I told you I was going to the DNC meeting to Holler from the Hollers to the DNC about what’s happening in WV. Here’s the LONG, detailed report I’ve been promising.
The DNC has a problem. While the two main thrusts of the DNC messaging at its Las Vegas meeting last week emphasized unity and outreach, the problem is that not everyone in the DNC is on board.
In fact, some would like to bury those in rural red states: we’re unreachable, a lost cause. Hold a wake: WV is dead to them.
Yeah. There was good, there was bad, and there was ugly at the DNC Meeting in Las Vegas.
And here it is…
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at the DNC Meeting in Las Vegas
The Good: The DNC Outreach Plan
There were several great resolutions to come out of the meeting, including a commitment to reject corporate cash that conflicts with our platform.
But by far the most encouraging thing at the DNC from my perspective was the meeting of the Rural Caucus. The meeting itself was packed with DNC members and guests wanting to fight for their rural areas, and acknowledging how Democrats have been missing the mark terribly.
Speakers at this caucus talked about outreach in essentially the same way I do. Throughout many states, folks see the same problems with rural outreach that we’re experiencing in WV. The individuals who spoke knew and loved their conservative neighbors the same way I know and love mine.
In the rural caucus, I heard no “they’re all deplorable” accusations. Not a single “They’re all racists.” I heard compassion for the plight of the working class, and a recognition that the Democratic party has done a terrible job of trying to help working class people in rural areas–as well as a commitment to change that. You can’t persuade people if you start by attacking them. That shouldn’t be hard to understand.
One of the things I also loved hearing in this meeting was how state representatives for very urban, very liberal California worked to address concerns in CA’s more rural areas because they recognize that addressing those problems is a part of good governance. They explained that convincing urban legislators to spend time on those issues was “challenging”… but so far, it is a challenge that state CA legislators take seriously. They are trying to represent all Californians, and kudos to them for that. (But a suggestion, California: don’t elect Bob Mulholland to the DNC again. You’ll see why, in “The Ugly,” below.)
“Every zip code counts!” That was the charge. And it wasn’t just for the Rural Caucus, either. This was something emphasized by DNC Chairman Tom Perez. That “we all matter” was the message from the Rural Caucus and from leadership, both.
But the question remains: how will this directive from leadership translate into action? What concrete actions will they take to help states like West Virginia, or is this outreach just words-words-words?
Because as I said, the DNC is not all unified on this issue of outreach.
I keep hinting… and I promise I’ll explain more, but next let’s talk about the BAD: what “unity” means to some in the DNC, and why that perspective is so problematic.
The Bad: DNC Unity
Let me first be clear about this: the push to see Donna Brazile off the rules committee was not, that I am aware of, coming from any DNC members. As to the rumor about other individuals being “targeted” for removal, I had never heard of them before, and prior to the speeches at the convention, had not even heard the whisper that anyone other than Brazile should be removed. That suggests to me that this take by Chris Reeves about where that rumor on Buzzfeed originated is likely correct. Either that, or someone made it up whole cloth, I suppose.
Either way, here’s what’s concerning to me: “It’s about relationships,” was the ringing refrain from many attempting to explain why the establishment wing lined up behind one candidate and not another, or why some DNC members got appointments and some didn’t, etc., referring to the so-called “progressive purge.”
Now, publicly, the spin was that the committee changes were made for the sake of “diversity” (a defense that is puzzling given the diversity of those removed from office). But on the convention floor, what I heard over and over was: “It’s about relationships.” That was the refrain they used to explain those politics. “Relationships” is good spin. It’s a positive word.
And, look. Of course “relationships” are important. But without exception, when DNC members spoke to me about how their “relationships” affected their decisions or their support for appointments, they were talking about the relationships they had with those in power.
Yeah: “Relationships” was the word they used to make the idea of the “good ole boy” network more palatable, more refined, more attractive.
For example, let’s consider why Donna Brazile was named to the Rules Committee given the fact that she’d broken the rules [petition]. When asked WHY Brazile should be named to the Rules Committee, the answer was manifold:
- She’s been my friend for years
- She didn’t ask for what she was thrust into with Russian spies and hacking
- She received death threats and was terrified for her life, even stayed at my house when the stuff hit the fan
And look—of course Brazile did not deserve to be terrified for her life or get death threats. And certainly no person, including Brazile, deserved to feel unsafe at home. That must have been genuinely horrific. I have compassion for her, and for anyone who finds him- or herself in that position.
But none of that had anything to do with the appropriateness of her pending appointment to the rules committee.
