Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Brand New Congress Campaign for 2018

Illustration by Karl-Raphael Blanchard

Two Sanders Campaign members, Corbin Trent and Zack Exley, the inventors of the "Bernie Barnstorm", have started the Brand New Congress (BNC) Campaign to elect a brand-new Congress in 2018.

Exley is a veteran political operator, who worked on Howard Dean's Campaign and then for He was the Chief Revenue Officer for the Wikimedia Foundation.

Trent was the National Campaign Coordinator for the Sanders Campaign. He founded Cormarko Digital Productions.

Their pitch is is simple:

Even if Sanders had won the nomination, and then the election, his ability to effect change, to bring about the political revolution, would have been severely limited by a dysfunctional Congress in thrall to corporate interests. So we need to harness the energy, enthusiasm, national organization, and fund-raising muscle of the Sanders volunteers to elect a brand-new Congress, all at once, in 2018. Committed to the same platform or greater economic equality, climate justice, civil rights, criminal-justice reforms, and fair trade.

Why not select a Congress that not only looks like us, more woman, more people of color, but that will actually work for us instead of for lobbyists and special interests?

Wendy Sejour, a veteran of Florida Progressive Politics who got scores of volunteers onto the streets of Miami, right in Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s backyard said, when Exley says “I think we can do better than 40, 50 seats. I think we can pick up a couple of hundred seats,” I’m inclined to take him seriously. Because of what he’s already accomplished.

“Our job is to identify 100,000 people in each district who are pissed off with Congress,” says Debra Mayes, one of the group’s African American–Outreach Team Leaders. “In most districts, you only need 30,000 votes to win the primary.” Making a conscious, early, transparent effort to attract a truly diverse team is one way Brand New Congress is trying to learn from the mistakes of the Sanders campaign; this is one of the fruits of what Exley calls “this shared experience of how things should not be done.”

For decades, pundits have lamented the decline in voter participation, especially in midterm elections. Brand New Congress looks at those figures the way the Barrow Gang looked at back country banks, as opportunities. “Turnout in midterm primaries is typically between 8 and 13 percent,” says Exley. And if the idea of a small, ideologically cohesive force challenging the Party establishment sounds familiar, that’s not an accident either.

Like the Tea Party, BNC is in part an expression of frustration with a status quo that paralyzes Government’s machinery while allowing insiders to prosper. But while the Tea Party, aided, funded, and directed by donors like the Koch brothers, works to pull the center of debate to the right, targeting only wayward Republicans, BNC aims not to take over the Democratic Party, but to do an end run around both parties, returning Government to the people.

“We’re looking for people who are really good at what they do, with a deep history of service: teachers, nurses, social workers, firefighters, who had chances to sell out but refused. That guy who keeps turning down promotions so he can stay in the union. The principal who doesn’t want to become a superintendent. The nurse who keeps everything together,” says Exley.

“Think of what we’re doing as a reboot of Congress,” he continues. In Democratic Districts, the group’s strategy is straightforward: make sure every corporate or blue-dog Democrat faces an aggressive Primary challenge like the one Tim Canova, a Law Professor and Sanders supporter in Florida, is now running against Wasserman Schultz. “And if we lose those primaries, we’re gonna run our candidates again as independents,” says Exley.

What’s new and what distinguishes BNC from efforts like the Working Families Party, or from the Sanders-led Our Revolution, is the group’s commitment to finding progressive Republicans to run in red States and Districts. “That probably makes working with us a nonstarter for Our Revolution,” says Trent.

“In Tennessee, the candidates would be mostly Republicans,” Mayes adds. What about the platform? “They’d be running on Bernie’s platform—plus a bigger-scale jobs program,” she says. Including abortion and gay rights? “Non-negotiable,” she replies.

“The candidates we want are out there; we just have to find them.” said Corbin Trent.

Do such Republicans exist? “We live in my wife’s hometown in the Missouri Ozarks,” says Exley. “We go to Church on Sundays. Everyone you meet is a Republican, but there are plenty of people who really believe that ‘love thy neighbor’ stuff in the Bible.”

“All of our candidates will have to support the living wage, access to health care, and education,” says Trent. “They’ll have to be committed to civil rights and social justice and opposed to trade deals that don’t help us as a country. But if you want to win here in Tennessee, that also means they’re going to have to be Republicans. The First Congressional District here is R plus-20”, that is, a 20-point Republican advantage. “We’d be in a primary with Tea Party stalwart Phil Roe. And if you know Phil Roe, you’re gonna be excited to see him go home.”

Saikat Chakrabarti, the Sanders Campaign’s Director of Organizing Technology who is now part of BNC’s “core leadership,” says the group’s critics underestimate two critical factors. “There are so few things 80 percent of Americans agree on. But regardless of party affiliation, they agree that Congress is broken,” he says. The BNC’s other secret weapon is the size of the task. Far from being daunted, he says, “people get excited when it’s something big. Something transformational. When you ask them to do a lot.”

Legally, BNC is a Political-Action Committee, and with Exley currently acting as more of a mentor, the day-to-day decisions are made by Trent, Chakrabarti, Stacey Hopkins an African-American activist from Atlanta, and Alexandra Rojas, a Californian who’s in charge of Local Organizing.

It’s also true that representation isn’t always a simple matter of color. The Ninth District in Memphis “is the blackest district in America,” says Steve Cohen, the white Jewish progressive whom the City has sent to Congress since 2007. Cohen was first elected because the Fords, a local African-American political dynasty, overplayed their hand: sitting out the Primary, then running a son with multiple arrests; never graduated high school, as an independent.

Though he endorsed Clinton, Cohen has a high regard for Sanders. “Bernie and I spoke together at a rally against the Keystone pipeline,” he says. But he has little sympathy for the view that blue-dog Democrats are the enemy: “Blue dogs gave us a majority. Blue dogs made John Conyers Judiciary Committee Chairman. Made Nancy Pelosi Speaker. Made Henry Waxman a Chairman.”

All radical groups have to navigate a path between purity and pragmatism. What makes Brand New Congress distinctive is the scale of its ambition, its disregard for Party labels, its respect for local knowledge, and its openness to argument about everything except its core beliefs.

On September 20, the group will host a Nationwide live-stream event. Trent reports that “we’ve had a good turnout” on their organizing tour, and “fund-raising is up.” Next March, it plans to announce the first 50 BNC candidates. This should allow plenty of time to organize, another lesson learned the hard way during the Sanders campaign. With their candidates freed from the need to raise funds, and all running on a unified platform, BNC aims to run a National campaign with a local Accent.

“The real barrier now is candidate recruitment,” says Trent. “A lot of the candidates we’ve been getting are not breaking the mold. We need to get outside the Bernie bubble.” He remains optimistic. “The candidates we want are out there; we just have to find them. Last night, a guy asked me if he could nominate himself. I told him if you can’t find one other person to nominate you, you probably don’t have a future in politics.”

Does Brand New Congress have a future in politics? We’re about to find out.

CLICK HERE for more information about the Brand New Congress Campaign.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
Digg! StumbleUpon

No comments: