To catch a wave you have to be looking for it. The Massachusetts Democratic Party’s annual convention last weekend was one place to find some forward motion in our state’s political pond. The question is: What is causing the wave? An answer could be found by looking at who was there on Saturday, listening to what were they talking about, and asking: What do they want?
The presence and leadership of Dorchester people at the Democratic Party’s annual state-wide convention in Worcester was impressive and, more importantly, indicative of a rising wave of energy moving through the state. On one hand, Dorchester’s Ward 15 party committee members worked the First Suffolk delegation as tellers. And, of course, the ever-present chair of the Ward 17 committee, Joyce Linehan, was the mother hen of the delegation. Nor was anyone surprised to see Ward 15’s Sandi Bagley and Charlotte Golar-Richie on stage addressing the entire convention about party charter matters and education scholarship awards.
The real story of the convention, though, was what was new. You had to watch the action on the floor. Picture a field of tall grass swaying in the wind, except for trails of grass-tops moving out of sync with direction of the wind. One of those creating these wayward trails was a young resident of Dorchester, Jared Hicks, who is among the most eloquent and active members of a movement called Our Revolution Massachusetts (ORMA), a descendant of the Bernie Sanders campaign that is, in turn, part of an alliance with Progressive Massachusetts (and its Dorchester affiliate) and other progressive organizations.
ORMA et al. transformed the convention from a snoozer to a vibrant venue for an exchange of ideas. This was an “issues conventions,” the place where the party platform is developed for the next year’s elections for the Legislature, statewide positions like governor, as well as congressional and presidential elections.
These issue conventions are traditionally the “inside baseball” debates that only the devotees of parliamentary procedure truly enjoy. Not so this year.
ORMA and the Progressives brought to the floor for debate 17 platform and state party charter proposals that not only stirred imaginations but also, and more importantly, stirred the fire in the bellies of delegates. When the clock struck 10 a.m., all 17 proposals had more than enough signatures to bring them forward for debate. Such a thing had never been done before.
And look at who was in the hall. Of the almost 4,000 delegates – the largest-ever turnout to an issues convention – more than 1,300 – the largest number of new delegates ever – had never attended a convention until this year. These were young people looking for a place to fight back against Trump. Few of them had ever been politically active.
To longtime activists like the former head of MoveOn.org/Boston from Ward 16, Neponset and Popes Hill, add the newbies, more wayward trails in the tall grass, from ORMA and Mass Progressives and then add them to the core Democratic Party base with its majority of old salt attendees.
Finally, append the messages from the featured speakers, especially Congressman Jim McGovern and US Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren. The latter two just about tore the house down. The crowd was on its feet cheering and applauding so loudly by the end of Warren’s speech that the only way her last four sentences could be understood was by reading them off the big-screen subtitles.
Their message spoke to the hearts in that crowd: Fight for the values of Massachusetts against the values of the Trump administration. That was what people were hungering to hear.
Markey said that Donald Trump is the greatest organizer for the Democrats. But it’s not just for Democrats. Groups are forming spontaneously across the state in opposition to the president. A while ago, someone posted notice on the Nextdoor Neighbor/Dorchester site about a meeting for those looking for “something to DO,” and 20 people showed up on a cold winter night.
There are plenty of people across the state creating their own trails in the grass; they are “mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore.” They are looking for targets in 2018. In our blue state, that limits the faces in the bull’s eye to one man, Governor Baker.
Cynics speculate that organizing for an “issues convention” is a flash in the pan, a poor use of energy that is not transferable, that will peter out. I bet Charlie Baker is looking at those wayward trails in the grass and taking notice.