Author: Jen

The Missouri Revival

Who knows how long many of us felt something shifting beneath our feet.

This past Saturday, concerned citizens from across the state gathered at Lincoln University in Jefferson City to attend the Missouri Democratic State Committee meeting for Q4. From what I understand, the level of participation and energy this time was significantly different from past meetings.

I wouldn’t know; I’ve never gone to one before.

Strangely, the same was true for many other attendees. Most of them voiced that they felt compelled to show up, because this was a crucial moment for state politics. So why did this once routine meeting of usual suspects become especially important? And what does it mean for Missouri?

To answer that, you have to look at not only 2016 as a whole, but the context of the last couple of decades.

The Earthquake: GOP Takeover 2016

Caring about politics requires getting used to disappointment. But in most elections, even if your favorite candidate doesn’t win, you can look to other races to find ideological victories that offer some comfort.

For progressives in Missouri, November 8 offered no such bittersweet moments.

As a few more days passed, things began to change. The shell shock wore off, the hangovers faded, and we peeled ourselves off the floor. The fear and worry shifted quickly to productive energy and strategic thinking: “I must do something.”

A Divided Party

Step back again to the first half of 2016 and the Democratic primary season – a topic almost still too charged to discuss without stirring up feelings of resentment and blame. But solutions for our government can’t really be prescribed without diagnosing the past.

Whether Bernie Sanders could have beaten Donald Trump in a Presidential election is something people will probably be debating for the next half century (if humanity makes it that far). But the reality is that Hillary Clinton lost to the most know-nothing candidate the country may have ever seen.

Clinton supporters will protest and cite the popular vote. But an army of party-line voters in California and New York do not win the Electoral College. And even in states where she lost by a slim margin, this was not a race that should have been even remotely close.

For about half of Democratic primary voters, the panic over a Trump presidency began in July and was fully realized in November. For this half, a Clinton presidency would have likely resulted in relief at best, if not detached apathy. It would have been hard to envision a place for us at the table in the Democratic Party.

But now, both halves are in the same boat, completely devastated.

Both halves have felt deep anxiety and fear, and in return have been told by political rivals, “You’re being ridiculous.”

While the Clinton Democrats are still in mourning and probably still too close to their defeat for blunt critical analysis, Sanders supporters have been processing loss for months and are particularly motivated to start piecing a renewed coalition together.

The Soul of the Democratic Party

The long view gives some context to the deep divisions laid bare in the 2016 primaries. If you’ve been a progressive Democrat for long, you know something about feeling left out.

The Democratic Party (and friends in the media) showing a reluctance to support more progressive candidates got a lot of attention this year with Bernie Sanders. But this same story has played out in a number of elections in my lifetime, with Howard Dean, Bill Bradley, Jerry Brown, and one could argue, Dennis Kucinich. The rationale for this has always been electability.

Being progressive or liberal means that you are not electable because you won’t attract big donors, because you want the playing field to be too level. The sad fact is that elections are now bought, and no one wants to throw money at you if you aren’t going to help turn a profit later.

That machine of corporate politics imploded this year. The candidacy of Donald Trump was a perfect storm of a number of factors: white fragility, sexism, fake news, and an extremely disproportionate fear of terrorism at home. But another major element was the rebuke of both parties’ addiction to cash from special interests. The best metaphor I’ve heard is that Donald Trump is a brick through the window of the establishment. He was an ignorant, hateful vessel for voters’ frustration, but the most powerful tool of defiance they had at their disposal.

I will continue to wonder what would’ve happened if America had an alternative way to reject corporate politics while also standing on the side of inclusion, equality, human dignity, and workers’ rights.

The Growing Progressive Wing

We took the scenic route in getting to the root of why Saturday’s meeting meant something, but I think it’s important to acknowledge what motivates progressives and how that will impact our future.

Going into this blind, I had no idea what to expect. I was even nervous about attending. Like I have thought about politics most of my life: “I don’t know enough to participate – I have no business butting in there. I haven’t earned the right to be at the table.”

