In 1968, I was the Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party when the Party was riven by deep division over the Vietnam War. Those divisions may have cost Hubert Humphrey the Presidency, and they persisted for some time.
Some are saying that the close vote for the DNC Chair is evidence of another deep rift in the Party with Republicans claiming, “the factionalism is stunning,” but I believe this is a serious misreading of the challenge before the Democratic Party.
Rather than facing a division from within, Democrats need to reach out and include those who want in. A combination of those who supported Bernie Sanders or third party candidates, and those who woke up after Election Day having never been politically active – concerned about the direction that President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are taking our country. Recent events give me confidence that there will be no problem finding common ground as we join in common cause.
At a recent 9th Congressional Democratic District convention of delegates from Macomb and Oakland counties, one half of those in attendance had never before been to a Democratic Convention. As we discussed many issues confronting us in Congress – fighting to save the Affordable Care Act, countering the implementation of the Trump immigration edicts, thwarting the DeVos attack on public education, bringing to light Trump’s conflicts of interest and Russian connections, and countering the Trump attack on the media and free speech – I asked the delegates if there were any differences at all among us. Though they had split between supporting Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the Presidential primary, no one pointed out one vital issue of difference.
Two subsequent events fortified that the challenge facing Democrats is not so much within the Party, but in reaching out.
After the weekend protest at the White House against the first immigration executive order, I stopped at a demonstration in front of the Vice President’s residence. Three or four hundred people were demonstrating, many carrying homemade signs on health care and immigration. I asked how they had gotten organized. It turned out that it began when just the day before one person had posted the demonstration idea on Facebook. Having mushroomed overnight, very few knew one another and few had ever been to an organized political event.
Recent events give me confidence that there will be no problem finding common ground as we join in common cause.
Last week, I met with a number of people from newly-formed groups in my Congressional District, all of whom are focused on similar issues. Many had never been to a political party event. They agreed that the challenge, while keeping their identities as unique groups, was to get to know one other and to organize together to strengthen our collective efforts.
I know firsthand that President Trump is dead wrong that this flood of interest and action is of people paid to protest. It stems from people’s strong feelings of resistance and their determination to make their voices heard.
The key challenge in Michigan and in other states is to strengthen the base of the Democratic Party while actively reaching beyond, and to stand up unequivocally on the issues that have sparked this historic movement in opposition to the new President. And if there are any occasions when there is a reason for common action with Republicans, it must be in the broader context of continuing resistance to the President and to those in Congress who support his agenda.
As we thought the Nixon re-election represented a threat to American democratic values, which turned out to be true, it is now already far clearer that the potential dangers of the Trump presidency are far greater. They could prevail only if we fail to actively use every one of our democratic rights and structures to make sure that the perils of authoritarianism do not capture our beloved America.
U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, represents Michigan’s 9th District.
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