October 15 was the first meeting of the CouBennty Committee for 2009 and the Manhattan Young Democrats made history. If you weren’t there in person, you missed an amazing night, but you might have been there in spirit. MYDs success was only possible because young, engaged people decided to get involved and gave MYD the opportunity to make a difference.
That night, MYD stood up to “politics as usual” — and succeeded. Brandon Chamberlin, MYD Open Seat Project candidate and now County Committeeman, nominated William Allan Benninghoff, our President, to the Executive Committee of the County Committee as 3rd Vice Chair. Underwhelming? Guess again. This action forced an actual vote of the Committee for a leadership role which, based on the reactions of those in charge (some having been involved for over a decade), had never happened in their lifetime. After an impassioned speech from Al explaining the role and mission of MYD in organizing the new youth movement in Manhattan, and a statement from his opponent that he had let his friend have the 2nd Vice-Chairmanship so that he would take the 3rd, a straw poll was taken. When it became clear that the vote was actually very close, the leadership became flustered.
Amid outbursts of “This is not democracy!” and “Call roll!”, the party establishment attempted to negotiate with the MYD leaders and members around the room. Ultimately, it was clear that our point was made and our voice now given credibility in the Committee and Al decided that declining the nomination would be the best course of action. I wholeheartedly support this move and here’s why.
What we Lost:
- The ceremonial 3rd Vice-Chairman position for Al.
- The shunning by all other Executive Committee members (who would have outranked Al unless both the Chairman, 1st Vice and 2nd Vice were absent)
- A loss of support from the Manhattan Party for MYD.
What we gained
- Recognition from the leadership of the Party
- The resuscitation of the “Subcommittee on Youth Organization and its Activities” and the appointment of Al to the Subcommittee
- An opportunity to sit down with the Party leadership and talk, with leverage, about what we want to accomplish in this city
This meeting went a long way to showing young people are active and that we demand to be engaged by our own Party. It also made it clear that progressive, open minded politics have support beyond just youth. I’m happy to say that at this meeting, young people numbered heavily but a vast amount of the support for Al came from people outside our demographic. This new coalition has helped make the County Leadership recognize the pendulum has swung away from the old routine. I heard two quotes that confirm this point that I’ll never forget.
First, when I mentioned MYD was looking to get members on the Youth Outreach committee I was told “you’ll never get it, that committee doesn’t really exist.” Admittedly, our attempts prior to this evening to get members on were ignored.
Second, “you don’t understand how this works, see, we had a meeting before this and decided…Adults already got together about this. We rotate. I’ve been in this for 10 years and I’m still not up there.”
So… First, if the Youth Outreach Committee didn’t exist, it exists now.
Second, leadership doesn’t wait. When change needs to happen, when people want real democracy, it doesn’t sit on the back bench for 10 years. It rises to the occasion. That’s why when 66 MYD members led a movement tonight, nearly half the County Committee, over 110 people, supported it.
Although this action was not planned, and was certainly not the goal of the Open Seat Project, a wonderful result came from a hasty decision by MYD President Al and MYD VP Ben to allow Brandon, eager to participate fully in the meeting, to go ahead with his nomination. We were all reminded that a defeatist mindset is self-fulfilling and, in a special moment, exercising your rights can make a big difference
In the end, some people were disheartened. Some asked why Al declined the nomination. But Al had to do what put MYD, and the people who supported it’s push for democracy, transparency and engagement, on sure footing for the future. We’re happy to be in a position to work with the County leadership. Over the next two years we hope to accomplish many working side by side, we’re all Democrats. From here, we can build a new, stronger Party; built on leadership and openness, instead of a closed machine.
At the end of the meeting, one person came up to me and said he wished Al had run. He told me this was his first time on County Committee and before tonight he didn’t even know why he signed up “it’s all just a machine.” He’s changed his mind, he signed up to be a Manhattan Young Democrat; now he knows what we know: change comes to those who don’t wait.
If you’re interested in making tangible change in your neighborhood and in NYC, you’ve come to the right place. Join us.