Can the Democratic Party Represent Wall Street and Main Street? (1/3)
TRNN’s Paul Jay talks with members of Maryland Working Families, an alliance of progressive organizations, about class struggle within the Democratic Party and their campaign to fight in the primaries
Paul Jay: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. One of the things we want to do on The Real News is become a platform for people getting organized to change the world. So there’s all kinds of ways to do that, whether it’s fighting on the front of climate crisis, or whether it’s fighting for the interests of working people, or whether it’s fighting for more democracy, people getting organized to change and to fight for people’s interests, we think, is news. The mainstream news thinks it’s only news if you happen to be a contender for the White House. In fact, the mainstream news even ignores most members of Congress, unless you’re in the inner circle of power brokers, for example, a John McCain, who represents the military industrial complex. He gets lots of face time. But most people could never name most of the senators, probably even senators in their own states, especially congresspeople in the House.
At any rate, we think people getting organized are making real news, and so that’s what today’s show is about. We’re going to introduce you to Maryland Working Families, which is an alliance of organizations that have gotten together to fight for progressive public policy in Maryland, and they endorse candidates, and we’re gonna get into all of that now. So, first of all, joining me, number one, is Mark McClaurin. I hope I’m pronouncing it right. He’s the political director for SEIU, and SEIU local 500 is one of the members of Maryland Working Families. Also joining me is Charly Carter. She’s the executive director of Maryland Working Families. And joining me is Rebecca Mark. She’s a Baltimore organizer for Working Families Maryland, and Dante Bishop. He’s the policy director for Maryland Working Families. Thanks you all for joining us, and thank you for making time for this.
Before we get into just what the heck Maryland Working Families is, tell us a little bit about yourselves. Just quickly, where you’re from and how you got involved, and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Mark, why don’t you kick it off?
Mark McClaurin: Sure. Well, I’m originally from Connecticut, born and raised in Connecticut. Came to Baltimore for high school with my family. But I’ve always really been involved in progressive organizing on a host of issues. I started off organizing national HIV prevention efforts across the country in New York, and then my first real job was working for United States Senator Barbara Mikulski. And Barbara Mikulski was the quintessential … She was the first democratic woman elected in her own right, and she was the quintessential community organizer. She was really the first true … She was the Obama before Obama. She was a true community organizer. So I learned most of what I know about community organizing from working for her. Then I’ve progressively moved on to other organizations, and I’ve been with SEIU for seven years.
Paul Jay: Great. Let me go to Charly.
Charly Carter: Sure. Well, I’m originally from upstate New York, a town called Rochester, which is very much like Baltimore. In fact, for a very long time, 30 years, the Rochester Red Wings were the farm team for the Baltimore Orioles. So I grew up loving Baltimore. But I came to work here a little over ten years ago to represent service workers for Unite Here, and one of the first things I saw about Baltimore when I was taken on a tour were empty warehouses, and warehouses that now make up high end residences that have been rehabbed. And the person who was giving me the tour said, “I used to have 30,000 workers who used to work in that building. They worked around the clock.” And then she took me to a building across a waterway, and she said, “There were 20,000 people who worked in this.”
And all up and down Falls Road, there were all these mills that used to employ tens of thousands of Baltimorans. And she talked about how all of those jobs had disappeared, and what was left were the families that were struggling to hang on, that maybe those good union jobs that paid a good salary allowed them to buy a home, and now they were just struggling to hang on to that home.
Paul Jay: Tell me what that meant for you, and then, but why being an organizer? ‘Cause that’s a political choice, a life choice. I mean, most people, they’re trying to rise, get a better career, get a better house, get a better school.
Charly Carter: Yeah.
Paul Jay: I’m not saying you’re not interested in those things, but wanting to be an organizer is something specific.
Charly Carter: Well, I grew up in a household headed by a single mom, and she worked very hard. She became a nurse, joined a union, actually became a union organizer for SEIU, and provided me opportunities to leave poverty and to leave our poor community, and instilled in me the importance of education and for grabbing opportunities. And I can see, when I walk through the streets of Baltimore today, the thing that differentiates me from any of these women are the fact that I had an opportunity. And so, that drives me to make sure that we are fighting for policies that give equal access to opportunities for everybody.
Paul Jay: ‘Kay. Rebecca.
Rebecca Mark: So, I’m from New York, and came to Goucher College, where I studies psychology and communications. I got involved with mental health advocacy first, through my psych thesis. Did a lot of work around crisis response systems for people having a mental health crisis. In New York, even when I was in school on and off working with the [inaudible 00:06:18] Art Collective doing kind of art situation based mobilizing efforts. Then it happily came along with this, and have been working as the Baltimore organizer.
