LTE: Divisible Iowa

It’s a Big Enough Umbrella, But It’s Always Me That Ends Up Getting Wet

Lurking on pages related to progressives and Democrats in Iowa is a hobby I’m so very familiar with, it’s become a never-ending argument between more establishment Democrats and Progressives on these pages. It’s obvious there is a gaping divide in the party that became even more pronounced after the 2016 election cycle. Some in these group pages get angry about using labels but it’s hard to identify these things and talk about them if I don’t. There is a big umbrella when you come to the left wing but there also seems to be less and less room underneath it.

These arguments usually come up if the discussion heads in the direction of where we want to go as Democrats and how we win in 2018 and beyond. It’s a generalization, but there seem to be two camps: those who want things to stay the same and those who want giant change in the Party. In the past I’ve been a Democrat first and a progressive second but that changed in the last few years. I would say that now I’m a progressive first and a Democrat second and some see that as blasphemy. Some folks take any talk about what went wrong very personally and resort to name calling. When Senator Sanders was running, he highlighted the fact that this economy isn’t working for everyone and people feel like politicians are not representing them. I was one of the people that responded to that message and was grateful to go and volunteer for his campaign. After watching the same thing happen election cycle after election cycle, I was glad to have a reason to not feel so apathetic about our political system.

Being a longtime fan of Bernie and his activities in the Senate, I was thrilled when he decided to run. More old-school Democrats saw this as a challenge to the party from an outsider and rejected him. The only problem is that they also rejected people who wanted what he wanted and the momentum he created in the party, including brand new voters, Independents, and people like me who have been a registered Democrat for a long time but have never been more inspired to work for a candidate.  More than once I’ve been told that Bernie and “Berniecrats” are not welcome on these pages. There’s been a lot of bullying going on in these pages, adults telling other adults to get off the page and “don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.” Many are demanding that people be unquestionably loyal to the party and the decisions made by the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), even on pages that are supposedly non-partisan and “Progressive.” Any criticism of the way the DNC handled the primary or of the way they  presented us with an establishment candidate results in accusations of disloyalty or of Hillary bashing. They don’t want to hear what we have to say and they get really angry about it.  I have seen this kind of thing happen daily. Saying, “bye Felicia” to prospective voters and people who really want to support the party seems counterproductive to me but there’s a lot of tension and anger apparent in these threads, name-calling and threats on pages that are supposed to be about working for common goals.

Never was this more apparent than on the Indivisible Iowa group page. Admins are overwhelmed trying to keep track of what’s going on with over 9,000 members and a lot of them are new to managing a Facebook group and don’t have a lot of extra time in their lives as it is. They don’t want to babysit these “grown ups” who can’t get along. My experience has been that a lot of the negativity and nastiness and threats come from people who want us to forget about the past and move forward. I have pointed out to these people time and again that I don’t feel like we can move forward with confidence unless we take care of some of the glaring issues that caused us to lose so terribly in 2016 and I’m not the only person that feels that way. I try to post these as questions to be less confrontational but I have found no matter how I address it ends up making people angry. Example: “Do voters trust Democrats? Do they feel like we are not influenced by corporations?” I think that that is the difference between progressives and neoliberals. I have commented, “You want us to work for the status quo but the status quo is clearly ineffective.” in threads when they try to force feed us unity. This seems obvious to me and other Progressives on the pages but others regard us as disloyal or as traitors for expressing our views.

A lot of these discussions end up as nasty fights and many times I’ve seen the admins delete entire posts because of all the fighting. I left the page because it seems like these threads get deleted because they want the conversation to stop. It gets ugly, and I understand that, but this conversation is not going to go away just because people want it to. A few days ago a fellow state delegate posted a screenshot of fundraising material that was sent out by the IDP and the possible protest of it at the Fall Gala.  I actually tagged the admins in this conversation where we were being called idiots and people were verbally abusing us for talking about protesting at a fundraiser for the IDP.  We’ve been told to do this in the past after other posts were completely deleted so that the admins don’t have to wade through miles of conversation to find the problem. My issue was that the admin became angry at us instead of the bullies. She made assumptions about us and told us these were worthless conversations, told us we needed to get out and work (assuming falsely that we don’t), and that we are entitled because we could waste our time having these conversations. Then out of frustration, I assume, she deleted the entire post instead of addressing the verbal abuse that had been going on. I wrote a post on the page and questioned this action. Most of the admins didn’t even have a chance to see what had been posted and what the conversation was about. I was told that the post was deleted because it wasn’t “actionable” but I have screenshots that beg to differ. It seems like the people who are getting bullied are being blamed for getting bullied and the bullies themselves are not being addressed. In the past, I have not seen this result in any instructions being given by admins as to this conduct other than in the original pinned post talking about verbal abuse. Some of these folks need a reminder on how to behave if they are resorting to name calling and personal attacks. I sent the entire group of admins some of the posts that were concerning and the reaction to us of one of their admins that I thought was inappropriate because she “killed the messenger” instead of addressing what we tagged her for in the first place. One admin told me that they don’t want people to have these conversations on the page. They call the conversation divisive.

