There is a connection between the trampling of democratic traditions during the January 6 insurrection and the violation of democratic rights that occurred in some of the June 6 Philadelphia ward leader elections.
Granted there’s a totally different order of magnitude, but there is a connection between the trampling of democratic traditions during the January 6 insurrection and the violation of democratic rights that occurred in some of the June 6 Philadelphia ward leader elections.
The parallel has been most effectively drawn by Philadelphia Magazine’s Ernest Owens, who notes:
It’s hard to watch the ongoing January 6th committee hearings into the attack on democracy at our nation’s Capital and not be a little concerned about the democratic principles in our own backyard.
There is a shared contempt for democratic processes. Of course, the consequences of the June 6 ward leader elections are nowhere near as dire as those of the January 6 insurrection, but they are not trivial.
Ward leaders are the linchpin of an undemocratic system; they elect the party chair, who needs leaders loyal to him and to the system of political cronyism.
And some of those leaders are determined to hold onto their positions by any means necessary. According to Billy Penn: the conflict in West Philadelphia’s 46th ward… “devolved into a physical fight” between supporters of incumbent Jannie Blackwell and progressive challengers contending they were denied the opportunity to nominate a candidate.
Such violations have a long history in Philadelphia politics. When I interviewed scores of committee people and ward leaders for my book “Green Shoots of Democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party” (2016), I heard many stories of ward leader elections similar to some of the June 6th meetings - no clear process, everyone confused, and a vote happening (or sometimes suppressed ) in the middle of the confusion.
Sadly, many elected officials who decry the attempts of the mob to overturn democracy on January 6 turn a blind eye to violations of democratic process on the ward level.
The good news is more citizens (and journalists) are paying attention to the failures of the Philadelphia ward system, while young progressives in Philadelphia have made significant gains towards making local politics more democratic and transparent.
Furthermore, progressive committeepeople have built an organization, Open Wards Philly, which brings together individuals who may disagree about policies and candidate endorsements but share a commitment to democracy in the ward system.
Democratic Party leaders do not view these young progressives as a force that is revitalizing the party, but rather as a threat to their power. Chair Bob Brady, who seems to be investing more energy into defeating progressives than into defeating Republicans, ran an ugly campaign against progressive incumbents in conjunction with a PAC affiliated with the Republican Party. However, voters rejected by large margins the candidates that the Democratic City Committee put forth to oppose progressive candidates.
Voters are decisively rejecting the argument advanced by some Democratic Party functionaries that progressives do not belong in the Democratic Party because they are not “real” Democrats. This argument ignores the long tradition of progressives building a base within the Democratic party. The labor movement did this; the civil rights movement did this. Also, there are progressive caucuses in many state legislatures and a progressive caucus in Congress.
Progressives are an integral and rising part of the Democratic Party and have demonstrated that they understand the importance of democratic procedures. With their recent successful lawsuit against Bob Brady and 22nd ward leader Cindy Bass in Common Pleas Court, they have also demonstrated their determination to fight for the rights of committeepeople to participate fully in endorsements and in ward governance.
The Inquirer’s Chris Brennan reports Bob Brady’s dismissive remark in response to progressive challenges to results of ward leader elections: “They want to go to court? That’s fine,” he said. “One thing I have is plenty of attorneys. We’ve got a lot of people who want to be judges.”
Brady’s remark underscores what is wrong with our system. It is difficult for judicial candidates to be elected without support from the Democratic City Committee, support they will get only if they pay significant sums to the Party.
Brady’s words could be taken as a warning to attorneys with judicial ambitions that they would do better to ally themselves with the Party than with progressives.
Acquiescence in this system and the failure to demand democracy and transparency in local politics can lead to an erosion of commitment to democratic values on the national level. There is a connection between January 6 and June 6.