I have struggled with how to get across the need for more focus on grassroots community-building in the Democratic Party in recent years after the "enthusiasm gap" killed Yes We Can, but I came up with a simple focus today: we need to get rid of our bullies in politics not just our schools (see www.thebullyproject.com)
Bullies set up party structures and lead in a fashion that keeps new people, including so many interested in politics after 2008, from coming back and building our movement to win in the future. They represent the vast minority but we let them tear us down when we don't confront them.
For example, in 2008, after I started the first real campaign office hours for Virginia For Obama during the primary as Volunteer Database Coordinator, was asked by current White House adviser Michael Strautmanis to follow up our huge Iowa Caucus Party of 300+ covered live by WTTG-TV with a Super Tuesday Party that raised $5K for the campaign and then served up a team of volunteer organizers for the staffers at the East Falls Church office one week before the primary...how was i thanked?
I was kicked off the Arlington for Obama steering committee by a control freak named Kevin Vincent.
It was a contentious primary and some folks were upset at how I took over the Arlington Democratic HQ with volunteer events and as my role grew the complaints about neatness etc. seemed kind of frivolous compared to the pressure I felt as an unpaid leader thrust into a huge responsibility over hundreds of volunteers during 12-hour days before the OFA staff arrived.
But Kevin was relentlessly un-supportive from the beginning and eventually fabricated a story about how an accidental meetup.com posting was intended as my attempt at creating a competing group....TREASON! So I was banned without recourse.
I was too embarrassed and upset to fight back as not many people who had influence had the guts to stand up for me....and it hurts to this day.
I joined the campaign because I love Obama's message and was fighting for REAL change....and one jerk ruined all I had achieved by ostracizing me.
I would soon focus on my own grassroots groups Generation Obama-Washington, DC and now mostly Network For Progress as I realized that party politics was mostly not for me. I was more interested in campaign politics (specifically "grassroots" campaigning) where we "Respect. Empower. Include."
That leads to Saturday, when I decided to run for DNC Delegate in the 8th Congressional District in Northern Virginia. I figured that I had still collaborated with many Northern Virginia Democrats (mostly young dems) in recent years and was pretty well-known as an active Obama organizer so representing the party at the convention as an experienced ambassador for the party beyond the inner circle crowd was an asset.
I didn't win but there were so few slots that only the most plugged in people did and I didn't mind. But the only major feedback I received made me wonder why I tried at all. Thanks to our Arlington Delegate Alfonso Lopez.
To give you some background, Alfonso is well-known for his beside manner. Our first conversation occurred when I attended my first Arlington Young Democrats meeting in 2004 and he complained to me that I brought volunteer sign up sheets from the Rep. Moran-Kerry campaign office, where I was a volunteer coordinator, that gave people options on helping besides those designated for HIS group to volunteer together.
I mentioned to him that people might want to volunteer during other times than HE had suggested and he eventually relented by telling me "OK, go ahead and flack it." as if I was a used car salesman trying to sell people a "lemon" or something.
In fact, I was the kind of hard-working YOUNG DEMOCRAT volunteer that his group needed to recruit not abuse for trying to get support for our congressman and presidential candidate.
We haven't talked much over the years but like clockwork he took the time to intimidate me when I took on roles as Arlington Democrats' Vice Chair of Precinct Operations, Arlington Young Democrats President and Virginia For Obama Volunteer Database Coordinator.
And I could observe his disregard for people at Arlington Democrats meetings where he is known for standing in the back of the room and having conversations while people are speaking....which sends a terrible message to new attendees trying to listen.
Anyway, despite my issues with him, I didn't actively support his primary opponent last year and tried to respect his leadership that included serving as Virginia Liaison to the federal government under Governor Kaine. I also respected how he often made the case for strong community-building in our party by talking about how he found his wife and his job because he joined and became President of the Arlington Young Democrats and owed the group so much.
So, I used that story in my speech about the importance of a "big tent" party and relationship-building on Saturday....and ironically this was highly offensive!!!
After the speech, he used his trademark "waving of me over to him" move so I feel summoned by the King. He gave me a disapproving look then said that I should have mentioned the shout-out to him first and that me bringing up the story probably "hurt your campaign."
Giving YOU a compliment hurt MY campaign??? Is this a joke? No, it wasn't.
Now, I understand the etiquette in letting people in the room know they're going to get a shout-out in advance, but I also think the surprise of getting a shout-out is great too...and in this case why would I want to talk about my speech in advance with a guy with no relationship skills whatsoever?
And not only was my eventual Alfonso interaction awkward, it was even more offensive than I could have imagined.
How exactly would this hurt my campaign exactly? Did you tell everyone not to vote for me because it was an "unauthorized" shout-out???
If I can't even compliment you then I can't interact with you at all....I think my new motto is "if I can't even kiss your ass without being ridiculed you aren't worth my time."
How appropriate that a speech about the importance of a "big tent" party leads to condemnation by one of the biggest culprits of ripping apart the tent and setting it on fire.
So, this is an open letter to Alfonso and all the insecure manipulators in our party who would rather boss people around than win elections and grow our community....apparently being "Fired Up & Ready To Go!" is a threat to your roles as useless bureaucrats.
Politics is much more boring your way anyway so you might as well be known for making friends than enemies.
These are the people we truly can't negotiate with....let's finally get rid of the bullies in our party because we can argue policy but you can't argue basic human decency.
I would rather be liked than feared....and our side will win in the end so remember that YES WE CAN AGAIN!
That is what I learned in 2008 and our party needs to learn again in 2012.
This resonates with me because I realize if I had a weaker spine after I met Alfonso, and especially if he stayed president beyond 2004, I would probably have never become involved in the young democrats and led so many great initiatives that he could take credit for as a fellow Arlington Democrat in the years to come. Most people don't have the time for this kind of B.S. though...and we lose them every day.
Who are your political bullies? Feel free to share your stories....anonymous or otherwise.