Old Guard Democrats and New Activists Meet, with a Scuffle, at Party Gathering

Sam Pernick, chair of the Young Democrats of Michigan, is shoved to the door by a labor caucus member as other activists try to intervene. From video by Curtis Greene.

After last month’s disastrous election, a new generation of activists, many of them backers of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, are hoping to reform and reinvigorate the Michigan Democratic Party, which has suffered defeat after defeat in recent years despite Michigan’s onetime status as a Democratic stronghold.

The activists turned out in force to the MDP meeting in Westland on Saturday, where members of the MDP’s State Central Committee elected delegates to the Democratic National Committee. The response they received, however – including a physical altercation at the event – suggests some of the hurdles they face in reforming the party’s structure of leadership.

As the MDP meeting opened in Westland City Hall, a group rallied by the Young Democrats of Michigan marched through the building’s lobby chanting “Whose party? Our party!” The activists, mostly younger, had gathered in a show of support for Detroit native Keith Ellison, a key Bernie supporter, in his bid to chair the Democratic National Committee – succeeding Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who stepped down this past May, under fire for tilting the DNC in favor of the Hillary Clinton campaign during the primary.

However, when the group entered the hall where the meeting was to be held, they found it occupied by the MDP’s powerful Labor Caucus, which, unbeknownst to the group, was still meeting in a closed-door session before the general meeting.

Labor delegates confronted the first members of the group to enter the hall, shoving Sam Pernick, chair of the Young Democrats of Michigan, a dozen feet back to the door.”You guys are coming into a private meeting!” someone yelled, as other activists tried to shield Pernick, responding “We have every right to be here!” After a struggle, the demonstrators were forced back into the lobby, where they broke into chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” (Video by Curtis Greene here.)

In many ways, the scuffle was a fitting analogy for the condition of the Michigan Democratic Party itself. Long dominated by the state’s powerful labor unions, and the United Auto Workers in particular, the party has increasingly struggled as its traditional base in labor has declined. Republican control of Lansing has brought humiliation after humiliation for Michigan’s once prosperous unions, most notably the passage of Michigan’s “right to work” (for less) law in 2011. Yet the union leadership’s continuing lock on the party has also made it difficult for new grassroots leadership to find a way in. Continue reading “Old Guard Democrats and New Activists Meet, with a Scuffle, at Party Gathering”