What Message is Our Party’s Culture Sending?

Over the past 7 weeks I have traveled to 14 counties and attended 39 events. I have met with amazing Democratic political activists all over our state, from southeast Michigan all the way up to the UP. I spoke with people who love their party, but they want more. They want to be valued, and they want a seat at the table.

It’s clear that the culture of the MDP affects the way people feel about the party, and that it can either help or hurt our activism today and in the future. Right now, the MDP has a top-down leadership style with stringent rules and protocol to keep people toeing the line. We don’t share information widely and decision-making power is consolidated within a small group. For an organization that prides itself on being a “party of the people,” we exclude a lot of people from participating—and miss out on the unique perspectives and ideas they have to offer.

As MDP chair, I will evolve our organization’s culture to promote inclusion and to give members at every level a voice in how their party operates. I believe that in a true “party of the people,” leadership exists to inspire and empower our members, not to establish a rigid chain of command. Leaders must lead with democratic values, including sharing their power with people at all levels who can effect positive change within our party.

Knowledge is power, so the first step to cultural change is keeping everyone informed. MDP officers should be included in planning and the executive committee must represent all of our constituencies. Additionally, political activist leaders have tremendous influence in their communities, and they need to be empowered to make decisions at the appropriate level. We also need a unifying, values-based message that members from the bottom up can embrace and share. We need to be proud to be Democrats again and proud of what we stand for.

In addition to information sharing, our membership has unique talents and skills to contribute, and we should provide them opportunities to apply those talents, to grow, and to learn while advocating for our candidates and values. We must also recognize the incredible work our members do and celebrate their accomplishments. We couldn't have succeeded in 2018 without everyone's help–from our long time grassroots activists to new activists from groups like Indivisible–and we must never believe that the MDP alone won in 2018–the activists helped give us those victories. We can’t value one group’s contributions more than the other’s.

Another vital piece of an improved culture is accountability. We must be transparent about the actions we are taking and how we are allocating our resources. We need to establish party-wide objectives so everyone knows what success looks like and can measure their results accordingly. Our rules and guidelines need to apply to everyone equally. Finally, we need to create systems to manage our planning, monitoring, and reporting efforts and be committed to continuous improvement.

The 2016 election left us with a divided party, and those divisions deepened in 2018. Without the support of everyone who shares our values, we can’t function effectively, and we’ll have an uphill climb in 2020. We must regain the trust of all Democrats by promoting inclusivity and accountability. We must believe in our party as an agent of change both locally and at the state level. And we must actively recruit others who believe in what we stand for to fight with us in every election and for every candidate.

Our work is just beginning, but I know we can accomplish all of this and more if we are committed. In Northville, I worked with activists to create a culture of proud Democrats in a traditionally red area. I collaborated with neighboring clubs and groups like Indivisible so our Democratic community reflected a variety of perspectives. And I embraced servant leadership—putting the needs of our community first, empowering our members, and increasing their engagement with our groups and our party. I’m asking you for the chance to make these changes to the MDP’s culture to make us a true party of the people and to prepare us for the future. United we are Democrats, and united, we can win!

Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash

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