Not only was I wrong, but I was reminded of the lessons I learned while participating in the delegate selection and convention earlier in the year. This is a party of regular people, and a whole lot of them are just like you; maybe not a seasoned political veteran, but fired up and ready to go.

Saturday’s agenda included a preliminary meeting to gauge interest in a new Progressive Caucus, as well as a meeting and executive board vote in the existing Women’s Caucus. Both meetings were packed.

The vote for the leadership of the Women’s Caucus drew so many participants, there were people standing in the doorway who couldn’t fit into the room. A slate full of newcomers was voted in, largely by people who had met through work on the primary election and maintained that network. The Progressive Caucus planning meeting, whose organizers didn’t know what to expect in the way of involvement, collected 81 people on the sign-in sheet. The idea of an Environmental Caucus was hatched and work on that has started.

One of the people in the Progressive Caucus meeting, Stephen Webber, was later voted Chair of the Missouri Democratic Party. Another, Genevieve Williams, was voted Vice Chair.

In light of the history that got us here, this doesn’t feel like a fluke. It feels like a progressive revival, sparked for some of us by Bernie, but an inevitability in the broader scope of political evolution in this country. We know that shying away from progressive values has not served Democrats well. Justice, equality, and a living wage for every worker are goals we should state boldly and proudly.

I’ve heard that Democrats who have been participating in the state party for awhile aren’t sure what to make of the new faces. Are these new people loyal? Are they going to keep coming back? Will they do the work?

Putting in time and effort isn’t a question. Many of the people I’ve worked alongside put me to shame. I’m in awe of these amazing women and men who step up to the plate, again and again, even after a painful loss.

As for loyalty, I think blind allegiance is a relic of political history at this point. I doubt the two-party system is long for this world. Some people will start working on third parties from the ground up, which I fully support. I hope those people can also support like minds working within the Democratic Party. Because I’ve seen a lot of party-line Democrats, liberals, leftists, progressives, and socialists arguing about who’s moving forward in the most perfect way, and it’s accomplished a grand total of nothing so far.

The scorched earth in Missouri left few victors and no undamaged egos. Those politicians still standing face an uphill battle and are in desperate need of help. And now there many voters who are completely finished with the two-party system, even with the option to transform how we approach economic and racial equity within it.

In light of all of this, Progressive Dems are throwing up a big, tattered, dusty, tent and including anyone who wants to come on in and get to work. For those who hope to impact the elections in 2018 and 2020, there is an outlet for you in the Democratic Party.

Learn More:

MDP Progressive Caucus

Election 2016 Post-Mortem Series: How Progressives Can Take the Reins of the Missouri Democratic Party

Part 1: All is Not Lost for Progressives in Missouri

By Danny Gladden, MBA, MSW, LCSW
Community Social Worker

By now, you have had time to digest the 2016 election results. If you are a progressive living in Missouri, you are likely making your way through the stages of grief. As a social worker, I often find myself helping folks through tough moments. Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief and loss are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — I feel as though I have experienced or observed all of those over the last two weeks, including acceptance.

I have heard many of my progressive friends accept the fact that Missouri is officially a deep red state and suggest that liberal utopias such as New York, Chicago or San Francisco look inviting. But I encourage you to hold off on acceptance for just a moment.

The implications of the 2016 election on our community’s most vulnerable citizens will be catastrophic, but I am not ready to concede Missouri to the conservative majority.

We must not accept the 2016 results as the new status quo; it is neither moral nor strategic.

Missouri’s History of Shifting Political Powers

Missouri has always had a rich and fascinating political history. Only two years in our state history — 1869 and 1870 — have republicans held all statewide offices, majorities in the MO House & Senate, both United States Senate seats, a majority of United States House seats, and the White House. If Missouri progressives do not reverse course, 2018 will look like 1869.

Missouri Democrats filled the Governor’s Mansion from 1945 to 1972, taking a break in the 1980s, and resuming power from 1992 to 2016, with the exception of four years in 2000. Missouri Democrats also maintained majorities in the Missouri House and Senate from 1955 until 2001. In 2001, Republicans gained control of the Missouri Senate and in 2003, Republicans gained control of the Missouri House.  Since 2000, Senate Democrats have watched their caucus dwindle from 18 down to eight of 34 Senators, and since 2003, House Democrats watched their caucus shed 42 seats, down to a total 45 out of 163 members.

