November 27, 2005

Shava Nerad responds to Roosevelt demand letter

[This comment by Shava Nerad was posted to the article on Jesse Gordon and refers to  a demand letter to Gordon from the James Roosevelt, the chief counsel for the Democratic State Committee, which insists that Gordon stop using the word "Democrat" in conjunction with the group Gordon helped found, The Progressive Democrats of Cambridge.--editor.]

It is *NOT* a violation of law for Jesse to use the word "Democrat" -- it is an *alleged* violation according to the state party.  This is a red herring thrown at the Alewife, so to speak...:)

It is within Jesse's rights of political speech to comment upon the party establishment using their name. 

"Democrat" is a word and a title in the generic sense.  There is, for example, a long history of newpapers in this state called The Bristol Democrat, The Franklin Democrat, The New England Democrat and so on, dating from at least the 1800s.  Would the state party restrict a newspaper from using the name?

They could not, for example, restrict another state party organization from being created called, say, the Christian Democrats or Liberal Democrats, such as exist in the EU.

The state Democratic party does not have a trademark on the word or title "democratic" nor do they have any right to restrict political speech commenting on their actions.  By their own definition, a Democrat is a person who registers with the elections folks as a Democrat.  There are no dues.

Although Jesse may *not* present that the Democratic Scorecard project is an endorsed product of the state Democratic Party, the party did originally promote the creation of the Scorecard, and then delayed the project in committee long enough -- according to the story I've heard from Jesse -- that Jesse produced it himself.  I have heard from many local democrats -- at least one elected official -- that the Scorecard is a great tool.  What is the Scorecard?  It's a measure of how elected Democrats adhere to their own party platform.

Now, the party platform is a chimerical document, and in some ways not meant for the light of day -- and that, of itself, is sort of a sad comment on process that is true not just of Massachusetts.  The platform is an expression of the ideals of the state committee, a product of social consensus of activists.  It's not meant to hold up to the "sausage-making" on Beacon Hill.  However, comparing the elected official's votes to the ideals of the party, while sometimes revealing disparities, is something the state party should spin, not suppress.

I would love to see the state party use the Scorecard as a teachable moment to educate the public on how a political party actually *works* -- and maybe then they'd attract more participation on these uncontested seats throughout the state.  Properly, the party organization should be vital and experiencing a party-building renaissance with the outrage people feel in this state regarding the current administration.  However, they seem to be acting as though they are afraid of being overwhelmed.

The Scorecard is nothing but a statistical representation of public data on the actions of our elected Democratic officials.  How can the party presume that such a publication is *illegal*?

I can understand where they could see Jesse as a loose cannon, as inconvenient, and as not working within their inherently conservative party structure -- which they are obviously making more conservative (at *least* in structure) by extending terms.

If there is no contest to posts on the committee (as there is in much of the state) then there is no incentive to extend terms.  If there is a contest for seats -- as there is in the more progressive and dense urban areas -- then the extension of terms has the obvious effect of discouraging contests for incumbents.  It's that simple.

I was there as an observer for the vote at the state convention.  I came to this state as a former state committeeperson from Oregon, and former chair of budget/finance for the Multnomah County (Portland, OR) Dems

I was shocked and discouraged at the lack of process in the charter amendment vote.  A floor count was refused from the podium for no justifiable reason I could see.  The only justification I could imagine was that the leadership feared that they had lost quorum with the exodus from the hall after the main business of the assembly had been accomplished. 

It was because a very small proportion of the delegation remained on the floor for this vote that your state committee people can express such surprise at the extension of their terms.  Most delegates were long gone by the time the charter -- the "Constitution" of the state party -- was amended to extend their terms.

It was bad process, and we will continue to pay for it as long as the process of the party at the state level, right down to the ward level, is not transparent and open.

In Oregon, we changed a moribund state party system to something vibrant by making the local party groups into something more like a properly running nonprofit -- we had well-publicized local meetings.  During election season, we had *weekly* volunteer trainings -- because that's how many people were interested in getting involved.

This is what you can produce by creating an open process.  We were not overhauled or keelhauled by "new blood," as our state party seems to fear.  We were re-vitalized.

Perhaps there's a lesson for Massachusetts there, if someone -- besides Jesse and a bunch of scrappy gadflies -- could get over themselves and listen.  There's a Democratic renaissance expressed by organizations such as MoveOn, by the Dean campaign (and administration at the DNC), and a general renewal of activism.  State parties elsewhere are gladly capitalizing on this, but the party here is willfully oblivious.

The machine politics in this state is moribund.  The party must revitalize and create an open process, or leave room for a real party system with the energy leant to moderate Republicans and Greens to eat away at their presumed mandate. 

It's time for a sea change in the party,  locally, on the state level, and nationally -- and unless the party embraces, absorbs -- and works consciously to *enculturate* -- the next generation of activists, they will be self-obsoleted.It is *NOT* a violation of law for Jesse to use the word "Democrat" -- it is an *alleged* violation according to the state party.  This is a red herring thrown at the Alewife, so to speak...:)

It is within Jesse's rights of political speech to comment upon the party establishment using their name.