Occupy The Hill

One hundred days into Donald Trump’s presidency, Democrats are still reeling from an election that left them the most powerless they have been in nearly a decade. Democrats are also making efforts to bridge the gap between the moderates and Bernie Sanders supporters who still hold bitterness towards his primary loss. Unfortunately for moderates, Sanders is not holding his end of the bargain. And his supporters aren’t particularly interested either.

The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur and Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski were the most prominent supporters of Sander’s campaign. TYT, in particular, is a popular YouTube channel among Sander’s supporters. On January 23rd, the two formed the Justice Democrats, a political action committee which has the ultimate goal of reforming the Democratic Party. According to their website, The Justice Democrats  is “a unified campaign to replace every corporate-backed member of Congress and rebuild the [Democratic] party from scratch.” Currently, they are revving up for the 2018 mid-term elections.

In the campaign’s video debut, Uygur suggested that true progressives will support the platform. I’ve read the platform, and yes, I support (most) it. Afterall, it’s ripped from the Democratic Party platform almost verbatim. Although our ideologies align, I can’t support a movement birthed by social media personalities with goals that aren’t even close to being feasible.

Their lack of knowledge or foresight about congressional fundraising,  elections, and the political landscape of the states pertaining to them is deeply concerning.

A Better Way: The Progressive Edition                                                                                     Precious little is said about their audience’s local government. What has been said though, is unbelievably unflattering. In an interview with The Bible Reloaded, Kulinski admitted that there are no plans to engage in local elections:

“As far as I know, Justice Democrats is focused on the House of Representatives and is focused on the Senate, and we’re going to primary all the corporate Democrats there. I certainly and personally support on the local level and the state level doing that, I’m not sure if that’s exactly what Justice Democrats is working on- but an ideal plan would be, yes, to take back absolutely everything and put in Justice Democrats. How feasible that is, I don’t know. But in order to do that, in all seriousness, we would need massive, massive support which our launch has been fantastic so far but we don’t have those kinds of  numbers yet.”

Kulinski’s convoluted statement reveals something worrisome; his level of involvement in the campaign. The fact that he isn’t sure if the Justice Democrats plan to engage on a local level should give everyone pause. Why doesn’t he know if the very movement he started is doing this? If they are doing this, why hasn’t his co-founder communicated this to him?

One the reasons movements like Occupy Wall Street failed miserably was because they were disorganized and lacked leadership. How can a movement have a “successful” launch when its leaders are hardly on the same wavelength?

The Justice Democrats are making a fatal error in targeting the mid-term elections alone. Because elections are on-going, local elections would be an ideal place to start. Especially because these elections aren’t nearly as costly, it would behoove them to either nominate someone for the state or local municipality levels. Local politics aren’t sexy, but they play a very important role in our democracy and lives. Because the endgame is to re-seat undesirable politicians; starting here can not only help the candidates build recognition and respect but reshape their communities. It’s strange that this movement acknowledges that terrible politicians exist beyond the walls of Capitol Hill, but isn’t very interested in doing much about it.

Justice Democrats should seek to mobilize their voters to attend local town halls. They should promote calls to action to encourage their representatives to support or denounce existing legislation.  They should encourage members of the community to register to vote so they can engage on a local level. They should also encourage their audience to donate money to their preferred candidate. These elections and insitutions affect our daily lives and carry more weight that an election nearly a year out.

I’ve noticed they have encouraged their audience to vote. I’m not sure how their community manager is operating the Facebook page, but it would benefit them to push this content regularly, or start a paid campaign targeting people in their desired communities.

Out Damn Shills!

The Justice Democrats are hoping to replace the Democrats who voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme This would mean replacing Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. The tastelessness of the graphic aside, the effort would be in vain.

Prior to the Gorsuch nomination, the Justice Democrats unveiled a petition to remove Manchin from office, “we need to send an unmistakable message to Chuck Schumer and the rest of the Democratic leaders in the Senate: Joe Manchin needs to be booted from Senate Democratic leadership immediately.” Aside from being poorly written, this campaign is unclear and poorly thought out.

First, they’re collecting random names for a petition remove Manchin from office. One should hope that this particular petition is either filtering or targeting West Virginians. But based on the fact that it’s being passed around, I’m doubtful. A progressive living in Portland, Oregon has no skin in the game when it comes to a West Virginian Senator. Neither should they. More importantly, creating a petition to oust an official is a recall effort; which West Virginia doesn’t even extend to state or U.S. officials.

Secondly, by passing the petition to Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, they are asking him to demand Manchin to resign. Expulsion or censure from Congress is pretty damn serious, and it’s usually never done unless the member is suspected of something nefarious. Unless they can prove Manchin has committed a crime as a Senator, they have no case.

Lastly,  the petition wants to “send a message” to the Democratic Senate. What message, exactly? Democrats in Congress are aware of infighting in the Democratic party. DNC Chair Tom Perez is attempting to ease such tension. Ranking congressmen are also crafting a new economic message palatable to progressives.

Schumer isn’t happy with Gorsuch’s nomination either, but he can’t afford to lose any allies. Democrats in West Virginia tend to lean right. Manchin is as progressive a Senator as West Virginia could get. It’s highly unlikely Democratic voters in that state will support a candidate more progressive than him. Exit polls revealed half of the people who supported Sanders in the WV primary elections planned to vote for Trump in the general. These voters were not even progressive, to begin with.

