By Dawn Gable (from the Democratic National Convention)

Marisa Richmond

HAVANA TIMES — On the last morning of the Democratic National convention Thursday, whispers of confusion and discontent surrounding the Wednesday evening last minute amendment to the Party Platform could still be heard among the delegates.

A delegate of South Carolina complained that less than half the delegates were even on the arena floor for the vote. He was there, but not sure what was going on, he remained silent during the “vote”.

Another delegate agreed and said she didn’t really mind the language being added, she, but she thought the way it was handled was inappropriate.

However, both of these delegates later admitted they had never read the original platform document they had ratified the night before and therefore had no idea what was in it to begin with.

In fact, not one of the more than 10 delegates I spoke with at the convention had read the platform they ratified. One young delegate didn’t even know what I meant by the word “platform”.

Only two hours after the ratification took place, she assured me that although she had been on the floor at the time and had cheered the Chairman on, she had not voted on anything.

Then she randomly suggested that I ask Dan Rather, whom she had just noticed passing by, because surely he would know something about this platform thing!

Is it strange that the delegates should not know what is in the document that defines the Party they belong to and that they are responsible for approving? Not really. They had nothing to do with it’s drafting, no input whatsoever. Their role is simply to unanimously approve it by cheering loudly when the convention Chair gives them their cue, whether they know that is what they are cheering about or not. They are also responsible for unanimously nominating the pre-selected presidential candidate.

Despite their lack of influence on the national level, delegates DO have a real and important function at the State level. However, not one of over a dozen US citizens I asked before the convention could tell me how the 5552 delegates are chosen or what their role is. So, at the convention I asked a handful of them to explain the process.

Many Similarities with the Cuban Process

Surprisingly, the process for generating the delegate pool is very similar to that used in Cuba for People’s Power delegates. In both instances, there are two avenues by which individuals become delegates: election and appointment. Let’s start with the latter. Party leaders at the various levels and elected officials can appoint delegates when they see the need to bring diversity to the delegate pool or when they just need to fill some positions.

The delegate mentioned above who was unaware that she approved the Party’s platform had been appointed by the Congressman for whom she works. Yes, that’s right, the least informed delegate I met actually works in a Congressional office!  Their district had been redrawn this year, and so they were short a few delegates. Her and some of her friends filled the seats.

The other appointed delegate I met had been an elected delegate in 2008. Local party leaders asked Dr. Marisa Richmond of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition to be a delegate this time around in order to bring diversity to the pool.

Liz Campbell

She explained that anyone can become a delegate. One just has to go to their Party Precinct and fill out an application. Then when the caucus meeting is held, one brings as many supporters as they can rally to the meeting to vote for them. Those with the most votes fill the open seats at the precint level. Very similar to the steps for becoming a Municipal Delegate in Cuba.

These precinct delegates then elect from among themselves, delegates to serve at the congressional district level, and in turn the district delegates chose from among themselves delegates to serve at the state level. These state level delegates are who attend the convention to carry out the theater of nominating the presidential candidate and ratifying the party’s platform.

All very similar to the process of electing deputies to the Provincial and National Assemblies in Cuba.

One difference is that the delegates in the US can accept money from political action committees (PAC’s) just like a candidate can. However, unlike candidates, delegates do not have to report the money they receive so it is very difficult to determine whether contributions to them is significant or not.

But is there any reason for a PAC to give money to a delegate? Yes and no.

As Delegate and Precinct Committee Officer Liz Campbell of Washington state explained, the delegates have the opportunity to influence the state party platform, but have no input at all into the national platform. As the delegates move up the ladder, resolutions submitted for the party platform at each level are voted on and passed upward.

At each level the resolutions are further debated, refined and consolidated until a State Platform is written and approved. Marisa stated that her input consisted of discussions via email. Liz talked about face-to-face working meetings and debates. Other delegates I spoke to did not participate or did not even know they could participate in their state platform elaboration.

The 50 state platforms can be very different and will reflect the particulars of a demographic. For example the Washington State Platform included language in favor of legalizing marijuana. The Tennessee State Platform most certainly did not.

These platforms have no legislative or binding force. They are simply an expression of the party’s opinion on matters. They have no direct bearing on what will be included in the National Party Platform. However, it is assumed that they will be read by the National Platform Draft Committee and taken into account.

The National Platform Draft Committee is a small group drawn from the full National Platform Committee which is made up of political appointees: three from each state (theoretically giving less populated states, which are typically more conservative, more relative influence into the process.).

The draft process goes on behind closed doors and the debate leading to the final version is even more secretive.  The final was released only days before delegates like Liz and Marisa would rally together to give it an approving cheer without having even read it.

Again the similarities to the structure and functions of the People’s Power in Cuba are many but not complete. The National Assembly is made up of individuals who climbed the electoral ladder and of those appointed to represent a cross section of the population.

They are convened very seldom with the function of ceremoniously approving proposals set forth by party leadership. Instead of nominating a candidate that will be later elected by an electoral college, they elect the nation’s leadership directly.

Cuba’s recent redrafting of the Communist Party platform (2011) involved a huge number of local meetings and thousands of recommendations. From these the Party drew up a draft. More meetings and debate were held and recommendations were submitted. The draft was heavily amended and finally ratified by the National Assembly.

One huge difference is that the Cuban platform carries much more weight and is expected to be transformed into concrete policy. The reason for this difference is two-fold: there is only one Party and so there are no political obstacles to implementation and the National Assembly of the People’s Power has legislative power, not just opinion power.


7 thoughts on “Where the Democrats & Cubans Coincide

  • dawn, you are conflating the internal workings of a political party in the US with those of a government in Cuba.

    As someone actively involved with one of the major Canadian political parties, I have to agree that – even compared to Canada – the once in four years Republican and Democratic national conventions are tightly scripted media spectacles and rotten examples of genuine grassroots democracy. Their main purpose is to paint their presidential candidate (previously elected through a competitive primary process) in the best light. If you want to be engage in grassroots democracy, better to get involved politically at the local level in your own community.

  • Dawn,

    Thanks for your report and for providing the prospective you did – much needed. I think we are safe in saying if delegates don’t know the political process, very few Americans on the street will either. So much for the vaunted democracy propagandists writing here make so much of. The situation in Canada, another so-called capitalist ‘democracy’, is much the same.

    We’ve just had an equivalent of the ‘last minute amendment’ here – Canada’s breaking ties with Iran – hardly what most Canadians want. I see very little democracy being practiced here. Ironically, Cuba’s doing a lot better in this regard, as you wrote!

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