Open Letter to Howard Dean

by Jake Beal
Thu May 19th, 2005 at
15:57:48 PDT

Dear Governor Dean,

I'm writing you today with a request for help.  Last Saturday, I was a
delegate to the Massachusetts State Democratic Convention.  I came to
help figure out what our party stands for and take part in the
democratic process, and I was excited that we would get to hear your
vision for the party.  What I got was very different.

You may not be aware of this, but there's serious trouble in the state
party here in
Massachusetts.  You see, while you were up there talking
about inclusiveness and building up the grass-roots, our state party
leadership was taking precautions to ensure that the grass-roots are

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You see, tacked onto the very end of the agenda was an amendment to
the state party charter.  Much of it was benign, but included some
major changes, including:


  • A "No Accountability" clause, allowing the State Committee to ignore
      anything passed at a state convention and even the party's own
  • A "Secret Meetings" clause, allowing any committee to exclude the
  • The "Vinnie Ciampa" clause, allowing Democratic officials to oppose
      the party's own nominees.

I can see how one might argue in favor of some of these, but taken as
a whole, the amendment amounts to a significant curtailment of
democracy within the Democratic Party here in
Massachusetts.  Needless
to say, some of us didn't like the changes, and we decided to move for
separate debate on a few of the particularly odious clauses.

That's how I came to my own personal most ironic moment of the
convention.  There you were, up on stage, talking about the same
themes of democracy, public outreach, and engagement with the
grassroots and the population at large.  I was not twenty feet away,
only half-able to listen as I struggled with the Sergeant at Arms on
those very issues, patiently questioning my way past obstacle after
petty niggling obstacle thrown in our path.

The motion was out of order.  The motion was in order but they didn't
know if the amendment was on the agenda.  The amendment was on the
agenda but they didn't know when it was.  The amendment was at the
end, but we couldn't move anything until then.  Actually we have to
sign up to speak in advance, but they don't know when we're allowed to
sign up.  On and on it went, with the Sergeant at Arms retreating into
the closed back room for lengthy consultation between answers.

Meanwhile, you left the stage, other speakers came and went and the
buzz spread among the delegates that something big was going on with
the charter, and have you even READ what they want us to pass?  By the
time the platform was summarily passed, the room was abuzz with anger
and anticipation.

Then came the amendment, and misrule.  The Chair led off by changing
our motion to divide out the four clauses into a motion to deal with
each and every clause individually, phrasing it as, "Delegate Jacob
Beal has Moved to Divide the amendment and discuss each part
separately, which will keep us here for another two hours.  Let us
vote on whether to stay for another two hours."  When the Nays had it,
he simply skipped debate, ignoring the queue at the microphone, and
summarily put the amendment to a vote over the objections of the crowd.

The Nays had it, the Chair ruled it Aye, and the convention hall
exploded.  The Chair seemed somewhat befuddled, asking, "You don't
want to divide it and you don't want to vote for it.  What do you
want?"  Ignoring the delegates yelling that they wanted the old
charter, he made up a new voting procedure on the spot and declared
victory, denying the request for a roll-call vote.  Over booing,
jeers, and calls for new leadership, the Chair calmly set about
closing the convention.

So now here we are.  The convention was restricted to nothing but
theater, with not a single word of debate allowed and the only
business of the day rammed through unceremoniously in the last ten
minutes.  Future conventions are even less meaningful thanks to our
shiny new charter, and many of the most energized Democrats in the
state left knowing exactly how little our state leadership regards the
rest of the party.  I can't even complain within the system because
the Massachusetts Democratic Party doesn't provide contact information
for our own Judicial Council.  If I didn't know better, I'd think I
attended the wrong party's convention by mistake.

That's why I'm writing to you today.  One of the reasons we all fought
for you to Chair the DNC is because of your message of reform,
engagement, and democratic values.  Our party needs to live by the
values we hold.  Things are not working right, here in
and so I'm appealing to a higher authority.  We know our power down
here at the grassroots, but I'd greatly appreciate it if you can knock
some sense into our state leadership.  We should be working together
to ensure freedom and justice for all
America, rather than being forced
to fight against fools jealous of their own petty authority.


Jake Beal