Reviving a Statewide Coalition

Missouri Republicans have done a much better job of remaining competitive in all corners of Missouri, recruiting and electing non-partisan aldermen, mayors, school board members and republican county treasurers, prosecutors, etc. These office holders served as a farm team of potential candidates that were used to pluck away at incumbent House and Senate Democrats, and fill openings when members were term limited out. Republicans have office holders in all 114 of Missouri’s counties while vast portions of the state have no Democratic office holders.

In 2016, 66 Republican House candidates and four Republican Senate candidates were unopposed. In many counties, only conservative candidates filed for local office. Despite our voting options, the state is still home to a large coalition voters, both pro-worker and anti-racist. Donald Trump’s margin in Missouri was impressive, but he did not win by changing the landscape of the Missouri electorate.

Trump’s lopsided victory in Missouri meant a death knell for close down-ballot races. For example, while Donald Trump beat Clinton by 19%, Blunt beat Kander by 3% and Greitens bested Koster by 6%. Kander’s 3% loss and Trump’s win with 129,599 fewer Missouri voters than 2008 provides a little progressive hope for the future.

To find that hope, just look back to 2008, when Missouri saw the largest voter turnout in its history with more than 2.9 million votes cast — 69.4% voter turnout. That election saw Barack Obama narrowly lose to John McCain by less than 4,000 votes statewide.  In 2012, Missouri saw 160,298 fewer voters and in 2016, 129,599 fewer voters turned out than in 2008.

Some more good news: despite Missouri’s deep red outcome on November 8, 2016, Democrats added one seat to their House caucus and one seat to their Senate caucus for a total of nine out of 34 senators and 46 out of 163 House members.  

However, if Democrats and progressives are going to dramatically increase membership in the Missouri General Assembly, candidate recruitment and development for all municipal, county and state legislative races will be essential.

Leveraging City Progressives

If progressives are to find success in Missouri, St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan area voters must be inspired to turn out. As noted above, 129,599 fewer voters cast ballots in 2016 vs. 2008; 120,360 of them or 92% of the statewide abstention came from St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Kansas City, and Jackson County. If those additional 120,360 votes had been cast this year, it quite possibly could have pushed Jason Kander over the edge to victory.

We saw in 2008 and in 2012 that Missouri doesn’t even need to go blue in the presidential race in order to elect statewide Democrats. If we support statewide candidates who favors workers’ and civil rights over corporate interests, they can bring progressive voters to the polls.  

Forging Ahead

Mobilize Missouri is committed to working with other progressive organizations to enhance voter engagement, as well as aid in the recruitment and promotion of progressive candidates in advance of the 2018 midterm elections. St. Louis and Kansas City historically underperform in the midterms and that will need to change if we are going succeed. All is not lost. There is progressive hope for Missouri’s future but only if we thoroughly engage voters in St. Louis, Kansas City, and every corner of this great state by giving them a compelling reason to participate in this process.

Jobs with Justice Community Meeting Recap

Guest blog post by Jack Seigel

Last night, I attended a Jobs With Justice community meeting that included labor leaders, elected officials, community organizers, union members, and concerned citizens, with a spirit of checking in on people post-election and reaffirming a commitment to the work ahead.

As we sat and listened to the reactions from the group, we heard some hopeful responses. A local worker shared how joining a union changed his life and lifted him firmly into the working class, but he never forgot where he came from and was happy to help others follow a similar path.  He wondered aloud about irrational fears of corrupt union bosses.  All he sees are hardworking people who want a better life for their families.  Other members of all ages murmured in agreement.

Many organizers applauded both the amount of new faces at the meeting and the diversity of our coalition.  Inclusive dialogue is important; it starts in union hall basements, continues on the streets with our neighbors, and ends with a unified voice that politicians can’t ignore.  An organizer correctly pointed out that it would take a while to take back the levers of power politically, but organizing people into concentrated expressions of power couldn’t wait, and clearly it wouldn’t.