Instead, “it’s about relationships,” is favoritism rebranded.
They’re talking about relationships among themselves, not relationships with the people they need to be helping, with the people whose confidence in their judgment they need to inspire, with the people to whom they need to reach out. The members were talking less about reciprocal relationships among equals, and more about STATUS.
What if, instead of “it’s all about the relationships,” they were simply saying “it’s about the good ole boy network”? Horrific, right?
Do we really think misplaced loyalty to an individual is more important than doing the right thing in the public arena… and where have I heard that before?
Look, Brazile made mistakes she regrets, as do we all. And they were bad, given what was happening at the time. Heck, in WV, Sanders and HRC delegates had all unanimously passed a resolution calling for the resignation of her predecessor Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and then Brazile is revealed to be on the “screw neutrality train” too, rsharing confidential information to just one of the primary candidates? Ugh.
There are those who think Brazile should be drummed out of the DNC, but I’m not among them. I understand the outrage, but I can get past it when I think of the lessons that must have been learned.
But putting her on the RULES committee? What madness is this? It sends the wrong message: it says “We have learned nothing.” Similarly, removing prominent, diverse progressives from important positions on that committee and others does nothing to communicate or foster unity.
The DNC would do well to look at their appointments from the perspective of other people, outside their inner circle. If their goal is unity and outreach, they could find a MUCH better move. Brazile broke the rules. So maybe put her on a different committee: Credentialing. Resolutions. But Rules… really?
Good communication is not just about conveying your perspective accurately, but also about understanding how someone with a different perspective might receive what you’re saying. It’s about understanding the impacts of your communication, the impacts of your actions.
The justifications given for appointing Brazile to the Rules Committee are just that: justifications. They have nothing to do with Brazile’s ethical qualifications, or with the impacts of her appointment, whether or not it would alienate people seeking evidence that the DNC has turned the page on favoritism.
This issue is illustrative of the DNC’s problem… but it’s not the worst thing to come out of the DNC meeting.
Not by far.
We’ve looked at the good and the bad. Now here’s the UGLY.
The Ugly: DNC member Mulholland thinks WV is a lost cause
You’ve probably never heard of Bob Mulholland. I never had, either. Let me tell you about him.
Bob Mulholland is a DNC-insider-member of the Rules Committee from California, reportedly with a long and questionable history of opposition to progressive movements in the Democratic party. (At this time, his Wikipedia page claims he intercepted Green Party registrations and asked those trying to register that way to instead register as Democrats.) He’s been in trouble for playing dirty before. He’s the political consultant who wants to “play not to lose.” He’s THIS guy. And he’s the guy that pushed this controversial resolution (soundly rejected, BTW).
And at this Las Vegas meeting, Mulholland suggested that outreach to rural, white voters in West Virginia is useless. “The majority of white people in America have not voted for us since 1964,” he said. “White people… are not interested in our program.”
He essentially believes WV is a lost cause because it’s mostly white.
“Southern states are the worst,” Mulholland propounded, explaining that there is “no future” for the Democratic Party there, and listing off West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi as examples. (Quick history lesson, Mulholland: WV was a Yankee state.)
Even now, even after having had more than a week to think about it, it’s hard for me to know how to respond to his nauseating statements.
But what I can do is tell you the words that were ringing through my mind when I heard him say those awful things. They’re the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who recognized how many commonalities poor people had, no matter their race.
And when those brothers told me what they were earning, I said, “Now, you know what? You ought to be marching with us. You’re just as poor as Negroes.” And I said, “You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because, through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people.”
In fact, the purpose of his Poor People’s Campaign was to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”
King was reaching out. But Mulholland thinks that the Democrats shouldn’t?
I said above that I didn’t want to see Brazile drummed out of the DNC. Mulholland deserves to be.
Brazile, wrong as she was, was at least just trying to give a leg up to a friend (“It’s about relationships!”). Wrong, yes, but it was misplaced assistance. But Mulholland is not misguidedly trying to assist someone. Instead, he’s trying to abandon entire regions, millions of people, desperate for help.
Mulholland’s hostility to WV and other states is especially tragic given the effort DNC leadership has made to drive home their outreach strategy: “Every zip code matters.”