Paul Jay: Same question, though. I mean, wanting to be an activist, wanting to be an organizer, that is not a choice that necessarily leads to great riches and a comfortable life. So at some point, there’s something that helped shape you that you make such a choice.
Rebecca Mark: Yeah. I think also it is opportunities. It was kind of, how do you want to spend your life? How do you want to spend your time? If I was working another job, I would be talking people’s ears off about these things, and then too tired afterwards to go work on it. But I’ve experienced a lot of … I think I got in through my mental health advocacy. Because I experienced a mental health crisis, and was treated pretty unfairly, but I think I came out of it because I’m a white woman, and that was a turning point for me. Going through the legal system, trying to just navigate for my health and stuff. But seeing how much easier it was for me to get through than my peers, and you don’t forget about that. So in any kind of form, whether it’s art, which we have brought into working families a lot, or whether it’s regular organizing tactics, I like to bring people together, just ’cause we got to do it.
Paul Jay: Cool. Dante?
Dante Bishop: Sure. I’m from Prince George’s County, Maryland, where I currently live. I graduated from Morgan State University, which is in Baltimore. I’ve been with Maryland Working Families a couple years, but my organizing experience started with Prince George’s County Young Democrats, Do More Baltimore, which is an arts and advocacy non-profit that works to combat community apathy. Prior to being with this organization, I worked with Senator Joanne Benson in the state legislature working with issues of foreclosure and increased invested and after school programs.
I’m inclined to this work and have remained committed because community apathy, seeing it long term and consistently, is something that’s really disheartening for me, and I’ve come to understand the power people really have when they vote in masses and when they’re civically engaged. And you know, I want to help people understand that they should be taking advantage of that power. And then also, I’ve worked in different aspects of the Maryland General Assembly, and so building that bridge, connecting those values of civic engagement, understanding your power, and then legislative pursuits of progressive policies, are just my passion. So that’s why I do the work and how I’ve gotten involved.
Paul Jay: Why? Why is this your passion?
Dante Bishop: Personally, I just want people to understand and I want to help people understand, and I want to be a part of the force that pushes people to know their power in the voting booth. And so, that’s my personal motivation.
Paul Jay: Well, a lot of what you do is connected to voting and the electoral process. Mark, why Working Families Party, and why not just doing this within the Democratic Party?
Mark McClaurin: Well, I think-
Paul Jay: And how important is the Democratic Party in what you’re doing?
Mark McClaurin: Sure. Well, I mean, especially in the context of Maryland, Maryland is, despite our governor, predominantly democratic state. So the majority of the action, politically, is going to be in the Democratic Party, Democratic primaries. And so, we tend to focus our energy on the primaries, because that tends to be the difference between a more conservative business oriented Democrat or a Democrat that really is attuned to the interests of working families in their district and across the state.
Paul Jay: Charly?
Charly Carter: Yeah?
Paul Jay: The whole attitude towards the Democratic Party is sort of a major issue right now within the whole progressive community across the country. My take on it is the Democratic Party, like the rest of society, there’s class structures within them. And there is an oligarchy in the Democratic Party. Sanders talks about it, but we didn’t need Sanders to talk about it. There’s an oligarchy in the party that’s part of the overall oligarchy. And then there’s a big part of the party which are working people and unions, and there’s a fight there, as there is as in a class struggle, if you will, there’s a struggle goes on in the party, and which class is this party going to represent? Some people say you cannot turn the Democratic Party into something that doesn’t represent the oligarch’s, ’cause they control the money. Others say you can, and Sanders waged this big fight. Where does Maryland Working Party … I’m sorry, Maryland Working Families, not a party, and we’ll get into that in a second, where do you come down on this fight?
Charly Carter: Well, I think one of the core, fundamental, driving principles of Maryland Working Families, and the Working Families organization, is to drag the Democratic Party back to its roots, progressive roots.
Paul Jay: Now, I hear that a lot.
Charly Carter: Yeah.
Paul Jay: When was that?
Charly Carter: Well, the Working Families Party was founded about 20 years ago.
Paul Jay: No, no, I mean when was it that the Democratic Party had progressive roots?
Charly Carter: Yeah, well, I think-
Paul Jay: ‘Cause I hear that all the time.
Charly Carter: Yeah. Yeah.
Paul Jay: “Bring it back. Let’s go back to being the People’s Party.”
Charly Carter: Yeah.
Paul Jay: When was that?
