I was so proud to be a member of the Vermont Democratic Party State Committee on Saturday when Faisal Gill, a Pakistani-born Muslim-American was elected Interim Chair. Over the next few months the VT Dems will need our new Chair to hold the big tent of the VDP together.
Out-going Chair Dottie Deans, while thanking the committee and staff for their hard work in her remarks, also issued an impassioned plea for the committee to stick together in spite of disagreements. She mentioned some tough conversations about issues like renewable energy siting that have split the committee in the past. The biggest challenge now will likely come in the form of keeping disillusioned “Berniecrats” active within the Vermont Dems.
Faisal Gill won the election for Chair in a race against Nick Clark, who was very active for Bernie during the 2016 primary and has been an avid organizer of progressive Democrats and the founder of the Upper Valley Young Liberals. During the campaign I was personally accused of “exclusivism and elitism” for supporting Gill over Clark by one Upper Valley Young Liberal. I spoke with several of Nick’s supporters after Saturday’s election, and urged them to stay involved. I heard “I think I’m done with the Democratic Party after this.” from one UVYL member. “We need a change and this is just more of the same top-down elitism.” From another UVYL supporter, clearly frustrated with the State Committee’s 31-7 vote for Gill. He said “It’s like no one in the Vermont Democrats gives us any credit for what we’ve done, except the occasional mention.”
It will be a challenge to keep these passionate, progressive Democrats in the fold for the 2018 election cycle. Frankly, their expectations of the VDP are unrealistic. Change comes slowly, and the State Committee has activists and organizers that have been with the party for decades who are skeptical of any new faction asserting authority. However, I agree that the VDP is an institution that could use new blood (including relatively new voices like Faisal Gill).
My advice to the UVYL is this: Keep working with the Vermont Democratic Party. Get on your Town and County Committees, seek the change you want from within. People will welcome you and listen to you, but you also should listen to them. Learn what works and doesn’t work in political organizing and demonstrate your value helping candidates you can support get elected to office. This party sent at least one of your members to the DNC as a delegate. We may not have voted for your candidate for Chair, but you’re not being ignored. We want you and we need you. I want your voices at the table, but I’m not ready to hand over the gavel to you yet. Politics and party-building are about compromise. If your strategy is all or nothing, you aren’t going to accomplish anything.
The election of Faisal Gill is great for the Vermont Dems. It’s a powerful message that we reject racial and religious discrimination. However, I think that Faisal’s commitment to organizing, fundraising and herding cats at State Committee meetings is impressive on its own and he’ll be great. He has big shoes to fill, but I’m excited to see what he can do to get us ready for what’s likely to be a crazy election cycle next year.