Stand up for Keith Ellison
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison declared his candidacy for Chair of the Democratic National Committee this month, following endorsements from Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Chuck Schumer as well as other members of Congress, plus mayors and labor leaders. Although Schumer’s support indicates that the Democratic Party establishment is ready to embrace its progressive wing, a New York Times article published Tuesday revealed that tension remains over the party’s direction.
The article states that “multiple Democratic officials close to the president” have started to look for alternatives to Ellison and have a list of complaints about him. One of the arguments against Ellison originates from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has now “convinced a wide range of Democrats that whoever takes over the committee must make it their sole focus.” But people having duties outside of those as DNC chair is nothing new. President Obama supported Tim Kaine as chair from 2009–2011 while Kaine was governor of Virginia. And even after Democrats lost control of the House and lost seats in the Senate after the 2010 midterms, President Obama supported Wasserman Schultz as chair while she was simultaneously serving as a representative from Florida.
This new criticism of being a part-time chair, as Sanders noted, seems to be a way for Democrats to say that they agree that Keith Ellison is a good pick for the new DNC chair “but,” allowing them to disqualify him without a more direct attack that might otherwise anger progressives. Ellison supporters argue that Wasserman Schultz’s inability to separate her own interests from those of the national party — not her serving in two roles — made her ineffective. As a Politico article noted, “Democrats privately grumbled that she sought to leverage her position as party chairman to give her congressional donors plum spots at DNC fundraisers with President Barack Obama and solicited DNC donors for contributions to her campaign.”
The New York Times article notes that some Democrats believe that electing Keith Ellison would amount to handing the party over to Sanders and his “liberal followers,” implying that the Obama administration does not share Sanders’ assessment of the Democratic Party. It is unclear how the White House would like the party to respond to losing control of the executive branch of the federal government to the nominee with the highest unfavorability rating in modern history, but progressives argue that the party would be wise to rally around Bernie, who has the highest favorability ratings in the Senate. Because all the White House sources in the article are anonymous, it is difficult to assess their reasons for not joining Senate Democratic leadership in endorsing Ellison. However, article coauthor Maggie Haberman has been linked to the Clinton campaign. In an email disclosed by Wikileaks, Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merill wrote, “We have has a very good relationship with Maggie Haberman of Politico over the last year. We have had her tee up stories for us before and have never been disappointed.”
Some Democrats also expressed concern about the right-wing anti-Muslim attacks against Ellison. The day Ellison announced his candidacy, FoxNews.com published an article titled, “Who is Keith Ellison? Left-wing congressman with past ties to Nation of Islam wants DNC job.” As ThinkProgress noted, conservatives called Ellison a “Muslim Brotherhood shill” and “a former disciple of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.” Ellison faced those attacks when he first ran for Congress in 2006. According to Media Matters, Ellison has only two connections to the Nation of Islam: writing an article defending Farrakhan as a law student in 1990, and attending the Million Man March in 1995. President Obama was criticized for attending the march in his 2008 presidential campaign, and he was also criticized over the inflammatory rhetoric of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who admired Farrakhan. In a 2006 letter to Jewish leaders, Ellison wrote: “I wrongly dismissed concerns that they were anti-Semitic. They were and are anti-Semitic and I should have come to that conclusion earlier than I did. I regret that I didn’t. But at no time did I ever share their hateful views or repeat or approve of their hateful statements directed at Jews, gays, or any other group.”
As to Keith Ellison’s ability to run the DNC, one need only look at his record. In his 2016 congressional campaign, Ellison raised more than $2 million — more than 80% of his House colleagues — according to TwinCities.com. Why? Because, Ellison says, “Most of the money, or a substantial amount, of it goes into voter engagement. We put canvassers on the ground in the off-year and in the on-year. And so we have people knocking doors, going into apartments, (engaging) the community. I have it as a primary goal to increase voter turnout.” By going into communities that might otherwise not participate in politics and engaging them in the political process, Ellison has been able to rely on small donations to fund his campaign. Half of the money he raised in the 2014–2016 cycle came from donations of $200 or less, and only a quarter came from individuals donating more than $1,000. This commitment to every community in his district has led to an endorsement from the Arab American Institute and a defense from the pro-Israel, pro-peace American Jewish group J Street, and two of his top donor groups are unions and retirees.
No matter what the White House argues, the Democratic Party needs a new direction. The party controls the East and West coasts, but it is almost completely locked out of power in the South and the Midwest. Demographics will not matter if Democrats keep failing to turn out voters or if Democrats continue to lose white voters to Donald Trump and other Republicans. That is why The Progressive Revolution endorses Rep. Keith Ellison. The Democratic Party must return to being a grassroots party, opening its doors to working people and young people and relying less on money from wealthy donors. Most Americans share our agenda: no tax breaks for billionaires, expanding Social Security, dealing with climate change, and stopping profitable companies from shipping jobs overseas. Under Ellison’s leadership, the DNC can show the American people that it will have a backbone, stand up to big-money interests, and defend every working American.
Help Ellison today by making a pledge to donate to the DNC if — and only if — Keith Ellison becomes chair. Let’s show the DNC that it does not need wealthy donors to raise large sums of money. If the DNC is willing to embrace progressive values, it can be fueled by small donations from an engaged and enthusiastic grassroots movement.
Your card will only be charged if he wins. We have everything to gain by showing our support today. Together, we can show the political establishment we are ready to take charge of the future of our party.
Author: Harpreet Chima