Every few weeks, James Rucker and Van Jones harass me … in a constructive way. By fusing email with activism through their political organization, Color of Change, they ignite and remind me that to sustain democracy in our country, I have to engage in its process. Yesterday, I called California Senator Diane Feinstein so that next year there might be more justice in the prison system, which is my kind of democracy: bring me the issues so I can decide if I want to act. All it took was fifteen seconds of typing, a phone call, and two clicks of my mouse to feel like a citizen again.
Nevertheless, it took pop culture and our ears constantly tuned in to sex for most of us to start exercising our democratic muscles through MoveOn.org. James worked as Director of Grassroots Mobilization and he and founder Eli Pariser became regulars in my Inbox during a time when our country wasted its time impeaching a president who lied about an intern (rather than impeach a president who lied about a war). Then Hurricane Katrina hit. James left MoveOn.org to join Van and watched our government sit flaccid while African Americans sat abandoned at the Superdome en route to homelessness through a series of FEMA loopholes. From the Katrina crisis, James and Van founded Color of Change and its community, which is composed of African Americans, women, and other minorities. Members join James and Van online each month to build democracy through a stronger voice, while they shuttle diverse policy recommendations to representatives on the Hill.
Social Networking the Superdelegates
I spoke with James over the phone about our newest predicament, the superdelegates. Color of Change is urging the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members to act as the representatives they are and align their votes with that of their constituents and the American people. Surprisingly, many CBC members want to cast their superdelegate vote according to their personal preference for a candidate; Color of Change’s argument points back to implementing democracy.
“We feel good about helping get this idea about why superdelegates undermining votes is a bad thing,” James said. “It’s most problematic if the American people are saying, ‘Here is the candidate I want.’ The fear [that could end up] at the convention is undermining the Democratic Party.”
James explained that issues like these arise from having a democracy where not enough people vote and very few have a practice of holding elected officials accountable. “What we have with politicians is a web of favors and allegiances. Very few folks [politicians] are on high moral ground.”
Who’s Got Your Vote?
Sheila Jackson Lee, a black Democrat from Texas, said in a CNN interview that she is not committed as a superdelegate to vote according to her constituents, but rather to her own vote. James reiterated that members of the CBC are the lone voice protecting the voting rights of black Americans.
“She had promised Hillary [that she would vote for her]. There are promises you should make and promises you shouldn’t. You don’t promise a vote that undermines the votes of everyday people. As a superdelegate, under no circumstance is it, ‘Who’s your favorite?’ You have your own vote in the voting booth [for that].”
Does Email Democracy Work?
James and Van always script their emails to just one page so that members can quickly read the issue and then redirect to the Color of Change site to send their message. The second step is to ask members to make a phone call and a contribution. When enough members act, it gets the media’s attention, which is how James and Color of Change landed on CNN to speak about their position on the CBC and superdelegates. “We’re being threatened and bullied [by politicians on this issue,]” James explained. “The only threat is if you [the politician] go against the interests and the clear will of people who put you in office. That’s a good threat, that’s a democracy … Local voters are scaring politicians. They [politicians] are hearing from their constituents and it’s having an effect.”
James appreciated how both John Edwards and Barak Obama spoke about change in political kickbacks, but noted that it was up to the people to hold our elected officials to their promises.
“They led with the messaging that they are only going to be as good as people are good at holding them and everyone in Washington DC accountable. They also said that they’re going to get rid of lobbyists, but no candidate can deliver on that unless folks scrutinize office members in office. The web of favors doesn’t need to be a system.”
Colors of Change’s platforms vary in effectiveness. With Katrina, it was an uphill battle to get any positive legislation to happen. Color of Change’s actions helped extend FEMA and jobless benefits, but James mentioned that folks still wait for other benefits from federal and state policies. What is working is that Color of Change is engaging a society to act.
“What’s most important is the people feeling like they can call or email and have it make a difference. It’s a culture of engagement like in a kids school PTA, or like you recycle your garbage. It’s part of what you do as an American and we see a steady increase in that kind of behavior.”
Related Story: Perversion of Justice