Monday, September 4, 2017

The Real Work of Organizing in Brooklyn Vs Fighting Dead Statues

There is an interesting article in Sunday's Times about The New Kings Democrats- the hard and often frustrating work of challenging the established Democratic Party in Brooklyn. It points to a way forward to capturing power at the lowest levels. I know, I know -- rallying and fighting Nazis is more fun and gratifying - and it is true you can do both -- but in reality most people don't do both, as pointed out by some critics of Antifa (can't find the link), people tend to take one path or the other for their major involvement -- organizing rallies, protests, counter rallies, etc - takes energy, just at the work inside politics takes energy and people with jobs, families, etc don't have time for both.

I've seen it in MORE - where a rally gets people salivating. Going to CEC, PEP, UFT DAs etc -- not so much. When even a small org like MORE has the balance tilted the resources get shifted in that direction.

The  left - and I have been among them - toss away the Democratic Party as being a waste of time. They dream of a labor party of sorts -- as much a dream as going to Mars at this point. Why? Because the left has little mechanism for getting along with each other -- though some hope the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) can be that party. I am doubtful - sectarians will always be there -- and then there are the police/FBI infiltrators to disrupt things on the left, as they always have,

Now, I an wary of the number of people involved in the New Kings Democrats who have migrated to working for the de Blasio administration - is this just another insurgency - the new boss, same as the old boss?

I'm glad this article exposes the sellout Lou Fidler who turned his back on public educators while trying to give the impression he was a supporter in the battles over school closings and charter infiltration in his district when he was a City Councilman.

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In Brooklyn, Challenging the Party Establishment - The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/31/nyregion/new-kings-democrats-brooklyn.html?...


