Democrats have some soul-searching to do


On Monday afternoon, Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office in Washington, DC got a visit from some uninvited guests.

Chanting and clapping, holding a banner reading “Schumer: Grow a Spine. Our Democracy is On The Line,” a few dozen progressive protesters occupied a portion of the office to urge Democrats not to cooperate with President-elect Donald Trump. And, they called on Democrats to move away from what they called corporate, Wall Street values — starting with the appointment of Sen. Bernie Sanders as Senate minority leader, instead of Schumer.

“Establishment Democrats failed to stop Donald Trump,” said Nick Martin, a former field organizer for Sanders’ presidential bid and organizer for the group responsible for the protest, All of Us 2016.

It was the Democratic party that needed to change, he and other organizers said on a livestream of the protest.

That call could soon become a chorus. In an echo of the Tea Party movement that sprung up after President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, some progressives are pressing for radical upheaval and action as the surest path toward future electoral victory.

Finding a new direction?

For all the handwringing over what Trump’s rise means for the future of the Republican Party, it may be the Democrats who confront their philosophical direction. In other words, expect to see the Democratic primary refought all over again.

For now, Schumer is poised to take over as minority leader: the highest ranking Democrat in DC, not to mention the main face of the Trump resistance. He is a pragmatic dealmaker who has often been an astute reader of the political winds: Just before the financial crisis he was a vocal advocate for his Wall Street constituency in New York, though recently he has come out as a strong defender of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and supports progressive Rep. Keith Ellison, a Sanders devotee, for Democratic National Committee chair.

The through-line of his career has been a self-conscious devotion to bolstering the middle class, a position which seemed a sturdy means to get back to the White House after George Bush’s eight-year presidency.

That’s exactly the message activist groups like All of Us are now combatting.

Democrats are “unable to speak to the working class people who felt left behind,” says Anna Bonomo, 21, a student at American University and part of the Schumer protest. “Trump’s campaign tapped into a lot of that anger.”

Many of the group’s members were closely tied to Sanders’ movement, but the group endorsed Clinton for having the “best chance of stopping Trump.”

The group doesn’t want to see congressional cooperation with Trump’s agenda. That’s partially an argument against “normalization” — one of the first speakers in the protest at Schumer’s office spoke about being a survivor of sexual assault and how Trump’s election, after allegations of assaults he committed, was particularly egregious.

But the group also thinks the party needs to move away from centrist dealmaking with moderate Republicans. Clinton’s loss seems to have hardened their conviction that a more populist focus is necessary. They say “Wall Street funded” Democrats are hopelessly removed from the traditional core of the Democratic Party, working people of all ethnicities and stripes. And only a realignment will bring electoral success.

Expect to hear more about this

U.S. Capitol police ultimately arrested 17 demonstrators in the hallway for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding,” according to police spokeswoman Eva Malecki.

Schumer’s office said “the individuals were heard, as they have a right to be, and were welcome to remain inside the office to express their point of view and share their opinions.”

The group is vowing to return. Particularly if Schumer follows through on finding common ground with Trump and moderate Senate Republicans on issues such as infrastructure.

The fight between the two wings of the party will likely build in advance of midterm elections in 2018 and the next presidential election, when Democrats may once again weigh the more radical economic bent that Sanders began this year. In the meantime, it’s sure to be chaotic.

All of Us has members in New York City, and other progressive groups continue to be active here — including various protests today in reaction against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“I’ve lost track of the amount of groups that have been created,” says Michael Blecher, who along with a Sanders New York delegate formed Politics Reborn, a group focused on getting progressives onto county committees and other local initiatives.

Since the election, “we are right now swamped with volunteers signing up. We don’t yet know fully why that is.”

Blecher hopes that, whatever it is, it’s as successful as the Tea Party ended up being in sweeping its partisans into office.

That began a particularly unproductive period for Congress. But if congressional priorities mirror Trump’s agenda, the new obstructionists ask, would that necessarily be a problem?

 

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