I liken this to racists on the right who accused Obama of being the problem when racial tensions arose.  They say they want to focus on fighting Republicans. I happen to think that learning from our mistakes is a good way to fight Republicans.  Making sure that voters can trust us in the next election is a good way to fight Republicans. I guess I have a different way of being an activist than some people because even though I make phone calls and write emails and work inside the party, I also think having this discussion is a good thing. Change usually does not come about without conflict. I’m not looking for a fight and have deliberately toned down my rhetoric so that I am not responding to personal attacks or getting upset when somebody provokes me, but we are still getting attacked verbally. These people are very frustrated that we do not shut up and go away. Their bullying is not any more effective now than it was when they tried to bully people into voting for Hillary out of fear in 2016. It’s my goal to not go away and to continue to have this discussion until I either have to leave the party in disgust (which I already chose not to do after the primary) or some reform can happen in the party. I recommended that if they don’t want these conversations to happen that they put it in their pinned post and that way no one will be upset or feel censored if the entire post or thread is deleted. They want to redirect these conversations to other pages but I think that the conversation is going to happen over and over again no matter what we do. There is actually a Facebook group just for people who have left the Indivisible Iowa page or who have been banned because of this issue.

The original post was by a person who was frustrated that the IDP was having a Gala fundraiser where there were levels of rewards for donations. If you can donate $5,000 a year you get to be in the “Century Club” where you get two front and center seats at the annual fall Gala, two tickets to the VIP reception, and an invitation to a special dinner featuring party leaders. There are five other clubs until the lowest tier of “Activist’s Club” where for an annual donation of $120 you get one seat at the annual fall Gala and one ticket to a reception. Only the people that donate $5000 year get to go to that special dinner featuring Party leaders. It couldn’t be more obvious to us that people with more money get more influence. Obviously, there are folks who get a better spot under the umbrella than others. Does the leadership of the IDP understand what is going on with working class people in the party? The people that have the most influence are affected least by the problems Iowans are facing. We’re not even talking about corporations here, that’s a whole other issue.

A group of people protested this function last year and I plan to join them this year. People were angry that we were criticizing the party and accused us of not wanting the party to be able to raise funds. I think the point is that the party could raise funds without being so obviously classist. These people don’t seem aware of how much respect there is for Senator Sanders because he was able to raise so much  from individuals in small donation amounts.. Instead of looking at his success (despite all the obstacles in his way) and taking advantage of the momentum, they are rejecting the idea that voters want to be able to trust the Democratic Party. People are tired of watching their representatives make choices that don’t seem to make any sense unless you factor in the influence of money. For people who are so desperate to win elections, they don’t seem to be open to the ideas that might bring in more voters and open up more room for everyone under the umbrella.

I would be relieved if we could get past the arguing and do some critical analysis of what went wrong and how we can fix it but we are coming up against a wall of denial that is as thick and as entrenched as the neoliberal establishment itself. I know that I won’t give up and I see others who are staying strong through this because they really do care about the party and want to make it better. I hope we can bridge this chasm before the next election cycle. Progressives have to be stubborn and keep having this conversation and not let them bully us into going away. I encourage my fellow Progressives and Bernicrats to keep our side of the street clean and not get sucked into personal attacks, etc because it makes our message less effective. It’s frustrating at times for all of us because the argument can pop up anywhere online and in person, but I think we can do it if it means things will be better down the road. I have been trying to be patient and tone it down more so that my message stays clear and strong even though it seems like it’s already taken way too long.  I don’t know if there is a middle ground somewhere in that deep chasm, but I hope so.  I really do; because both parts of this divided party want the same thing. We just have different ideas of how to get there.  The umbrella can easily fit us all.

-Eva McBride


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