By Crystal Defatte
I have voted in every election since I turned 18 and I am presently 31. I have never voted for anyone who wasn’t a Democrat. As soon as I moved to Iowa last year I registered to vote as a Democrat so I could take part in the caucus. Being able to take part in this process, to enjoy the first-in-the-nation status we have in Iowa, was one of the biggest selling points when my partner wanted to move here. I am a proud Democrat, true blue through and through, yet my allegiance to the party seems to get questioned every day because I am a progressive.
One day last week I was on a Facebook page commenting on a post that ended up furthering the divide between progressives and those who don’t identify as such. One man seemed to take issue with the fact that we simply refer to ourselves as progressives when speaking in a forum that is supposed to be only Democrats. I remember feeling a little shocked that he felt we had to add the “Democrat” label in order to prove our loyalty when those who simply identify as liberals or leftists are never asked to add the word Democrat at the end of their identity. In a Democratic forum, the party affiliation is implied. It seemed to me that he was questioning whether we really saw ourselves as Democrats. It certainly implied that he must have doubts about how devoted we are to the party, and that needs to be cleared up here and now.
We progressives cared enough about the party to want to start our own identity caucus within the Iowa Democratic Party, just as there is a Progressive Caucus at the national level. We identify as a subgroup within the party. We cared enough to want to ensure that we always had a place in the party, even though so many party members seemed to have nothing but disdain for us. We wanted to belong. We wanted a home in the party and we still do. We cared enough about the party and its future that we stayed at the IDP convention until the wee hours of the morning. Evidently, fewer non-progressives did because we ended up with the most progressive platform the IDP has ever seen. That is how dedicated we are to the party.
It’s no secret that most of us caucused for Senator Sanders. After he failed to garner the party’s nomination there was “Demexit”, where some left the party in protest. Some went Green, some went Independent, but the vast majority stayed in the Democratic Party. We stayed because we are Democrats through and through. This is our party too and we weren’t abandoning it.
We not only stayed, we worked for a Clinton win. Although it may be anecdotal, I have yet to meet a progressive Democrat who didn’t vote for Secretary Clinton. Everyone I know who is active within the IDP’s Progressive Caucus has either phone banked for her, knocked on doors for her, or at least pleaded openly on social media for people to vote for her. She was not our first choice but we recognized she was the best choice we had left. We voted for Secretary Clinton because we recognized her vision for America was the best option. We were and are Democrats; we supported our party’s nominee.
Now I’m seeing people blame progressives for Secretary Clinton’s loss. One person accused us of voting Green en masse or just staying home. The fact is, we dedicated ourselves to getting Secretary Clinton elected. We mourned the loss that was not only her’s, but our loss, and the nation’s loss. We fear for the future of our state and our nation not only because Republicans won but because Democrats lost. There is a distinction there. We know that the Democratic Party is the party that best represents our interests, our values, and our vision for the future. We poured our hearts and souls into elections up and down the ticket in hopes of winning. We weren’t simply voting against Republicans, we were voting for Democrats. We love this party, despite its flaws.
And yes, we see flaws. I don’t think anyone in the party can say that they don’t. We may disagree on what those flaws are, but we all should recognize that those disagreements are minute compared to what we agree is right with the party. We really do want party unity, despite what others may have you believe. We often feel like non-progressives are the ones who are rejecting us and therefore rejecting unity, but I have a sneaking suspicion that isn’t actually the case when it comes to most non-progressives. We are all the Democratic Party and I wish to remind everyone that, in the words of Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
So who is to blame for our party’s losses? Surely it can’t all be the fault of the “neoliberal establishment” Secretary Clinton is often said to be a part of; she won the popular vote by over two million votes. Surely it can’t all be the fault of the “radical progressives” pushing the country too far left; Senator Sander’s competitive numbers say the country is ready for progressive ideas and the fact that we dedicated ourselves to Secretary Clinton’s campaign after she won the nomination surely means we can’t be blamed. No, neither faction alone can take credit for losing. We did that together.
We failed to convince the heartland that we are the party of their interests. Neither the “elitist old guard establishment” nor the “wild-eyed hipster socialists in our urban enclaves” reached out to rural and working class voters. They don’t know that we stand for them because we haven’t communicated our message. We talk about their interests, just not to them. No wonder they feel forgotten and neglected. No wonder they didn’t vote for us. No wonder we lost.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. I won’t pretend to have seen this coming. I was convinced the Republican Party was on the verge of a collapse from which they wouldn’t recover. I also didn’t give much thought to the idea we may lose historically blue states due to our neglect of the rural and working class voting blocs. I couldn’t dream of a reality where a man as vile as Trump could possibly beat out one of the most qualified candidates the nation has ever seen. We can only learn from these losses and look to 2018 and beyond. We will need to find common ground, stop accusing each other of always being the problem, and stop trying to push each other out. We need to unify to win. We’re already unified in our losses.