After the General Meeting, for instance, I spotted Chairman Perez and called out, “Hey there! I’m in 26337!” Without missing a beat, the Chairman responded, “That’s West Virginia!” and he even gave me his card so I could contact him by email. That seemed genuine…
… yet this idea of rural outreach, of “every zip code matters,” seems to have escaped Bob Mulholland and those like him. Perhaps Mulholland is simply thinking about “relationships” in the DNC redefinition, because frankly no one here in WV can do Mulholland any favors. Poor people out here are not in the good ole boy network he’s a part of.
That’s just the truth. He doesn’t need West Virginia or West Virginians; we can’t provide him any status. All the Democratic candidates here in WV who are trying to make a difference, folks who have never run before… none of us can help him ascend the DNC hierarchy. So why should he invest in outreach that in his view gets him nothing? Why should the Democratic Party, so far as he’s concerned?
No one at the DNC is going to be justifying help for WV due to “relationships” with folks in my area. There will be none of this:
- “I have friends in Wood County, so when I heard about the Ames fire, I pulled some strings and got the National Guard down there to get shelters set up, and people in threatened neighborhoods moved… “
- “My friends in Doddridge County didn’t ask for what they were thrust into, with property rights violated, property values assaulted, water threatened, so I called in some favors and made sure they had legal protections…”
- “When people we know in Ritchie County were threatened by an experimental frack dump in the peripheral zone of concern of the only public drinking water intake in the county—when folks were terrified for their communities, for their kids, and grandkids—we used our influence to make sure that dump would not go in…”
- “When I heard about those people who had been without water for seven years, I contacted someone to donate funds to the municipality so they could extend city water there. We shouldn’t have communities without water in the United States!“
No, we don’t have the important “relationships.”
What happened to being the voice of the little guy?
Faced with this heartbreaking attitude, I had to wonder if the DNC’s strategy was just to publicly talk about outreach, or whether instead leadership actually intended to do something concrete to reach out to rural voters here in WV and states like ours. Would they really reach out to rural voters of every ethnicity?
Because we desperately need them to. And we need more than hopeful words. Ritchie County, my county, has nearly a 21% poverty rate, and a huge wage disparity where men make about $20K per year more than women. About a quarter of kids in WV are living in poverty. And we’re not even the WV county in the most dire straits.
And I must point out here that we know that the whiter a state’s population is, the likelier they were to vote for the more liberal of the candidates last year. Even Pew research has seen that “solid liberals” are majority white. What they have here in WV, actually, is a group of “disaffected Democrats” whom the more affluent “solid liberals” seem unwilling to reach.
Fewer of us in WV believe that hard work invariably leads to success, because we’ve worked hard all our lives only to find that the system is often rigged against us. It’s not that we don’t work hard; it’s that it doesn’t matter if we do because there are so few opportunities here. And while you may be scandalized to read that many “disaffected Democrats” believe we should offer less aid overseas and more here, it might be a bit easier to understand if you remember that many in WV, within a short drive of DC—myself included— don’t even have potable running water in the house.
Please don’t blame people who feel they’ve been forgotten because they have actually been forgotten. Don’t blame WV for having fewer college grads, when our college grads are fleeing to places where their educations can get them good jobs in their fields that will enable them to pay back student loans. We have the largest number of students in default for a reason. It’s because there is little here for the educated.
Stop with the victim blaming, and work on the outreach.
Understand, the reason the Democratic Party has been losing the rural, white working class vote is BECAUSE they haven’t been reaching out. And it’s also because members like Mulholland have attitudes that are not only poisonous to the party, but poisonous to our whole country. It’s not only defeatist, but it’s ignorant and divisive to claim that it’s not worth the effort to reach out in states like WV, that there’s no future for Democrats here, because we’re too white.
Worse, this isn’t new. This is the battle we’ve been fighting in WV for time out of mind, with both parties. The attitude that we’re dumb hillbillies helps rationalize the industrial aggression we face here, because if we’re seen as LESSER, then it’s easy for others to turn off compassion and conclude “They deserve what they get.”
When we’re fighting to keep our wells, creeks, and springs clean, those of you in more affluent areas might be well-served to help us. We’re a headwaters state. When you allow the legal burden for fighting a dangerous experimental frack dump to be placed chiefly on a county of 10,000 rural people with a high poverty rate, few legal resources, and a Department of Environmental Protection run by a coal crony, that’s dangerous not just for us—but for everyone downstream.
And by and large there’s no one in our corner.
Partisan Messaging in Rural America
Conservatives have proclaimed that “The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America… The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.”
This should be an opportunity, right? It would be easy to debunk with a little effort to show the false dichotomy we have in WV: that we don’t have to choose between good jobs and clean water and air. We can have both.
