If you read this newspaper, you’ve most likely walked past the storefront on West 231st Street bearing the name “Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club.”
Above the metal gate, there’s a sign naming local elected officials. Perhaps during campaign season, you’ve spotted a few people gathered around a folding table under the fluorescent lights.
But if you passed on the night of any recent meeting, you may have seen the club at full capacity, with members spilling onto the sidewalk. You may have wondered, “What’s up? Why the crowd?”
The Democratic Party — our entire political system, in fact — is at a turning point. We are at risk of losing our footing as fractures spread among Democrats who support somewhat different candidates with somewhat different platforms. The bottom line is that there is far more that unites Democrats than divides us.
That is the truth that we must hold tightly in our hearts as we face the fight of our lives in 2020. Our democratic system hinges on active participation, and if we don’t use it, we definitely will lose it.
Ironically, one of the challenges we are currently facing is how to manage abundance in a system that was built to address scarcity. These growing pains are part and parcel of promising to be a “big tent” that can expand to welcome all who seek a political home. How can we bring those members from the sidewalk into the room?
This is a moment of extraordinary opportunity for our part and our club. In 2020, people don’t show up to political meetings to sit passively. There’s a previously unseen appetite for engagement among unprecedented numbers of Democratic volunteers. That enthusiasm has brought an explosion of new groups and movements organized at the most local levels, but with national reach. Indivisible groups abound, Huddles have been formed, and progressive candidates welcome the energy.
Democrats across America are raising their hands to do the work. Our big tent is being pulled in many different directions, and long-standing structures that have sustained the party need to adapt.
The Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, founded 60 years ago, is our local “tent” where Democrats have gathered to hash out concerns and concentrate efforts to maximize their impact. In this critical moment, we need for our club to be the biggest tent it can be — flexible enough not to break under the pressure of diverse points of view as our party evolves to meet new challenges.
It’s certainly no secret that we are facing some very serious challenges, and every Democrat must rise up to do the work.
More Democrats are knocking doors, circulating petitions, and hitting the phones than ever before. We are stepping up to the challenge, which is wonderful news for Democratic clubs that want to mobilize for maximum impact. Grassroots organizing is at its peak, and local clubs can seize this moment to become hubs for unified action.
Recent Ben Franklin Club meetings draw so many participants that they overflow onto the sidewalk where members have a tough time joining the conversation. What’s the solution? We can’t turn away enthusiastic volunteers just because our institutions were built for a time when fewer citizens were engaged. That way we have a diminished club, a diminished party, and inevitably, diminished impact. We can’t afford it.
To meet the challenge of 2020, our party and club need to grow in every sense of the word. So how do we bind our coalitions together? How do we avoid breaking into camps and disintegrating when what we need is to pull together?
I’m raising my hand for local unity. As a teacher, a mother, a spouse and a volunteer. I know how challenging it is to hold a group together without stifling dissenting voices when the stakes are high and feelings are intense. Every community’s survival relies on members finding points of agreement. They are always there to be found, if we are willing to truly listen to one another and treat every voice with respect.
Because this is my vision, I am raising my hand to lead the Ben Franklin Club.
The future of the Democratic Party relies on long-standing institutions like the Ben Franklin Club being fearlessly responsive to a broad array of new voices. Our club’s value lies in a collaborative process, where issues that matter to our members are explored so that we can strategize and take effective action together. Because members commit most deeply to those efforts that line up with their own concerns, Democratic leaders at every level must tune in and listen very closely.
I am a true blue Democrat. I care profoundly about my community and about the larger world my children will inherit. I am a mother who is a worker, a patient who is a caregiver, and a discerning consumer who is a passionate activist. But most importantly, I am a speaker who also listens.
Our club can best serve our party by amplifying the voices of people like you and me. Just as the Ben Franklin Club is our local link to the Democratic Party, it is also the Democratic Party’s link to us, the people they are charged to represent. Communication is a two-way street.
As club president, I will humbly seek member support for my vision for 2020 and beyond, which hinges on expanding our membership base and deepening member engagement was we devote ourselves to defeating Trump, flipping the Senate, and moving toward a Democratic super-majority in our state legislature.
I am asking you to join me at the Ben Franklin Club to get to work. My hand is up. If you’re with me, please raise yours.
The author is seeking election as president of the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, challenging current president Michael Heller for the leadership role.