Some of the most inspiring news was about ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments that just passed in other states and can serve as a blueprint for getting progressive policies in front of voters for a stamp of approval.  Local labor movements also talked about ballot initiatives that have already been filed for 2018 and the work needs to be done; everything from getting signatures to launching get-out-the-vote efforts.

But before we get to that, there are actions we can join in the near future. Fast food workers will be engaging in a strike meant to demand better working conditions and higher pay.  It is important that we stand in solidarity with them, especially because it is impossible to support a family on one or even multiple part time food service jobs.  Working 40 hours a week should get people out of poverty, not keep them living check to check – at the mercy of landlords, not able to afford sickness, vacation, education or savings.  Service workers are undervalued and dehumanized in the quest for cheap food, and the worker is only a means to the end.

When treated as replaceable cogs in a machine by large companies, people get lost and society is happy to keep them lost.  The working class is out of sight and out of mind, while those who are privileged consider moving to Canada and complain about the politics of a rural America that we could not begin to understand and won’t work to reach out to.  Building a broader sense of community – a coalition of people who feel empathy to each other, who stand in solidarity and are committed to social, racial, and economic justice – is what will shield local communities from a creeping tide of national hate.

Feedback Encouraged.

Mobilize Missouri Stands with Standing Rock

All of life depends on clean water. Mobilize Missouri stands with Native American water protectors in opposing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The pipeline’s owners plan to tunnel under the Missouri River at Standing Rock, as well as the Mississippi River further to the east.

Members of Mobilize Missouri and hundreds of our concerned fellow humans will gather for “STL Stands w/ Standing Rock Solidarity March & Solution Rally” at St. Louis Union Station Hotel, 1820 Market Street on Saturday, November 5th at 3 pm. Organized by the Patchwork Hearts Collective and Veterans for Peace, marchers are asked to bring signs, drums, noisemakers, banners and peaceful active spirits.

The militarized response at Standing Rock has persisted, despite a request to halt construction issued by the the U.S. Departments of Justice, Interior and the Army. Pipeline developers Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) have maliciously destroyed the residents’ burial grounds and sacred artifacts, violently attacked citizens with trained dogs, tasers, nightsticks and pepper spray. State and local authorities continue to target journalists attempting to document authorities’ actions, issuing arrests on trumped-up charges. Those arrested have reported being put in holding pens intended for pets and livestock.

Local awareness about the civil rights struggle of the Lakȟóta people has thankfully been growing. On September 9th, led by Alderwomen Megan-Ellyia Green and Christine Ingrassia, the City of St. Louis joined dozens of other cities across America, passing a resolution “in support of the Indigenous opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline and we call on all residents of the City to raise awareness about this important struggle for Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice and to support the Sacred Stone Camp efforts in any way they can.”

Join us outside Union Station on Saturday, November 5th at 3 pm as we work to expand the awareness and opposition to this epic civil liberties struggle.

Event Details: //www.facebook.com/events/201979676874427/

Debbie Dilks for MO House Representative District 48

Is change coming to the 48th House District?

For more than 18 months, democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders encouraged people to not only get involved in the political process, but to run for office.

In Missouri, we have large swathes of legislative districts that only have a republican candidate on the ballot for state house representative. In the 2014 general election, 56 districts lacked a democratic candidate, while 25 districts had no republican. Forty-three percent of Missouri voters were effectively disenfranchised.

As a Nation, and as Missourians, we will all be stepping into the voting booth November 8th with big questions on our minds as to which way we want our country and our state to progress in the next 4 years. For the people of the 48th House District of the Missouri Legislature, please consider Debbie Dilks as your representative.

Dilks is running as an independent against a republican challenger who was previously unopposed by a democrat or libertarian. She was inspired by Bernie Sanders’ message to get involved.

Indeed, Ms. Dilks is championing many of the causes Missouri Progressives hold dear. She supports overturning Citizen’s United and takes no campaign contributions from corporations or PACs; believes a woman’s health decisions are between her and her doctor, no government needs to be in that room; and regarding equal rights for the LGBTQ population, she states that “everyone has the right to love who they love.”