Charly Carter: I think, you know, I grew up in the party. I grew up in the Democratic Party. And I’ve been an activist in the Democratic Party since probably 1984. And at that time, it was a much different party than what we see now. It was much more focused on working class people and the issues that they faced. It was much more about social justice and economic justice. And I think that the party took a turn in 1992, when, with the election of Bill Clinton and the proliferation of the DLC, the Democratic-
Paul Jay: Leadership Conference.
Charly Carter: -Leadership Conference, which was the Blue-Dog wing of the party. And we have seen, since that time, the party drift increasingly to the right. I don’t think that the base of this party, which remains working people, I don’t think they drifted along with the party. I think that, as we have seen more money, money becoming much more significant in elections, that we’ve seen elected leadership in the party tacked toward the influence of that money. But the core of the Democratic Party, which remains largely people of color and largely women, they haven’t changed. Their issues haven’t changed. In fact, they’ve been squeezed. And I think it took someone like a Bernie Sanders to really shine a light on that.
Paul Jay: So, what was the process in Maryland Working Families? And let me just make clear for everybody, ’cause I’m not sure if I stated it clearly enough, Maryland Working Families is an alliance of different organizations. For example, CASA In Action, which is a Latino group, SEIU local 500, UFCW local 400, SEIU 1199, SEIU 32BJ, is that part of it, something called Communities United. So it’s an alliance. It’s not like the New York version of Working Families, which is both an alliance and a party that actually runs its own candidates. Here, Maryland Working Families endorses certain candidates, but the main battleground is primaries in the Democratic Party. And you try to get progressives to defeat right wing Democrats.
The reason I push a little bit on this issue of the roots of the Democratic Party is that, when I was suggesting in the beginning that there’s this class structure, even during the days when the Democratic Party, even during Lyndon Johnson and so on, when there was more effort on the social policy side, the justice side. A lot had to do with, first of all, Democratic Party was the party of the Vietnam War with Kennedy and Johnson, and you had a massive civil rights movement. So the party kind of, in a sense, to save the system, had to give some concessions, but was that not still part of the agenda of that section of the oligarchy? Dante?
Dante Bishop: So, I’m glad we stepped back to the fundamental question about what we do, and to be clear, we are a grassroots, independent political organization fighting for a government that represents the values and works for the needs of Maryland Working Families. Broadly, we achieve these goals by developing, electing candidates who share our values, that’s been said, organizing issue campaigns to move progressive legislation, and building a movement of working families to hold our leaders accountable. So we’re in the political fight.
What we’re speaking about now was just this shift of the political center. I want to reiterate some things on that. We definitely aim to combat this trend of our country’s sort of political spectrum or political center consistently and steadily moving rightward, because we think it’s clear that today’s conservatives lack respect for the Republicans of Ronald Reagan’s era, for example. So even further back then, 1992. So we need to reorient the center, because people are getting more and more confused about what counts as a balanced approach, what’s “too liberal” or “too progressive.” For example, it’s this confusion that causes a Democratic controlled Maryland state senate and house to take five years to pass modest paid sick days legislation. It causes trends of this misguided corporatism among too many of our Democrats and Republicans, when the commitment should clearly be an investment of social development and a prioritization of family supportive policy. So we’re unabashed in challenging the status quo among Democrats, and we’re trying to reorient the center a bit in a more appropriate line.
Paul Jay: Rebecca, this fight kind of focused, or came into focus, on whether or not people would endorse, people in the Democratic Party, or [inaudible 00:18:09] party circles, endorse Hillary or Bernie. And it became a very sharp fight. Even now, there’s Clinton forces that accuse Sanders, even continuing now, when there’s talk about primarying corporate Democrats, which you all, is essentially your agenda, are splitting the resistance, which Hillary and others consider themselves part of.
Rebecca Mark: Yeah.
Paul Jay: And that you shouldn’t focus on corporate Democrats. You should just focus on Trump, and frankly you should just focus on Russia, and that should be it. And they consider you, that kind of activity, essentially your program, as divisive. How do you answer that?
Rebecca Mark: Well, that’s a really good question. I think there is a divide, if you want to talk about the resistance of … And we’re happy to have everyone who’s here, the people who have been turned on to resistance efforts post-Trump. Obviously, the more people power the better. But there is some fundamental things that kind of need to be explain, and it’s not everyone’s job to explain it, but in my world that’s something that we try to do, really questioning what are they here for, why are they inclined to be involved in resistance work now. And then when people say that they … I’m referring to these kind of corporate Democrat types, or people, the Hillary fans. When you ask what are they here for, and then they’ll start talking about Russia, they’ll start talking about these larger federal issues. You have to ask, “Where are you … How are you involved with your city? How are you involved with your state? Do you know what’s going on with the quality of life for your neighbors right around you? Do you … Essentially, not where were you before. We’re happy that you’re here now, but where were you before?”