When their excitement of watching Barack Obama win the presidency began to fade and the reality of the local political machine — something they wanted to be a part of — had set in, Rachel Lauter and Matt Cowherd founded New Kings Democrats, the Brooklyn-based, grass-roots political organization.
Following the election in 2008, the two had decided it was time to get involved at the community level. “We were like, ‘What do we do next? How do we keep up this movement and excitement?’” recalled Ms. Lauter.
They approached Vito J. Lopez, then the head of the Kings County Democratic Committee. After some back and forth, Mr. Lopez invited them to chat at his political club in Bushwick.
The meeting, recalled Ms. Lauter, was like something “out of a movie.”
“It was dark and dingy and he had guys flanking him, and he was like, ‘Do not do this, do not run for county committee, just volunteer and help me hand out turkeys at Thanksgiving or whatever,’” she said. When the pair pushed back, Ms. Lauter said, he “vaguely threatened” them, mentioning he knew the Bushwick loft they were living in was not legally residential. “He was like, ‘I know where you live.’”
“I remember walking out of there and being in shock, honestly,” Mr. Cowherd said.
Ms. Lauter and Mr. Cowherd poked around and discovered, as Ms. Lauter put it, “something exclusionary about the way the Brooklyn Democratic Party is run.”
The Kings County Democratic Committee is one of five county committees in the city; there is one for each borough in New York. These committees represent the Democratic Party at the local level, selecting local judicial candidates and special election nominees.
Brooklyn’s county committee is supposed to organize voters and draw people out to represent their neighborhoods. If all the seats in the Kings County committee were filled, it would consist of about 3,000 members, led by an executive committee of 42 members, who select the county leader or, as the position is referred to in Brooklyn, the “party boss.” (This was Mr. Lopez in 2008.)
“What their actual responsibilities are are unclear to the public,” Susan Lerner, executive director of the government watchdog group, Common Cause, explained. “You have unknown people on the ballot for party offices,” she said, calling them “party stalwarts or activists who are unknown to the everyday voter.” Most people “don’t know who their Assembly member is, much less who their county representative is.” Ms. Lerner explained that the county committee chair has “tremendous power to handpick candidates" and to “discourage people from running in primaries.”
Ms. Lauter and Mr. Cowherd realized that at least half of the 3,000 positions in the Kings County Democratic Committee were unfilled, and those that were, were often occupied by people who did not even know they were on the committee. Some of them, Ms. Lauter said, were dead.
The two decided to “organize around the county committee, train people on how to get on the ballot, reform it, make it more inclusionary and engage a new crop of people in this work,” Ms. Lauter said.
Seven years later, New Kings Democrats members, including Ms. Lauter, have found their way into the mayor’s office and other official government roles, while others are deeply involved in the Democratic primary on Sept. 12, supporting candidates like Councilmen Carlos Menchaca and Antonio Reynoso.
But the organization’s basic intention remains the same: To reform the Democratic Party in Brooklyn.
About 75 people showed up at the first New Kings meeting in 2008, Ms. Lauter recalled. The turnout surprised her, and gave the group momentum. Ms. Lauter likened their approach to how the Tea Partystarted small and local, taking over school boards and local Republican parties, and devoting its energy to “getting bodies out.”
One of their earliest wins was getting Lincoln Restler, a New Kings member at the time who now works as a senior adviser for the mayor, elected district leader on a platform that challenged Mr. Lopez. Taking on Mr. Lopez was challenging because “so much of his stuff was good,” Ms. Lauter said, particularly his support for seniors and affordable housing. (This was, Ms. Lauter noted, before New Yorkers learned that Mr. Lopez, who died in 2015, was accused of sexually harassing and assaulting female staffers, prompting an ethics investigation.)
Ms. Lauter, who now works in the de Blasio administration, can no longer be a part of the New Kings leadership, but she tries to attend meetings and remains proud of what the organization has achieved.
“A small group of people changed the conversation,” she said. “It’s totally different now. It’s reform-oriented.”
Indeed, the committee website notes that the current county leader, Frank Seddio, who replaced Mr. Lopez when his scandals forced him to resign, “has made significant changes in the organization’s structure, which has allowed for greater participation.” The website stops short, however, of mentioning the influence of New Kings.
“I think, in all fairness, Frank took over before N.K.D. existed, and there’s been movement for reform and change during that entire period of time,” said Lewis A. Fidler, a former City Councilman and current county committee member, referring to New Kings Democrats. “It’s not like they were born and the idea was invented.”
Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, a longtime county committee member who, along with Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, welcomed New Kings members into the committee, said she was pleased to see more women taking the lead within New Kings.
Anusha Venkataraman, the president of New Kings, and Sara Shoener, the chief operating officer of the group, have “gotten more organized and grown their membership and they’re kicking butt,” Ms. Simon said.
Momentum in the New Kings movement has increased in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Around 400 dues-paying members are pushing policy proposals and are trying to fill some of the vacant committee seats through a campaign the group is calling Rep Your Block.
The county committee still only meets twice a year in Brooklyn, and doesn’t publish a meeting agenda in advance — two things that New Kings, which is still considered by the committee to be nothing more than a political club, wants to change. On the night of the most recent meeting, in July, Ms. Venkataraman and her New Kings colleagues met in advance on a sidewalk in Canarsie, Brooklyn, to talk strategy. One member, Richard Semegram, advised the group to avoid being unnecessarily aggressive at the committee meeting.
“The Brooklyn Democratic Party is not the enemy. We’re all the Brooklyn Democratic Party, so coming in with vitriol makes no sense,” Mr. Semegram said.
Ms. Venkataraman agreed, but reminded her group that the goal for that night was to get an update on rules reforms proposed by New Kings last year.
At the meeting, the outsize presence of New Kings members and their allies, visible in blue or black shirts, was hard to miss. When it became apparent the meeting was going to focus on a potential constitutional convention, Ms. Venkataraman stood and asked if there would be any discussion of the proposed reforms.
Told “at the end of the program and only if there’s time,” Ms. Venkataraman remained standing and urged the meeting moderator, Jeff Feldman, to reconsider. Several moments later, Mr. Fidler, the former councilman, said, “Honestly, Jeff, I think we should take care of the rules report.”
Mr. Fidler got cheers and applause, but the good will was short-lived. New Kings members learned that their proposed rules had been voted on in a closed session and then rewritten by a subcommittee. Mr. Fidler then insisted that the “spirit and direction” of what New Kings had wanted was “embodied in the substance” of the rules passed, but didn’t specify which rules had passed and which had not. Mr. Feldman then returned to the constitutional convention agenda, prompting a New Kings member to loudly complain. Others joined in.
Mr. Seddio, the head of the committee, stood up. “Let’s have the courtesy of letting the speaker speak! This is not a bar,” he bellowed.
In a recent interview, Mr. Fidler said, “That’s the thing I find difficult about the way New Kings Democrats has been approaching things. They came into a meeting all ready to be angry. That really gets under Frank’s skin, obviously.”
Back at the meeting, Ernest Skinner, a self-identified “elder” who is a community liaison for Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, interjected: “Cool it, Frank.”
“I’m not cooling it! It’s unacceptable!” Mr. Seddio said.
Mr. Skinner then urged Mr. Fidler, Mr. Seddio and other members of the party establishment to listen to the younger meeting attendees to ensure the future of the county committee was “reflective and cross-generational.”
“I’m happy Lew Fidler stood up,” Mr. Skinner said in the meeting. “Now that you have done it, I hope you realize how painless that was. One of the reasons that the national Democratic Party is in disarray and one of the reasons we lost the election last time is because the elders failed to listen to the youth.”





 

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