FREE SPEECH ZONE | Why I Did Not Caucus with my party (DFL) on February 2


The next years are going to be about mediocrity, broken promises, and striving for second best. That’s not the MN I grew up in. And it’s not what I voted for, or was promised.

Do we continue as part of a political institution that we feel in large part is not serving us or the common good, or do we strike out towards something that we can participate in with integrity?

For as l-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-n-n-g as I can remember, certainly ever since the obligations of getting an education, serving in the military, getting established in a career, and starting to raise a family were completed, I have attended my party’s (DFL) precinct caucuses. It’s a habit, born of a middle school teacher’s planting the seeds of activism deep in my heart, becoming radicalized in college at the feet of the good Jesuit fathers at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and my church’s (St. Joan of Arc) nurturing of that commitment to activism in pursuit of peace and justice. From those many precinct caucuses, I’ve often gone on to serve as a delegate to county and district conventions and as associate precinct chair. The first Tuesday of February in even-numbered years comes and, like a Dalmatian at a fire, as soon as the bell rings, I’m there.

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But this year it is different. I’m angry; I feel betrayed; I feel that my continued association with the DFL is coming at the cost of losing more and more of my political integrity; I feel I’m being taken advantage of, valued only for my time (to volunteer in fundraising) and treasure (to donate), never for my political position. I see my relationship with my party as an abusive one, and I’ve grown to the point where abusive relationships just aren’t that much fun anymore!  

Congress and the Minnesota legislature haven’t passed one solid piece of what can reasonably be called progressive legislation in recent memory. On the national level, there’s the $1.3 trillion tax cut that benefits mostly the very wealthy; the Bill of Rights-shredding Patriot Act; rigged tax loopholes and looser accounting rules for corporations (a specialty of the Clinton White House); NAFTA and WTO, which were permission for corporations to screw working people and the environment world wide (again, products of the Clinton Administration); the Homeland Security Act that suffocates American freedom; two ever-expanding wars; and a health care reform debacle. Locally, we have the abuse of unallotment and the balancing of the state budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens: veterans, the aged, people with disabilities, minorities, the poor, and the homeless.

All of this has been with the explicit support and encouragement of Democrats. As Jim Hightower explained in his book, Thieves in High Places, “The sad truth is that none of George W’s (or Tim P’s) agenda would be hanging around our necks without the complicity and often the direct support of national (and local) Democratic leaders. They’ve ditched the Red Wing boot bunch and thrown in with the wing-tip crowd, going all wobbly on the whole concept of why America needs a Democratic party.”

For example, as Les Leopold writing in AlterNet asks,  “Where’s the Progressive Agenda for the Great Recession? ( It’s been AWOL thus far.” And Cenk Uygur, writing in the Huffington Post, imagines “for a moment a world where the Democrats proceeded from strength. Here is how the health care debate would have unfolded instead (” Marianne Williamson, writing in the Huffington Post, says, “We elected Obama and then he sort of became someone else. He’s doing a lot of good things in various areas, but he’s certainly not changing the new bottom line: that corporations get to run the world.”

And locally all the Tweedy Bird-like DFL has been able to do is complain about the big, bad puddy-tat governor, all the while enabling him to beat up on ’em! John Van Hecke, Minnesota 2020 Fellow, in an article “The Minnesota Legislature’s Hegel Problem,” (, argues that State DFL legislative leaders seem determined not to express a contrasting vision (to Pawlenty’s unrelenting ‘no new taxes’ mantra), focusing instead on procedural strategy.”  And they even failed the procedural battle at session’s end! Senate Finance Chairman Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said that “while Pawlenty has proven to be a stubborn and wily adversary, ‘we (DFL) allowed this to happen.'”(“DFLers call Pawlenty ‘stubborn’ on his cuts” Star Tribune | MN,

Which leaves me wondering, with Marianne Williamson in the Huffington Post, “Where Does A Democrat Go From Here?”

“Clearly,” writes Chris Hedges in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “the left has lost its nerve and its direction (” He argues that, “If the left wants to regain influence in the nation’s political life, it must be willing to walk away from the Democratic Party, even if Barack Obama is the (president), and back progressive, third-party (officials) until the Democrats feel enough heat to adopt our agenda. We must be willing to say no. If not, we become slaves.”

But that’s easier said than done. Saying “no,” to the party of my extended family and one I’ve been a member of all my adult life, is hard for me, like it’s hard for a partner in an abusive relationship (which my relationship with the DFL clearly has become) to walk away from it. For the longest time I struggled with trying to reach a decision: do I continue to be active in my party or not? It never was, or is, a question of not being politically active in consort with others, whether in a party structure, church, activist organization, and/or other structure. The question was, “Do I continue with the DFL Party?”

Then a dear friend and fellow activist came to my rescue.

As I wrote back to her: “You’ve pretty well summed it up for me: ‘Do we continue as part of an institution (political, religious, whatever) that we feel in large part is not serving us or the common good, or do we strike out towards something that we can participate in with integrity, but might not have the power or critical mass to be effective.’ We sure as hell can’t be any less effective than we are in the DFL. As I wrote, ‘Congress and the Minnesota legislature haven’t passed one solid piece of what can reasonably be called progressive legislation in recent memory.’ And not only have they have not passed progressive legislation, they’ve been complicit in, and directly supportive of, the exact opposite!

“The present day DFL party is not the party of my grandfather, the party created by Floyd B. Olson, or the party of Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Eugene McCarthy, or even Paul Wellstone. It’s a GOP Lite fundraising juggernaut. I don’t believe the DFL can be changed from within. Progressives have been trying that tactic, too, with no noticeable results. And doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the poster-child definition of insanity. It has to be changed from without. Dammit, something has to give pretty soon and the DFL can’t make it happen.

“For me the only thing left is to strike out in new directions. And although my new options may not on the surface have the power of critical mass, the fact that someone could participate with them with integrity speaks of eventual long-term success.”

And so I took the first step in that thousand mile journey last Tuesday (Feb 2), a step away from the DFL. To where I’m not sure, but at least my vision is no longer limited by blind devotion to a dead party that forced me to compromise my political integrity as the price of participation. In the words of the Johnny Nash tune, “I can see clearly now,” all the many other options for serving the causes of peace and justice in consort with others. “It’s going to be a bright, bright sun shiny day!”