Last week made clear that Bernie Sanders won’t be the Democratic nominee. But a meeting of the Democratic Platform Committee in Washington also made it clear that the Vermont senator will wield considerable influence over the party’s future.
The primary season developed into a fight for the future of the Democratic Party, with Sanders channeling the concerns of many younger, liberal voters, and Hillary Clinton often associated, rightly or wrongly, with her husband’s policies and those of the Democratic establishment.
But as the primaries and caucuses have wound down, the mechanisms that will determine the party’s future — and the extent to which Sanders campaign influenced it — are shifting into gear. A group of 15 is drafting the party’s 2016 platform and is holding hearings to hear from a cross section of America. The first was held this week in Washington, DC. Another is coming up in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 17 and 18. After the hearings, but before the Democratic National Convention in July, the Platform Committee will put together a document outlining what the party stands for in 2016.
Thanks to Bernie Sanders, the makeup of this committee has a more activist bent than in years past. Sanders was offered the opportunity to place five people on the committee, and chose veteran activists, including climate crusader Bill McKibben and academic and author Cornel West.
Clinton chose an additional six of the committee’s members — many of whom, The Nation’s John Nichols notes, also are quite progressive. The other four were chosen by Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. One of Wasserman Schultz’s picks is committee chair Elijah Cummings, the deeply respected Maryland congressman who endorsed Clinton in April but advised her to pay closer attention to the ideas Sanders has been advocating.
The Washington hearings featured enlightening and often provocative discussion — 13 hours’ worth. So we’ve pulled for you a handful of highlights:
Sister Simone Campbell: We cannot have business as usual
The first to testify was Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice lobbying organization NETWORK. She called on the platform drafters to think big-picture, and to reflect on the anger we’ve seen during this election so far.
“I urge you to not do platform business as usual. Please spend more time on the bigger picture. Understand what is happening in our nation. See the anger that is tearing our nation apart. Take in the toxicity of racism… Take in the toxicity of white privilege that has at its core the wrongful notion that whites are better, and can triumph in individual isolation. Take in the fact that this unpatriotic lie of individualism is generating anger, fear, division and tearing holes in the very fabric of our society.”
Cornel West and Eric Holder discuss getting tough on Wall Street
Former Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the committee on criminal justice reform, an issue also touched on by many of the other speakers, and one that the Democratic Party will likely place front and center. But Cornel West took the opportunity to ask Holder how the party could better make sure financial crimes are punished.
Cornel West: “Some of us believe that there is not an equal application of rule of law to Wall Street as opposed to Main Street. When you look at market manipulation, insider trading, predatory lending, fraudulent activities — how can we insure as we write this platform that we have some serious law enforcement when it comes to Wall Street or other places, not out of a sense of revenge, but out of a commitment to justice?”
Eric Holder: “… I think that people were critical of my Justice Department for not going after Wall Street… if we could have made those cases, do you think we would not have? … One of the things I said as I left the Department of Justice is that there needs to be an examination of the standards of proof that needs to be met in connection with these economic crimes cases and whether that standard of proof is too high.”
Fawn Sharp: America needs to catch up on indigenous rights
Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, described how America lags behind the rest of the world in how we treat our native communities, and has avoided agreeing to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
“Countries around the world have embraced what we believe are fundamental principles that are absolutely necessary in the relationship that we should have with the United States. In 2007, 144 at the UN General Assembly passed and approved the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Four countries opposed it: Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. The three countries that opposed it with the United States reversed the decision and now support it… From our perspective, we need to not only embrace the declaration, but three critical issues inside the declaration. I think we need to do [this] in the coming years.”
Roxana Orellana: Will America continue to welcome immigrants?
Immigration activist Roxana Orellana, an undocumented immigrant living in America with one child who was born here and two who were not, discussed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the US policy that allows undocumented immigrants who came to America as children to receive a work permit and avoid deportation. Expansion of the policy was suspended pending a ruling from the Supreme Court. Also interesting: Committee member James Zogby’s recollection, following Orellana’s testimony, of his father’s own journey to America as an undocumented immigrant.
“The life in America has not always been easy. There have been many tough times and we have suffered many injustices. Undocumented people like us do not enjoy many of the protections that citizens take for granted. There are no laws that safeguard our well-being and we are often exploited as a result. You can work for an entire month and have no recourse when you don’t get paid. You can suffer from a terrible disease, as my husband did in his struggle with colon cancer and painful chemotherapy, without being able to take a single day off work or a vacation day to recover. But for us, we simply persevere. We do whatever it takes to give our children the future they deserve.
“…In this upcoming election, the issue of immigration will be front and center. We have the Democratic Party, whose goal is to knock down all those barriers that our families are still facing today, like mine, and to fight for the rights of millions of people to live with dignity and follow the American Dream… The very fate of my daughter and my family is at stake in this election, as for millions of others as well. So I ask God to give us the strength as a country to overcome the anger and the division instigated by people like Donald Trump and unite us under the great legacy of this country inscribed in the American seal: e pluribus unum — ‘of many, one.'”
Sabrina Shrader: Change how we pay for college.
Sabrina Shrader discussed growing up in poverty in McDowell County, West Virginia — among the poorest regions in the one of America’s poorest states — and how the high cost of education has affected her struggle to escape generational poverty.
“Poverty is not families’ or childrens’ faults, but the policies in our country and the way we treat low-income families as a society says differently. Living in poverty is a continual punishment. Water is not clean. Food is unhealthy and homes are not safe. I wholeheartedly agree with Sen. Sanders, who says it is wrong that in such a rich country we have one of the highest childhood poverty rates. Education and a living wage: That struggle continues for me to this day. Even though programs and people helped me to get this far, I still have more than $30,000 in loans to pay and it has been eight years since I earned my bachelor’s degree, and my bank account is seriously empty. The Democratic platform should include Bernie’s [plan] to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. Other countries do this and so should we.”
Michael Smith: Fix trade deals that send jobs overseas.
Michael Smith was among the first of some 600 employees that will be laid off from a Nabisco factory in the Chicago area that is moving to Mexico — not because it is unprofitable, but because labor is a fraction of the cost abroad. Smith warns the committee that his family is a victim of NAFTA, and urges committee members to consider the consequences of trade deals on American workers.
“I believe in America, and I’m proud to live in America. But the America that has given corporations the right to produce products across the border, overseas, and then return those products that were once produced by American workers for sale in the very communities suffering from the corporation’s decision — that displaced me — is failing me, my family, our co-workers, our communities and the very essence of America’s future. Those that choose to close their eyes to the personal devastation of job loss in our country and only count us as numbers fail to realize the impact of corporations that hollow out the essence of America’s economic vitality.”