COMMUNITY VOICES | A party insider’s take on the Minneapolis DFL Convention

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*The following post reflects my own opinions and has not been revised, approved, or endorsed by any campaign, committee, or party officer.

Last summer I was asked to run to fill a vacant director spot on the Minneapolis DFL Executive Committee. I had never attended a city DFL meeting, but I knew it would be a great way for me to get more involved in citywide politics this side of the river. After a brief speech to the Minneapolis DFL Central Committee, I was asked instead to run for the vacant role of Outreach Officer. I don’t know how long the position had been vacant, but the only other person who volunteered to run for an Executive Committee role was uninterested in being the Outreach Officer. I said, “OK,” and I was elected with the Central Committee understanding I was new to Minneapolis politics but willing to learn and work hard. I’m not sure where to find a definition of “party insider,” but I’m assuming being a member of this Executive Committee makes me one.

I will be the first to point out my imperfections. I struggle daily to balance my self-employment, family, church, and volunteer obligations. Sometimes a paycheck takes priority over political activism, and other times I’m able to attend a different event every night of the week. As idealistic as it sounds, I truly believe working with the DFL is one of the best possible ways to make this state a better place. Our caucus and convention process allows any resident to participate in the endorsing process, ask for support on a specific issue, or nominate someone for numerous committee openings and ballot spots.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard or read about the Minneapolis DFL Convention on Saturday, June 15. Several opinion pieces have been printed and posted, one of which called for someone to defend the DFL. Again I find myself in the position to say, “OK,” and respond to a few of the most common critiques:

Party politics is complicated.

The Minnesota DFL Constitution identifies certain processes and rules all party units need to follow, and the Minneapolis DFL Constitution adds some additional rules pertinent to our city. These documents are available online at dfl.org and mpls.dfl.org, but I find them cumbersome and difficult to read. (For the record, I am a native English speaker with 29 years of DFL experience.) The sections of the DFL constitution identifying goals of transparency, accessibility, and inclusion are stuck between paragraphs of legal language identifying things like the number of delegates and alternates electable to each convention or committee and outlining the proportional voting process by which delegates and alternates can (but do not need to be) elected. This is ALL important information–we can’t have an endorsing convention without delegates. However, handing a copy of the DFL Constitution to a new volunteer is not an effective way of sharing this important information. I don’t know how to fix or simplify this, but I appreciate and recognize the need for evolution.

Party insiders control the process.

This is a common critique after any caucus or convention cycle, and it’s true. Party insiders do control the processes, but what is a “party insider”? In my experience, party insiders are rarely the power-hungry individuals portrayed in many editorials. Party insiders are those who, like myself, have given thousands of hours of unpaid labor to a cause in which they believe. We step up to the plate when we are asked. We give up work, family, and social commitments. We help new activists and new residents find a place in the political system. We are human beings. In fact, we are always looking for people to fill open positions on committees. You, too, can be a party insider.

The <insert party unit name here> convention rules weren’t fair.

OK. So let’s change them. At the beginning of each caucus or convention the attendees or delegation is tasked with approving the agenda and rules for the event. In my experience the pre-convention rules committees are made up of representatives from different campaigns, and each committee member proposes rules that could potentially benefit their chosen candidate. Some of these proposals make it into the convention rules and some don’t. Any delegate can move to change or delete any part of the rules or agenda. There is no grand scheme by party insiders (see above) to rig the rules to make everyone miserable. There is, however, an awareness problem–a problem I think we can fix. The proposed rules should be more accessible, and every delegate should know just how much power they have to change the rules.

The <insert party unit name here> convention took too long.

This one really gets my goat. At the most recent Minneapolis DFL Convention, the delegation was tasked with considering endorsements for twelve seats, one with six candidates running for a single position. There were nearly 1,500 delegates from 117 different precinct caucuses run by 117 different people with 117 different ways of filling out paperwork. Volunteers spent thousands of hours getting credentials ready for the ward and city conventions, and some came from outside of the city to help their neighbors take part in the political process. We digitized the registration process, had interpreters available in five languages, and had an assigned seat for each delegate. The Minnesota DFL has a paid staff of 16 and fewer delegate spots than our city convention. We have a paid staff of 0. If you wish the convention had run more smoothly or finished more quickly, please remember this information the next time we ask for convention volunteers.

The past several months have taught me more than I ever expected, and the list of things I don’t know is longer than it’s ever been. For each item on my list of things to improve for next time, there are at least two inspirational moments to remember. I live in Ward 6, and I had tears in my eyes at the end of our convention. I hung out in the Convention Center green room with my Senator. I shook the hand of our Secretary of State and thanked him for a job well done. I lunched on Congressman Tim Walz’s famous hotdish. Our biggest problem has been having so many people want to be involved, and I’ll take that over apathy any day.

If you would like more information about how to be an elusive party insider, I’d love to get together and talk about it. You can reply to this post or tweet me @ellencanderson and we’ll set up a meeting. Minneapolis DFL Central Committee meeting dates are always posted online at mpls.dfl.org and facebook.com/mplsdfl. They are open to the public, and are sometimes even fun. We are facing an amazing opportunity right now, and I have so much hope for the growth of our party. While no change happens overnight, we have had myriad learning experiences from which we have already made improvements. If party insiders are really controlling the process, imagine what can happen when 1,500 of us come together.

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