How should a Democrats Abroad chapter
of several hundred people be run?
by Eric Jackson
A political party in a democracy is different from other sorts of organizations. It’s not a for-profit business, nor is it a charitable organization. It’s neither a religious congregation nor a military unit. It’s not the mafia. It’s not a media business. Skills learned from all such pursuits have been useful for – and the bane of – all sorts of political parties in all sorts of paradigms. (If General Omar Torrijos famously referred to Manuel Antonio Noriega as “my gangster,” suffice to say that this may have been politics but it really wasn’t in a democratic setting.)
But the Democratic Party, specifically an overseas chapter of the US party that currently holds the White House? There are peculiarities that ought to be taken into account, good examples to emulate and bad ones to avoid, but most especially we need to take into account the political math behind the US two-party system.
The one-round, first-past-the post, single-member district system of electing the US Congress makes American political parties different from those in other places. WAY different from places with parliamentary systems based on proportional representation. Also different from places with similar election systems but much sharper regional or ethnic divisions — like those, for example, that give rise to the Scottish National Party in the UK.
The two-party system in the United States means that each party is a coalition of groups with core beliefs that would each be a separate party in a lot of other systems. If we are to look north to Canada, it might reasonably be said that the Democrats in the USA are akin to a coalition that includes those who if Canadian would be Liberals, Greens and New Democrats. Except that the basic Canadian English / French divide doesn’t really exist in the USA, while the legacy of slavery makes the Black / White divide the most important of many ethnic facts in US politics.
Coalition politics that work are not an identity checklist. They have seats at the negotiating table for different constituencies. They temper rivalries with respect. For a 500-some-member group like Democrats Abroad Panama, it will always be a much smaller activist base to mobilize and harmonize, but proper leadership always seeks to expand the group of active people.
On the global level, Bernie Sanders won the Democrats Abroad primary with 57.9 percent of the vote. In Democrats Abroad Panama, out of 164 votes cast Biden got 73, Sanders 56, Yang 27, Bloomberg 4 and a bunch of other candidates got one vote apiece. A lot of other Democrats who live abroad and are members of Democrats Abroad vote in the primaries or caucuses from the states where they vote instead of in the DA global primary. Essentially the entire party in Panama voted for Joe Biden in the general election, with different parts of the small activist base working for the ticket in different ways.
There were, sadly, some folks who carried the primary divisions unsubdued into the fall campaign, and to this day. Our country chapter bylaws say that for the campaign season we should have expanded the board to bring in more members, including Sanders and Yang supporters, to bolster our unity. However, this was not done.
So what does THIS activist draw from all of this?
It’s that pluralism, more encouragement and opportunities for participation and the coordination of skills and desires rather than one size fits all orders are key parts of an effective leadership style.
You want to get involved? Great! What do you want to do? What are you good at doing? What would you like to learn how to do? In general, this is what our party organization has to do – so where might you fit in? Or might you do something outside of that box to advance the cause? And by the way, to which causes, campaigns or communities do you connect? Is there something you might do there?
Such are the questions that a country chapter leader should be asking members. The information needed to answer them without the need for any such interrogation needs to be made easily available. And a good leader will do his or her homework to reach out to and welcome Democrats who will have different answers to these questions.
Get into old age and seek to maintain control? Over the longer term, a fool’s mission. Seek to groom a leader just like one’s self? Wasn’t that Hugo Chávez’s last and worst mistake?
But THIS activist wants to finish a term of service, then step back to leave a more cordial, pluralist and talented local Democratic Party, a generation that has more, better and vetted by the membership choices among them for the next cycle.
Eric Jackson, who has run The Panama News for more than 26 years now and has served Democrats Abroad Panama in various roles, is running to be chair of the organization. Anybody running for any elected post with DA Panama – even against the editor! – can consider The Panama News a proper forum to post what she or he has to say about it. Let’s have some public discussion that for good or bad reasons can’t be had in other venues. Send your campaign stuff to email@example.com with whatever graphics you will use as jpg attachments. If you want to do video or audio, we should be able to work such things in.
Contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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