Editor’s note: The following is a Guest Editorial by Graciela Blandon. The El Paso Politics welcomes and encourages submissions from the community.
For years, the County’s Democratic Party has existed as a shadowy figure to the average El Pasoan voter. I mean, at 19 I’d consider myself a pretty politically oriented person and even I didn’t know who the County Chair was until a month ago, nor do I know what the local party actually does. With a limited digital and field team, Democratic Party organizing has happened mostly within its own ranks, often neglecting popular engagement and recruitment. It’s important to cite a lack of outreach effort to establish why the local party has been run only by what members call “the usual suspects”: a small group of socially tied El Pasoans who have proved loyal and whippable to party leaders. This shortcoming in coalition-building is particularly true of youth engagement. When young El Pasoans are in need of political solidarity and support, it is not the Democrats that they go running to. You need only to learn that most county party communications are done through Email to see how there may be a bit of a disconnect between senior party members and the rising generation.
On the other hand, the new chapter of The El Paso Young Democrats has been able to foster political participation among a talented number of young El Pasoans thanks to the executive board’s digital savviness and their robust political ideology- an ideology of steadfast populism and critical support. The operative word here is critical. El Paso’s youth, whether associated with EPYD or not, finds itself in a city where elected officials have failed us at every level regardless of party. We have grown up knowing the truth that greed is bipartisan. Lying is bipartisan. Lack of ambition is bipartisan. Betrayal is bipartisan. These fatal flaws have left us with a shell of a world to inherit papered over with rhetoric to make it more palatable. Thus, one finds El Pasoans under 35, my friends and I included, pushing for unapologetic public discourse, because power has never given anything up without a fight.
This strategy and its associated tactics- vigorous community debate, courage to confront allies and enemies alike- is not at all unique to EPYD (in fact, I’m of the opinion that this particular organization has an extremely long way to go before transforming into an influential democratic arm of the people), but has been pioneered by activists fighting for the border and the barrios for decades. But youth-led revitalization of popular critical civics has caused a fracture in the local body politic. Established elected officials and their enablers have considered themselves safe from the mass accountability of a party as long as they ran on the ticket line and maintained a positive public image (often through platitudes, friendships, and favors). The campaigns borne from this past election cycle have revealed that no one is protected from being voted-out by the community, regardless of their truisms or political affiliation, if they have not provided a record of consistent advocacy for the least of us.
This sudden deviation from the status quo did not go over well with long-time Democrats. Suddenly, there were extremely vocal coalitions loudly criticizing the party, but this time they weren’t Republicans. Essentially, the line has been drawn in the sand between those who are calling for unity and those who are inconveniently calling for progress- those who have time and again been denounced as ‘no better than Trump supporters’ for demanding better from our party.
A few hundred words later, I now arrive at the thesis of this piece: the stakes are too high to play civility politics. It’s a good thing, actually, that working class El Pasoans and community experts have leveraged their voices against a party that has not served them for a long time. On the ballot this past election were the survival of Barrio Duranguito, the curtailing of a deadly pandemic, rising unemployment and poverty, and combating the existential threat of climate change. But in the case of the mayoral election, lack of political conviction led to the Democrat vote being split between an outsider candidate who won about 22% of the electorate and a candidate backed by local Democratic leadership who won around 7% of it. With these figures combined, one of the two could have made the runoffs against the incumbents, but Democrats were unable to rally behind one camp.
Post-election discourse saw voters levying legitimate concerns about the lack of strategization and foresight that led to another term of status quo politics, but party leaders failed to justify their political miscalculation, instead turning on voters with accusations of being divisive and uncivil sore losers. Those who were at risk of gentrification, pollution, and poverty were shamefully tone-policed by the most powerful members of the Democratic establishment who, contrary to the spirit of their defenses, would have also sooner blamed progressive voters for nearly costing Biden the election instead of the candidate himself (here, note the discrepancy between who party leaders endorsed in the presidential Democratic primaries and who the people voted for). Perhaps the most important figurehead of the party took to Facebook to call the dialogue “irrational”, “absurd”, and “offensive” before concluding with a call for unity. But El Pasoans are not dull. To this, we could only say that true unity would have been uniting behind the candidate with the most popular support prior to the election.
On the other hand, it is a blessing to the Democratic party that young progressives are willing to run on their ticket line, as tactical populism has won unprecedented political power and shifted the whole culture of campaigning. The rise of an organized conservative front under Donald Trump is no match for those calling for unity and middle-of-the-road consensus. Their politics lack appeal to the material needs of their constituents, and essential elected seats are sacrificed at the pyre of politeness. This happens due to the disconnection between the urgency of the people’s needs and the lack of boldness on the party platform. Additionally, there seems to be increased stress on acquiescence to corporations and other institutional powers for the purpose of being ‘kind’ in these campaigns. An empty word for working families who have been fighting tooth and nail to survive. No, there can be no unity between those who pollute and those who are polluted. There can be no unity between those who are funded by power and the neighborhoods that are destroyed by it. True unity will be achieved when, and only when, El Paso can agree that we will not stand for anything less than justice for all, including our most vulnerable. Unity is a privilege that is earned, it is never a given.
Further, civility assumes that respectability is the greatest virtue for political progress; even a cursory familiarity with history tells us just how misguided this sentiment is. Saying ‘Make America Kind Again,’ for example, ignores that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and poor people have never, never been treated kindly in this country. In fact, ours is a system wherein all their victories have been won through mass political dissent overriding irreconcilable differences. And yes, there are irreconcilable differences between Democrats and Republicans that cannot be healed. But more importantly there are irreconcilable differences between Democrats and low income Americans that become more fixed by the day. Choosing to ignore these differences rather than accentuate and address them does a disservice to everyone and only maintains hegemonic ideological order rather than promoting democratic discussion. We will keep losing if this goes on.
I get it. These are uncomfortable conversations and it’s often difficult to look past the rage of being called in. But we can no longer bring knives to a gunfight, civility and unity cannot be used to delegitimize the concerns of the many for the benefit of the few, and the Democratic Party is approaching a reckoning that will ask of us: whose side are you on?
About the Author: Graciela Blandon is an organizer with local community groups and have taken on consulting and campaign management for local candidates such as Veronica Carbajal for Mayor and Alexsandra Annello for District 2. Blandon is also a policy director for the El Paso Young Democrats and a remote student at New York University.
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