But in their messaging, conservatives do a good job of misdirecting blame at disabled workers, unemployed people, black people, gay people, immigrants, and damned liberal job-killers… and on and on. That’s easier (and more lucrative for those in power) than legislating to make sure that hard work really does pay off, that our money isn’t continually funneled to the already rich.
Yet it’s sadly common for prominent liberals ALSO to be proponents of attitudes that play into those misdirections, and suggest we should just give up and “Let [rural voters] reap the consequences for voting against their own interests… They’ll keep voting against their own interests until the industrial poisons left unregulated by their favored politicians finish them off altogether.”
Yeah, Mulholland isn’t the only jerk.
But since he’s a DNC member, the DNC needs to address that poison he’s pouring into our national discourse.
As I mentioned, Chairman Perez gave me his card, so I wrote him about this concerning issue. In my opinion, having Mulholland on the Rules Committee is like having DeVos as Secretary of Education, Pruitt as Secretary of the EPA, or Carson as Secretary of HUD: you don’t want to put someone in power who is intent on destroying what they’re ostensibly there to fix. That seems self-evident.
So I was straightforward with outlining for the chairman what I thought should be done:
First, Mulholland should be removed from the Rules Committee if possible—because that committee will be responsible for approving the outreach suggestions of the Unity Reform Committee—and if it’s not possible to remove him due to rules or bylaws, a statement of condemnation should be issued.
Second, a progressive from WV should be appointed to help the DNC with rural outreach in Appalachia. I volunteer! WV’s current DNC members might be, by Pew’s taxonomy, “strong liberals.” But WV—and I would suspect that greater Appalachia—is filled with far more “disaffected Democrats.” (Some of our Superdelegates can hardly even be called Democrats.)
So I asked Chairman Perez to respond by the 30th so that I could include his response in a post I planned to publish on the 31st… but he did not respond.
I had copied William Hailer on the email, however. Mr. Hailer is an aide of Chairman Perez, whom I met at the recent meeting. Mr. Hailer responded to a different email I had sent him earlier. He didn’t mention Mulholland’s offenses or the other email, but instead put me in touch with staff people about how to grow an outreach program.
One has written back, and she wants a brainstorming call next week some time. I’m somewhat optimistic about it because, as I mentioned above, the rural caucus seems absolutely dedicated, and on the right path.
But, DNC leadership, to be clear: Not dismissing rural people based on their race isn’t some secret special sauce; it should be top on the list of things to do, even before “growing a program.”
My being permitted to participate in an upcoming call doesn’t address the DNC’s BIG problem. Turning a blind eye to members of important committees who spout these counter-productive and genuinely nauseating biases—biases which only exacerbate the problems the DNC wishes to address—is terrible. And a tepid half-response to what absolutely should outrage everyone doesn’t demonstrate that they mean it when they say “every zip code counts.”
WE COUNT, TOO.
West Virginia counts!
Real Representation for WV
Democrats actually outnumber Republicans here in WV, but we keep losing elections because our leadership is out of touch. High profile WV “Democrats” increase Democratic disaffection by echoing industry talking points about a “War on Coal,” and other nonsense. Voters here feel that their vote doesn’t matter… and it’s hard to argue when WV superdelegates felt free to cancel out the votes of so many, changing a landslide victory for one presidential candidate into a slim victory for the other—despite the fact that WV Democrats unanimously called for an end to superdelegates.
Disaffected WV Democrats want someone who’d fight to keep Stream Protection Rules in place, not stand over the signing of the repeal, grinning like a ghoul anticipating his next grisly meal, which will be the campaign donation payoffs received for sacrificing us.
We’re out here and we need basic services. We need potable running water. We need functioning sewer. We need our property rights protected. We need roads that we’re not paying a disproportionate amount for, because industry is getting hidden subsidies in exchange for campaign donations. We’re done being sacrificed. When will it be okay for West Virginians to demand clean water?
This is what the DNC needs to convince us they care about. We need folks working to help us, all of us, regardless of party or race. West Virginia is not too white to deserve attention. Anyone who says that is not only spouting genuinely reprehensible views, but is also contributing to political divisions we should be trying to address, without a clue about what’s happening on the ground, or why people aren’t voting for them.
As I hear more (if I hear more) from DNC staff or DNC leadership, I’ll update you. [Updates are now below in the comments.] But in the meantime, I’d like to hear from YOU.
What would you have said to someone who told you essentially that WV was just too white to waste time on? What would you tell the DNC leadership to do about DNC members who spout hateful view like that?