fresh voices from the front lines of change







I first met Keith Ellison soon after he came to Congress in 2007. We were beginning the push for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. Ten years ago it was already clear that collective bargaining rights in the US were at the bottom of global democracies and many Democrats saw the link between bargaining and economic inequality.

Keith Ellison jumped right in, creating and funding his own radio spot promoting the Employee Free Choice Act, just weeks after taking office. He didn’t ask for credit or funding support he just did it.

Keith has been leading ever since, as co-chair of the progressive caucus, a great advocate on economic, racial and environmental justice. Keith offers us a unique opportunity to support a DNC chair that is an organizer and a leader. Voter turnout in his district is among the highest in the nation. As a key supporter and surrogate for Bernie Sanders he travelled the nation building support not only for Bernie but for a renewal of Democratic Party populism. He then campaigned just as hard for nominee Clinton and has been on the road ever since boosting democrats across the nation.

This election was a clear signal that Democrats and Independents want change not continuity. President Obama is beloved but there was a clear message that Democrats need a populist agenda that shouts out about new opportunities, clearly supports manufacturing jobs not just training, and opposes giant corporate trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Keith Ellison is the perfect messenger and chief organizer for these times. Tom Perez was a great Labor Secretary but he represents continuity for the same White House operatives that have run the Democratic Party for the last eight years. This is not about blame but enough is enough! We cannot be certain of Keith’s success but we can be certain that new voters and those we lost want real change.

We can’t blame Tom Perez for the TPP but everyone knows he campaigned for it.

The real question is why would Tom run against the front runner Keith Ellison? Divide and conquer politics inside the Democratic Party has resulted in a loss of vision and an inordinate focus on fund raising. I have been on the DNC for 12 years and discussion and debate have been pushed into a corner with assumptions that all the real decisions are made somewhere else.

Its fine if big donors like Haim Saban want to oppose Keith Ellison. But frankly if this party continues to listen to those donors instead of voters in the industrial towns, the farm communities, the inner cities and everywhere else that voters are fed up, this party will be nothing more than a Republican Party with some social conscience.

But it makes no sense that Tom Perez would run a campaign where he starts with that donor base and others that represent more of the same. It makes no sense that Tom would challenge Keith Ellison. Tom is likely to talk about a broader message and unity, but we all know that the White House staff and others in the Party that are supporting him are doing so to keep control and oppose real change.

Of course Tom will bring a lot to this debate. But for those of us that have been battling for real change for decades, we know which side we must be on. We will stand with Keith and ask that millions of Americans across this nation stand with us.

Larry Cohen is the Chair of Our Revolution. The above was originally published at The Huffington Post.

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