And when people’s focus, if we’re all coming together and we’re standing in these … Working Families has helped on a Resist Here movement, where people for the first hundred days of the Trump administration would do rallies outside of their local senators’ offices. We did that as well. You know, there’s these questions of why don’t we just focus on federal things, or why isn’t Russia the main focus, and we’re saying that there’s … One of the things we do at Working Families, and that completely ties into our resistance work, is connecting the dots between all these different issue areas of racial justice and economic justice and environmental justice and social justice. All these things, really drawing the connections in terms of what are the forces holding people back and what can we do to lift each other up. What we’ve been doing with that, one of the ways that we’ve been trying to combat that, is to connect people, to educate them about the history of work in Baltimore, connect people who want to be involved, who want to make a difference in their communities, to organizations that have already been doing the work for a long time.
Paul Jay: But I want to zero in on this fight in the Democratic Party.
Rebecca Mark: That’s right.
Paul Jay: Mark-
Rebecca Mark: Yeah.
Mark McClaurin: -I want [crosstalk 00:21:35] if I can-
Paul Jay: Let me just phrase the question to you first.
Mark McClaurin: Okay.
Paul Jay: SEIU endorsed Hillary Clinton.
Mark McClaurin: Totally so.
Paul Jay: And the argument was, only Hillary could beat Trump. At least one of the arguments.
Mark McClaurin: Whose argument was that?
Paul Jay: Well, most of the union leaders I talked to were saying that was the primary reason. ‘Cause if you look at the values of Sanders and the values of Clinton, in general, the values Sanders proposed in the election was closer to most of the union movement, wasn’t it? Isn’t that the case?
Mark McClaurin: Well, I want to push back gently against this narrative-
Paul Jay: You don’t have to be gentle.
Mark McClaurin: -that’s developed.
Paul Jay: This is The Real News.
Mark McClaurin: Against this narrative that-
Paul Jay: This is a no gentle [crosstalk 00:22:16].
Mark McClaurin: -seems to be developing that it’s the oligarchs and the Clintons, and then the working class and the Sanders folks. And that’s just not true. Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be the Democratic nominee in 2016 without the support of hundreds of thousands of working class folks across this country.
Paul Jay: Well, same goes for Trump. Trump got lots of working class folks.
Mark McClaurin: Right, no. But what I’m-
Paul Jay: That doesn’t make him not an oligarch.
Mark McClaurin: No, but what I’m saying is, in the Democratic Party, in the Democratic primary, there were hundreds of thousands of Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton, who are working class folks. And I think what we have to be careful about suggesting is-
Paul Jay: But did the SEIU locals-
Mark McClaurin: -that they don’t recognize what’s in their best interest when evaluating presidential candidates. I think working class folks, and this is part of what is the problem sometimes with the Sanders narrative, is that you don’t respect the autonomy of working class people, people, by and large, who are black and brown. I mean, Hillary Clinton got the Democratic nomination on the back of black and brown folks, many of whom are working class folks. They could read. They can write. They’re sentient beings. They determined … I mean, you could say that it was all about electability, but I don’t necessarily think that that’s the case. They looked at those two candidates, and decided who they wanted to carry their banner through the election.
Paul Jay: Okay. But the same argument goes for the working class votes for Trump. They’re sentient beings. They can read and write.
Mark McClaurin: Right. To a certain … Right. To a certain extent. But what I’m saying is that-
Paul Jay: Well, not to a certain extent.
Mark McClaurin: Well, I mean, of course they’re sentient beings and they can read and write. Well, hopefully most of them can read and write. But the point I’m making is that some of the arrogance that comes along with … If you are a working class person that supported Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, then somehow you really didn’t know what you were doing.
Paul Jay: Okay, so you don’t agree with what Charly said, that the 1992, the Democratic Party starts to drift right with the ascendancy of the Clintons.
Mark McClaurin: Not necessarily. I mean, I don’t think it’s that linear. I think that the party has jerked back and forth several times, depending on figures. I mean, how do you put Barack Obama in that narrative?
Paul Jay: Part of the drift to the right. Absolutely.
Mark McClaurin: Okay. So you see Barack Obama as a continuing drift from-
Paul Jay: I asked you earlier, do you support-
Mark McClaurin: -so to the right of [crosstalk 00:24:35]-
Paul Jay: -Medicare for all? Barack Obama handed the hearings on affordable health care over to Senator Baucus from Montana, who didn’t allow a single speaker to come to those hearings and propose single payer.
Mark McClaurin: Sure.
