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Note to DFL leaders: The Women’s March shows the path back

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
The Women’s March in St. Paul was the largest protest in Minnesota history. An estimated 100,000 people, led by a diverse group of powerful women, showcased the future of the DFL Party.

As the DFL continues its soul searching, and as the DFL Party and Democratic National Committee elect their leaders after one of the most demoralizing losses in history, Democrats should heed the lesson of what happened across the country on Saturday. But so far, the lessons that party leaders have taken from the election run in the exact opposite direction.

Aaron Klemz

The Women’s March in St. Paul was the largest protest in Minnesota history. An estimated 100,000 people, led by a diverse group of powerful women, showcased the future of the DFL Party. America’s first Somali-American woman state legislator, Rep. Ilhan Omar, fired up the crowd. State Rep. Erin Maye Quade, a woman of color who flipped a swing south suburban district from red to blue, kicked off the march to the Capitol. “We will march to together to the steps of the people’s Capitol … we will show up every day because that is what women do!” Positive messages of love for your neighbors, the power of collective action, and need to come together were the theme of the day.

Diverse crowd, diverse issues

The crowd was as diverse as the leaders, and the issues that motivated the marchers ranged widely. Pink hats, signs defending women’s reproductive rights, rainbow flags, and placards decrying Trump’s agenda of rolling back equality in America were everywhere. Signs expressing concern about climate change, supporting clean water, science and opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline also dappled the crowd. Speakers like Sharon Day got roars of approval in their defense of clean water.

But you know what I didn’t see? A single sign that said “Approve PolyMet Now!” or “We need pipelines!” This was a diverse social justice, equality, clean water crowd. The energy and passion of this march can be a springboard for the DFL as it seeks answers for how to rebuild the party. Instead, DFL leaders are heading in the opposite direction.

In December at the first DFL State Central Committee meeting after the election, the mood was very different. It was dark, angry, rural, male and white, like Trump’s victory. At the beginning of the day, delegates were given a dissection of the election results by party chair Ken Martin that focused solely on losses in Greater Minnesota. His conclusion? “These are rural voters who are Democrats, who are sending us a message to stand up and start listening. This is the message. This is what happened in this election.”

Listening to the wrong message

Following Martin’s analysis, the meeting took up a resolution, twice tabled, against copper-nickel sulfide mining proposals. Despite the DFL Environmental Caucus offering to table the resolution and continue to work to build common ground with sulfide mining proponents, industrial interests led by Rep. Rick Nolan insisted on flexing their muscles and dividing the party. Nolan shouted into the microphone, saying that he spoke for himself, Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz.

“We do not want to our party take a position against mining or agriculture or industry or tourism,” he yelled. Delegates took their cue from their leaders and voted down a motion to table the resolution and then voted down the resolution. After the defeat of the sulfide mining resolution, Martin cast the result in this way: “We’re hearing [rural voters’] voices and clearly they sent a message in the last election.”

In the wake of Trump’s surprising victory, industrial and right-leaning rural interests have seized the opportunity. They’ve made the case that the only way for the DFL to return to the majority is to concede on clean water and climate and tack to the right on social justice issues. They’ve done so by threatening, yelling and cajoling. They’ve used their insider positions and their lobbyists to push an agenda that wasn’t even on the ballot. And if the DFL party listens to them instead of to the record-breaking crowd that assembled on the Capitol lawn, it will do so at its own peril.

A path to loss, and a path to victory

In the immediate aftermath of the election, the DFL’s first impulse was to mimic Trump and embrace the Republican scapegoating of the environment and more. But the political future of the DFL, heck the present, looks more like the diverse throng in St. Paul than the narrow, parochial, largely white interests that shouted down speakers in Lakeville in December. There were more people on the Capitol lawn than all the DFL voters in the three Iron Range State Senate districts combined. If the DFL heads into the 2018 governor’s race on the same trajectory as the December 2016 State Central Committee meeting, it will lose. 

If we embrace the messages of the diverse, positive, pro-environment Women’s March, we have a path to victory in 2018. It’s time for the DFL leaders to listen to the people, and stop listening to the industrial interests whispering in their ears.

Aaron Klemz lives in Columbia Heights.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 01/25/2017 - 08:20 am.

    No way to answer this, of course . . . . . .

    but I can’t help finding myself wondering if all those who attended all those Women’s Marches also came out to vote in November. Because it sure seems as though if they had, we would be seeing an entirely different occupant in the White House these days.

