In June, 3,000 Californians will meet at the state’s Democratic Party Convention in San Francisco to shape the California Democratic Party’s platform, policies, endorsements, and leadership in the run-up to the 2020 elections.
In the past, these conventions have been dominated by elected officials and other party insiders. Many of these insiders have made positive contributions to our state. But, unfortunately, party insiders have a tendency to craft policies which put politicians’ personal aspirations ahead of the common good.
Of the 3,000 Democrats who will vote at the California Democratic Party Convention, one third will be chosen from the community at the Assembly District Election Meetings, known as “ADEM” elections. These elections give the working class a rare chance to leverage their collective power and gain some influence over the workings of the Democratic Party. Every registered Democrat can and should show up on January 12th to vote for 14 delegates from their Assembly District.
The problem with the ADEM elections is that, historically, the candidates have been politicians and members of their inner circles.
The problem with the ADEM elections is that, historically, the candidates have been politicians and members of their inner circles. Elected officials are not satisfied with two thirds of the vote at the party convention - they want it all. Since most Democratic voters do not know about these party elections, the turnout is usually low and the politicians usually win.
That is, until the 2017 ADEM elections.
In 2017, grassroots activists across California formed “slates” in each Assembly District to challenge the insiders. This led to historic ADEM election turnouts throughout California. In my hometown (Assembly District 70 - Long Beach, San Pedro, Signal Hill, and Avalon), community activists without ties to elected officials formed the “Blue Revolution” slate. They won 10 of the 14 Assembly delegate seats. For the first time in California history, non-establishment community members earned a seat at the Democratic table.
This victory carried over to the 2017 California Democratic Party Convention. There, in cooperation with grassroots activists across other California Assembly Districts, the Blue Revolution slate introduced 13 reform proposals designed to make the party more accessible and transparent.
One motion, which was successfully adopted by the state party, leveled the field for new voices by making incumbents meet the same party endorsement threshold as insurgent candidates. Formerly, challengers could win the state party endorsement with 60% of state convention votes. Incumbents, on the other hand, only needed 50% of the votes to earn the state party endorsement. The Blue Revolution reform brought parity to the endorsement process by requiring the challenger and the incumbent to reach 60% of the votes at the state convention.
Blue Revolution and its grassroots allies also forced the party to consider new voices to represent the party’s top leadership. At the 2017 convention, politicians and party insiders threw their support behind Eric Bauman for state party chair. Bauman had long chaired the mighty LA County Democratic Party. Many politicians feared standing up to this powerful Democrat.
Non-establishment delegates did not fear Bauman because Bauman could not make or break their careers. Citing Bauman’s aggressive demeanor and his ties to the pharmaceutical lobby, grassroots delegates rallied behind Kimberly Ellis for state party chair. Ellis was an activist and Executive Director at Emerge California, where she helped women and members of minority groups run for public office. The grassroots activists shared her vision of a diverse progressive party, open to fresh community voices.
Due to the high number of appointed delegates, the math was in favor of Bauman. Yet, the grassroots activists managed to persuade 49% of the delegates to vote for Ellis. Bauman won only 62 more votes than Ellis.
Just over a year after his victory, Bauman was forced to resign his chairmanship after being accused of multiple instances of sexual assault and harassment. Had the grassroots delegates not stood up to him in 2017 and demonstrated the narrowness of his political base, the California Democratic Party might still have an accused sexual predator as its top-ranking official.
Traditionally, 3,000 party insiders have made decisions for the rest of us - without much public engagement or accountability. It is time we leave that tradition in the past. If you are a registered Democrat (or wish to register on the same day at the venue), I urge you to vote on January 12th for 14 grassroots community organizers to lead the California Democratic Party. To find the progressive list of candidates in your area, and the time and place to vote, visit https://www.adems.vote/
Cesar Armendariz is an Ecuadorian immigrant who lives in Long Beach, California. He is a Social Studies high school teacher and community organizer. Cesar is the chair of Our Revolution Long Beach, a progressive activist group that represents Long Beach and surrounding areas.