Paul Jay: Obama fought even a public option. It was a reluctant thing, and in the end gave up on it extremely easily.
Mark McClaurin: Right. Well, but I mean, there can be-
Paul Jay: So yeah, no, he’s part of-
Mark McClaurin: -the argument that politics is about the art of the possible, and that there were never going to be 218 votes for single payer in the House of Representatives, no matter what you did. But you can disagree with that assessment, but that was the assessment made, right or wrong. I don’t think anyone, at this-
Paul Jay: But it would have been nice-
Mark McClaurin: -on this side of the table-
Paul Jay: -if somebody used the presidential bully pulpit to at least advocate for it.
Mark McClaurin: Certainly, to a certain extent. That’s absolutely true.
Paul Jay: Okay, well, we don’t have to have the Obama debate right now, ’cause I’m kinda interested in what happens in the Maryland Working Families when you’re deciding. You have very different views here on the role of the Democratic Party, Democratic Party leadership. You’re talking about getting the party back from the corporate Democrats, and Mark is essentially saying you shouldn’t be calling them corporate Democrats.
Mark McClaurin: I don’t think that’s what I said.
Charly Carter: Well, I don’t think that’s-
Paul Jay: Well, what are the Clintons, then?
Mark McClaurin: I don’t think it’s easy to pigeon-hole people as certain types of Democrats. There are some folks that are great on economic issues and they’re horrible on social stuff. There are Democrats that are horrible on social stuff, great on-
Paul Jay: But isn’t it more a class question? You had Democratic legislators in the Maryland Assembly who proposed a law that would overturn cities trying to get a $15 minimum wage.
Mark McClaurin: Yes. Preemption. We talked about that. That’s-
Paul Jay: But this is from the Democratic Party. This is a class question, not just some personal opinion of some particular legislator.
Charly Carter: I think that it’s clear, when they say the Democratic Party is a big tent, that that is in fact true. And even here in Maryland, as much as people say it’s a blue state, that there are many different shades of blue. We happen to represent the deepest shade of blue, I would like to say. And then there are those who are more on the purple end of the spectrum. And I think that the very purpose of Working Families is to challenge Democrats who do think … There’s an argument that’s not just in the Democratic Party, that you can’t serve two masters. You cannot represent both Wall Street and Main Street. And our job is to make sure that we are electing and-
Paul Jay: But do you agree with that? That you can’t represent Wall Street and Main Street?
Charly Carter: I do believe in that, because I think that corporate interests are to make money. And I think that there’s a certain extent that you want corporations to be a success, but it can’t be done at the expense of working people.
Paul Jay: But isn’t that … That is the Sanders/Clinton division. Sanders says you can’t represent Main Street and Wall Street, and the Clintons say you can. And isn’t that a fundamental difference? But you’re saying the Clintons don’t say that, essentially.
Mark McClaurin: No, I think that you can.
Paul Jay: You can represent both?
Mark McClaurin: You can represent. I mean, you have to have an interest. Look, as a union member, as a union, nobody is more interested in the strength of businesses than a union. If I go to the bargaining table, and I demand a raise that means it bankrupts the company, nobody wins by that equation. I have an interest in a business being strong and healthy, absolutely. But I also have an interest in insisting that a strong and healthy business treat workers with dignity and with respect, both with regards to pay and with regards to job security, with regards to job safety, with regards to a whole host of issues that we bargain around. So I guess I don’t accept this dichotomy that you have to either decide that you’re in favor of Wall Street or you’re in favor of working people. I reject that that being-
Paul Jay: So what do you think? He’s essentially rejecting what you just said.
Charly Carter: Well, I think that what we can agree on is that you cannot continue to further the interests of, corporate interests at the expense of working people, and at the expense of Main Street. And I would agree with Mark. We want the business community to do well, because we want them to continue to employ people. But guess what? The business community in Maryland, the business climate in Maryland, is doing extremely well. What’s not doing extremely well are so many of the working families who are really struggling, whether we’re talking about the eastern shore, whether we’re talking about western Maryland, whether we’re talking about Baltimore or Prince George’s, even Montgomery County, one of the richest counties is the country, has an incredibly large and concentrated pocket of poverty.
Paul Jay: Okay. We’re reaching half and hour. We’re gonna pick this up in a part two.
Charly Carter: Okay.
Paul Jay: Because this idea that the business community should do really well in order for working people to do well was Donald Trump’s election campaign. That was the message of his election campaign. So we’re gonna have a part two, and Mark can jump all over me, and I hope not [crosstalk 00:29:57].
Mark McClaurin: I wouldn’t dream of it.
Paul Jay: Join us for a part two with Maryland Working Families on The Real News Network.