    • Submitted by Howard Miller on 01/25/2017 - 10:34 am.

      One may reasonably suspect …

      …. that the adults who marched the day after inauguration voted in very high percentages, because they got off their butts to march all around the nation. These marchers are not the ones who failed to exercise their franchise – its the people watching life from their couch, taking no action to promote their views … those folks left our republic to the tiny hands of Mr. Trump. Cheery stock price news aside, this is not going to sort out well.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/25/2017 - 01:08 pm.

        If You Look

        At the stock market since March of 2009, you will see that the trend it has been on since the November elections is the same trend it has been on since March of 2009.

        Just sayin’.

    • Submitted by Lyn Crosby on 01/25/2017 - 10:57 am.

      at least in Minnesota

      I watched most of the march as it proceeded from the college to the Capitol mall. I asked probably 25 or more women if they had voted, and if so for whom. All but four said they had voted, and for Clinton. One of the others was not a citizen, and the others admitted to not voting or didn’t answer. Not scientific. And remember, Minnesota went for Clinton anyway.

      So – All? No. But a likelihood of a high percentage. I won’t swear that applies nationwide, but I’m guessing most did.

  2. Submitted by Bill McKinney on 01/25/2017 - 01:26 pm.

    Not so sure…

    I will confess to not having very carefully analyzed the election results, but I’m not sure I agree with the logic here. Part of the reason MN has Dems in all of the statewide offices is because they’re winning very big in the core metro areas and doing OK in the near suburbs. The reason they lost the Senate and lost ground in the House is because they’re losing outstate. I don’t think Dems can gain much by doubling down on the issues that are most important to the people that are already voting overwhelmingly for them. If they want to get back into power in the house and senate I think they either need a path toward winning in the suburbs or a path to winning outstate. I wish I had a good suggestion for them on what such a path looked like!

  3. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 01/25/2017 - 05:06 pm.

    talk about what we agree on

    I agree the Women’s March was an inspiring event, but I also agree we need to be aware of the outstate voters. What the DFL needs is to put back the Farmer-Labor (FL) interests and talk about them. Those include prioritizing education, working conditions, defense and support of unionizing, and infrastructure. These issues are as important to outstate citizens as to cities and suburbs. To do this requires public discussion and comment. and education and reorganizing the party so that we have regular meetings of interested voters at local levels Legislative districts are not the right area for organizing. Legislators go to St. Paul to do their work. The lack of DFL organizing at the local level–county and city or town is as important for cities and suburbs. These are places to elect and groom candidates for higher levels. Simply electing a state central committee of over 600 people will not do the job. This is plain as in some places around the state in this past election NO candidates filed for some local offices.

    Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media, while useful in expressing opinions and organizing marches,, are not conducive to discussion and examination of issues or candidates in depth which is the kind of discussions we need right now if we want a democratic (small d) society and democratic governance.

  4. Submitted by Ann Elward on 01/25/2017 - 08:10 pm.

    Dfl listening sessions

    Had a message on my answering machine tonight from Ken Martin inviting me to attend one of the DFL listening sessions scheduled for the next two weeks. Then he rattled off a bunch of outstate locations and Apple Valley. Seems like he doesn’t even want to hear from urban democrats. I marched on Saturday and I voted for Clinton.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 01/26/2017 - 09:16 am.

    The GOP has all the power in DC

    and have 33 governorships plus more seats in State houses than ever. I remember the TEA party folks holding rallies and the “Right to Life” march in DC but other than that I don’t remember the GOP having marches, destroying public property and closing down freeways. I remember when “the Occupy” movement was the darlings of the left, they were sure this would propel the Dems to power, didn’t happen. BLM was the cause that was going to push the Dems into power for the next 25 years, didn’t happen. With the left it is always a cause, complaint or march that shows unity, when in reality it is jobs, education for their children and safety that folks want.

    I personally am happy that lefties push “cause Du Jour” and completely miss what regular folks want. The left hired a Community Organizer from Chicago who was a great orator and gave a voice to “cause Du Jour” in President Obama. That took them from a super majority (in a reaction to 8 years of Bush) to where they are now, lost, looking for a cause and leaderless….

    An unemployed Class A welder doesn’t care what bathroom a person who has gender issues goes to, he’s not concerned if you have access to free rubbers, he doesn’t care if an illegal alien has a sanctuary city to live in, he doesn’t want unemployment payments, he wants a job, he wants his children to be educated in K-12, he wants to be safe in his own house and in his own country…. Not that complicated .

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