She stands firmly against Right to Work legislation, noting it destroys jobs, decent pay, and therefore our economy. In conjunction, naturally, she is a champion of the $15 minimum wage fight, noting that to grow our economy we need to get more money into the hands of as many consumers as possible. Debbie emphatically says NO to fracking, noting that the damage we see inflicted on our environment will only get worse if the practice is allowed to continue.

48th House District with logo and headshot
The 48th district has parts of Howard, Cooper and Jasper Counties. The largest cities are Boonville and Fayette.

If elected, Ms. Dilks vows to fight for Medicaid expansion in our state. We have lost healthcare jobs because the Missouri Legislature voted against expansion. In addition, it leaves too many people with no health insurance, or severely underinsured — a cost burden is shared by all taxpayers. She will also help Missouri send the message to Washington that we need to eliminate the cap of Social Security. Why is there a cap? Having one ensures that the middle class has to work longer before hitting their limit for the year – some folks in minimum wage jobs NEVER see FICA drop off their paychecks.

Education needs to be affordable and encouraged. An educated workeforce helps the economy and halts the flow of high-tech jobs overseas. Reducing current student debt is another issue she is ready to tackle, again with an eye to putting spendable income back into the hands of consumers; this grows our economy and is the right choice for Missourians.

“I am voting for people that will be in danger under a Trump presidency. I am voting for the minority parties, for the disenfranchised, and for those that need protection,” — Debbie Dilks on her choice to vote for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election via the Marshall News

Finally, Ms Dilks is tired of fear-based politics. There is not a terrorist in every backyard. Instead, she wants to focus on community-based policing, retraining our respected men and women in blue to appreciate diversity, special needs, and the value in investing in the communities they police. We need to hold both the police and the communities accountable for their actions, so body and dash cameras should be standard equipment. Transparency is key.

Debbie pullquote

To learn more about Ms. Dilks, please go to www.debbiedilks.com or www.facebook.com/48thforprogress.

Lawsuit Filed by Bruce Franks, Jr., Local Media Takes Notice

Photo by Andrea McMurray

This past week, Bruce Franks, Jr., the Mobilize Missouri-endorsed candidate for State Representative in the 78th District, made progress in his push for an investigation into the absentee ballots that led Penny Hubbard to an alleged victory in his race.

The dispute received attention from various local news outlets, including an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A summary of the recent coverage:

The Riverfront Times, Aug. 16:

“The Missouri Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that they are reviewing two formal complaints related to the race. And the FBI has also reached out to several people alleging misconduct in the election, Franks says.

Franks says he personally has heard from several whistleblowers, as well as voters alleging irregularities. He’s shared that info with the authorities.”

St. Louis Public Radio, Aug. 17:

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Franks alleged that at least 280 people who cast absentee ballots in the race did not qualify to apply for an absentee ballot. Previous court rulings, the lawsuit argues, make it clear that “voters’ failure strictly to comply with the laws governing the use of absentee ballots is sufficient grounds to justify ordering a new election.”

KDNL ABC 30 St. Louis, Aug. 17:

“Franks Jr. filed a petition for a recount on Wednesday at the Board of Elections Commissioners Office in St. Louis.

Dozens of other St. Louis residents filed complaints with the Board of Elections Commissioners Office Wednesday as well. The complaints range from absentee ballot fraud, ballot tampering and electioneering on primary election day on August 2nd.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial, Aug. 18:

“Election officials across all levels should have been onto this issue long ago, especially given the climate ahead of Nov. 8 elections where voter fraud is a hot issue. Full voter confidence in the electoral process must take the highest priority.”

The Telegraph, Aug. 18:

“Franks’ attorney, Dave Roland, said he has “230 strong leads” on absentee ballots cast improperly. He said the most common reason for absentee voting in the district was cited as “incapacity or confinement due to illness or disability,” which also includes people who serve as primary caregivers for the disabled.

Roland said he is confident some voters claiming to be incapacitated were not, based on interviews and observations on social media.”