he would oppose Medicare for All because of the costs. Makes no sense, right?
Well, it makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that Biden is supported by dozens of Billionaires and that a Billionaire named Michael Bloomberg entered the race when it looked like Biden would lose only to exit it when the path for Bernie was seriously diminished. It makes sense when you look at the fact that Health Insurance stocks soared the day after Biden’s “miracle” victories on Super Tuesday. It makes sense when you remember that the Obama-Biden Campaign in 2008 had significant backing from Goldman Sachs and that the Administration would later pack their ranks with representatives from that same bank. Ultimately, it all makes sense when you consider that Obama told private wealthy donors he would intervene to stop Bernie and that Biden had told another group of private wealthy donors that NOTHING WOULD FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE if he became president.
I was a child when I decided for myself that I wanted to be a Democrat. Yes, I grew up in the home of a single mother of four who was a lifelong Democrat. Yes, I have another lifelong Democrat as a maternal grandfather who served as the de facto patriarch of my family in lieu of my father. However, they only made it easier for me to research for myself. I had joined the party officially as an 18 year old who wanted to support the supposed party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. No, I did not support the racist/xenophobic policies of FDR’s internment of Japanese Americans (I later would learn more about such and come to regret that it was part of FDR’s legacy), but what I supported were the sweeping domestic policies aimed at lifting up working class Americans and strengthening social democracy (via stronger labor protections, including the right to organize the workplace).
Unfortunately, the party was no longer – if it had ever been – the example which I had admired through the prism of its history in the New Deal of FDR and the expansion of progressive policies attempted under LBJ’s Great Society. Rather, the honest representation of the Democratic Party came through examining the political cowardice of Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she forbade a Democratic House from even considering impeaching George W. Bush for war crimes and by considering the signature of President Bill Clinton to a bill called Gramm-Leach-Bliley, which effectively deregulated the banks by repealing the FDR-era Glass-Steagall Law which had separated commercial and investment banking to protect the economy.
Over the course of my young adult life I was open minded enough to recognize that the Democratic Party were seemingly as willing to sell out their so-called principles for the sake of victory as many claimed the Republicans were. While the Republicans were overtly twisted and corrupt for the sake of pleasing their corporate masters the Democrats hid their corruption under the veil of “fighting for the working class” and protesting the obvious corruption of the Republicans when it was convenient to do so.
If a fight is politically tough, the Democrats more often than not fold very quickly and cede the battle to the opposition. They even help the rightwing succeed before the fight even begins; see Obama’s pandering to the right in the 2009 stimulus, the healthcare debate, and even Obama’s offer to cut the safety net in the debt ceiling debate. When the Party’s corporate donors freak out about something the party proves more than obedient, the needs of the supposed working class “base” be damned.
One key example of the betrayal and dishonesty of the Democratic Party comes with the fight over the minimum wage standard. It is a convenient attack line for Democrats to single out Congressional Republicans for not raising the minimum wage since the last approved raise was passed in 2007. They issue this attack despite the fact that – as noted above - Democrats controlled Congress and the Presidency from 2009 until 2011. Granted, there were a lot of fights in that two year period – including the decline of the economy -, but they could have TRIED to help the working class with more than just a weak stimulus bill which only helped prevent a depression, but little more. Remember that the minimum wage standard itself was created in the midst of uncertain economic times, so the excuse that our economy was hurting is illegitimate, especially when you consider the billions that Obama, Biden, and Clinton all voted to freely give the banks at the end of their Senate careers as the economy plunged.
Considering everything, I’m still saddened to give up on the Democratic Party. I desperately wanted to see it become the party I had long hoped it was: a strong ally of democracy, justice, and the working class. The tragic reality is that the Democratic Party’s only real concern is with pleasing the oligarchs in a slightly less vicious way than the Republicans. The Republican Party is a fascist political organization, but the Democratic Party is deceptively named as well. Instead of “Democrats”, they should be called the “Aristocrats”, because their interests more align with the elite and well-studied few than they will ever align with the many.
In 1996, there was a mock election held for my sixth grade class. This was on the eve of the election that year involving President Clinton, Senator Bob Dole, and Billionaire Ross Perot. I voted for Clinton (who won the plurality of our vote as well as the country’s), but my best friend voted for Perot. When I asked him why, his response was simply that Perot “is an independent” and that he believed it was best to be independent. That was the take on the political world from a set of 12 year olds. It took 17 years from the time I turned 18 to realize that this party was not my home. I may love a number of people still associated therewith, but I can no longer lie to myself that I belong there. Now, I begin my journey as an independent, because it really is – as my best friend suggested 24 years ago, and as my mother once even boastfully voted – the best way to approach politics.
Over the course of my young adult life I had several “seeds” planted for this transition. Back in 2015, I met Former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner. She was amazing as a speaker to hear in person. She was invited to speak at the Licking County Democratic Party’s annual picnic (which replaces the June Party Meeting). She was there to fire up local candidates (I was among them, running for City Council the first time). I had an awesome chance to speak with her and she was very honest, and very personable.
She and I talked about my council race, about Black Lives Matter, and about Ed Schultz; who had just been fired from MSNBC for his tireless advocacy on behalf of Bernie (he was the only one who wouldn’t ignore Bernie). Nina had come to know Mr. Schultz as he passionately used his MSNBC show to cover the rightwing assault on unions in 2011, including in Ohio when Governor Kasich’s attempt to kill public unions that year (which were ultimately defeated through the labor-supported referendum to repeal “SB5”). I enjoyed this encounter deeply, and it was by far my favorite of all encounters with a high-profile public figure.
When Nina Turner had visited Licking County she was an outspoken supporter of Hillary Clinton. Within a few months, she switched gears and boastfully supported Bernie. This change of heart caught the party establishment – particularly in Ohio – off guard and enraged them. After this turn of events, the Licking County Party’s Chair once proclaimed that Nina was not going to be getting an invite back (this was in response to another member expressing displeasure with Turner and expressing hope that she wouldn’t speak at the next Picnic). This taught me that opposing the status quo of the party had consequences, and could mean the end of your political career (I observed the same demonization of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard after she resigned from her leadership post in the Party to support Bernie).
In Late-2007 or Early-2008, I envisioned that the best way forward for American democracy would be a disbanding of both major parties. Actually, of ALL political parties. I knew then just as I know now that the success of a third party is highly improbable due to the rules which are written to benefit the two major parties as well as the popular perception that we only have “two choices”. From my assessment at the time – which was partially developed from frustration with my increasing awareness of corruption on both sides of the aisle – the system would be better served with no parties because there is more that unites us on policy than divides us and our system was never designed to be partisan anyway.
It took a long time for me to reconcile my knowledge of the corruptive power of partisan politics with the need to shift to a nonpartisan voting approach. As an Independent, I am now freed from the annoyances of worrying about internal party struggles. Now, I can wholeheartedly advocate for the changes I strongly believe we need without concern for the naysayers within antiquated political organizations designed to keep us from progressing so as to please the interests of the few.
The revolution was NEVER going to happen within a political party. It was always destined to occur in spite of the artificial divisions propped up thereby. My best friend – who often told me as we were growing up how much he looked up to me – recognized this before I did. My mother saw the value of being Independent minded throughout her life, and my grandfather never relented in criticizing what is wrong with society. Now, it is time for me to show that I have learned from all of this.