Heitkamp won very narrowly in 2012. North Dakota is of the few states that allow state and federal officials to be recalled. The laws regarding it aren’t very clear, however. Even without a recall effort, Democrats in North Dakota might not be too keen on primarying someone more progressive than her. Especially if they plan to move away from fossil fuels–which is integral to the state’s economy.

Because of the oil boom, North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate during the recession. I am largely in favor of a movement towards cleaner energy. However, North Dakota is the place to have this battle. Unless they will make exceptions, they’re already setting her progressive opponent for failure.

In the same interview with Bible Reloaded, Kulinski claimed they’ve listened to feedback and made tweaks because they want to get this right. He also stated that they will be more flexible on certain issues. If that’s the case, what purpose does ousting certain Members of Congress serve? Aren’t they representing their constituents?

In November, The Hill pointed out that Donnelly is in a vulnerable position. But this shouldn’t get progressives too excited. Republicans are pretty intent on flipping the seat, and they could be successful.  Indiana is so red, that Republicans receive more campaign donations than their liberal opponents. Which opens a whole new can of worms for the movement, given campaign finance is the one issue they will not bend on.

This Campaign is Brought You By Squarespace.                                                                         The Justice Democrats would like to remove money from politics. They want representatives to represent their voters, not donors. Because of the way the very campaign finance system they are angry about is set up, these candidates are destined to fail.

Congressional members are required by their political parties to fundraise. In a 2011 report by the Hill, 25 to 50 percent of a politician’s time is occupied by soliciting funds.

In 2013, the Huffington Post obtained a leaked PowerPoint presentation from the  Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, laying out how incoming freshmen should ideally their spend time in their DC and District offices. It suggested members spend four hours on the phone soliciting funds.

Unfortunately, this is not optional. Often, the fundraising requirements conflict with time spent on committees and the floor. This is where the trouble begins. As the Huffington Post explains, “it’s considered poor form in Congress for a freshman to sit at length in a congressional hearing when they could be spending money instead.” Even members in safe districts are also expected to raise funds so they can contribute their vulnerable colleagues.

The Federal Election Commission requires its members to file quarterly reports. Members are expected to pay duties to their respective parties. Their responsibilities only grow the longer they stay in congress.

A year ago, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver featured a montage of various congressional leaders who expressed disgruntlement with the expectations. Leading one official to retire, as he was couldn’t stand asking for money. Raising campaign funds isn’t necessarily a malicious act. It’s a requirement that is very difficult for members of Congress to reach.

A document obtained by BuzzFeed News in 2014 revealed how much money each the DCCC expected congressmen to raise. The amounts ranged from “$800,000 for members of the leadership team to $125,000 for rank and file members.” Such demands make it pretty impossible for representatives to actually receive money from their constituents. Yes, representatives should lean on their constituents more than anyone else. But as Oliver points out, numbers this large can affect who members of congress reach out to.

People with lower incomes simply don’t have the capital to donate to their representatives. People with much more financial freedom, however, do. Senator Chris Murphy makes this admission and even states it greatly affect how Congress takes issues into their home base.

Here is where the problem with the Justice Democrats lies: as new members of a major, established party, they are going to be held to the same standards as their predecessors. That’s not to say, of course, SuperPACs don’t play a role, though. But because the Justice Democrats ask their candidates to never accept large funds, the onus will ultimately be on the constituents to support their representatives. Especially if they expect them to keep their promise.

Who the Hell Are You?                                                                                                                     On their candidate application page, they ask individuals to name people in their communities to fix their economies. They put a particular focus on people from their own communities, specifically “nurses, teachers, engineers, workers, moms & dads, social workers, veterans, law enforcement, first responders, managers, etc.”

But bringing a total stranger to the forefront to get elected into Congress is a tough sell. North Dakota isn’t a large state, but it’s doubtful someone from Bismarck knows a whole lot about a veteran fireman from Fargo; unless of course, they already know each other. Even then, this puts pressure on the candidate and their friends to network. Can they convince members of the community that this person is a better alternative? Can they count on them to stay energized for the mid-term? Can they count on them to not change their minds once they step in the booth?

Justice Democrats are setting the candidates for failure and are doing a disservice to their base. What’s worse: the Justice Democrats are telling the nation to wake up, and yet their own ambitions are keeping them from looking at the larger picture. In fact, there are already several vacant seats in Congress as a result of last year’s election.

On April 4th, Los Angeles held a special primary election for the 34th congressional district of California. The seat became vacant after Representative Xavier Becerra (D) resigned to take Kamala Harris’ Attorney General position. The special general election will take place in mid-June. What’s truly fascinating is that the Justice Democrats have not made an effort to get involved in an election that would essentially be a slam-dunk: a vacant seat in a blue district. Already, the outcome of the movement looks bleak.

Eggs in a Basket                                                                                                                         Populism worked for Republicans because (1) America is more conservative than liberals realize and (2) Trump had the emotional intelligence his opponents lacked, which allowed him to tap into the public’s deepest fears.

The Justice Democrats will not have this same success. If Susan Sarandon’s appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert were any indication, moderate liberals are starting to get irritated with the movement.  It’ll be difficult to expect the people who the movement may have marginalized to welcome them with open arms.

Although the gap is narrowing, more Americans are still conservative than not. No crowd or viewership is going to change this fact. The Young Turks and Secular Talk have a decent streak going for them in terms of social media metrics. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re ready to lead a movement.

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