At the risk of getting a little fixated on the subject, this is a great opinion piece by Democratic State Rep. Eric Genrich on how to move the Democratic Party in Wisconsin forward in the face of further losses in the 2014 general election.
So how can we turn the tide and restore our state’s politics to a progressive trajectory that’s in keeping with our best traditions? I think it’s helpful to look back to the history of our party (as John Nichols suggested previously in these pages), specifically to its re-founding, which occurred almost exactly 65 years ago at the Hotel Northland in Green Bay. Here were gathered some of the giants of post-war progressive politics, people like Gaylord Nelson, Pat Lucey, William Proxmire, James and Ruth Doyle, and so many others. They assembled as the Democratic Organizing Committee, an unaffiliated political organization intent on reforming the ineffectual and antiquated Democratic Party of Wisconsin, a party that was more focused on patronage than progressive change.
At the Hotel Northland in 1949 were the three strands that would join to form the future Democratic Party of Wisconsin: former capital “P” Progressives, “sewer socialists” from Milwaukee, and New Deal Democrats. These three groups represented what was best about Wisconsin’s pre-war politics, and here the participants committed to unifying those traditions and forming a modern, progressive, competitive party to do battle with the state’s then-unbeatable GOP. They articulated a forward-looking platform and constitution to guide their efforts, and then they worked like hell to carry it out. Thankfully our party has grown since these early days. It’s far bigger, stronger, and much more diverse, but we can draw real inspiration and guidance from the vision, backgrounds, and selfless dedication of our founders.
Interestingly, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the site of its founding have some something in common — they’ve both seen better days. Thankfully for the Northland and the city of Green Bay, the hotel is in the early stages of a full renovation that will restore it to its former glory. Much of what made the Northland great still remains. Its foundation is strong; its distinctive attributes have been maintained; and its rehabilitation is supported by a strong community of people. Sound familiar? What differentiates the Hotel Northland’s situation from that of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is the presence of a thorough plan and a core group of individuals who are dedicated to seeing that plan through to completion. I don’t say that to criticize our chair or the party staff. I say it to recognize that they cannot do it alone, and they cannot do it without a fresh articulation of party principles that speaks to voters in clearly progressive terms. They cannot do it with a meek and meager economic message that fails to recognize and address the real struggles of working people. To recapture positions of power within our state Capitol we will need the sustained effort and input of every Democrat in the state, especially those of us who have been elected to office, in a shared and unrelenting campaign to express what we want to do, how we would do it, and how it would benefit the people of Wisconsin.