Reason Trumps Shouting at Democratic Platform Meeting in Portland, Oregon

With the announcement of the formation of an all inclusive discussion of the democratic platform on behalf of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, the recently named chairman of the Democrats' platform-drafting committee, thousands of homes and meeting rooms across the country became available for Democratic platform discussions.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a platform meeting in Portland, OR with the Mt. Tabor Democrats. The meeting took place in a modest 2-bedroom apartment. Twenty people were huddled around the fire place in the living room of meeting organizer Sue Staehli. We were seated on chairs of various sizes and shapes, provided food and beverages, and allowed to control the destiny of the party platform for the democrats.

What was interesting to note was something that caught the attention of a few people in the room. Sue had mentioned that the party platform is essentially already written. The Democratic National Website states, "Before the Platform Committee meets, the DNC Chairman will distribute a document to the Platform Committee members outlining the issues to be considered by the committee. The document is usually an initial draft of the Platform as prepared by a small Platform Drafting Committee." Upon contacting Party Affairs at the Democratic Party headquarters in Washington D.C., it was confirmed that the initial draft of the Democratic Party Platform has not been written. The platform draft is informed by local committee meetings and compiled and voted on by the Platform Drafting Committee prior to submission to the Platform Committee for amendments and approval of each individual plank of the platform by the Platform Committee Members.

Beyond the issue of whether or not the Democratic Party Platform was already written, is the process of local residents coming together and trying to inform the party platform in a short amount of time. The meeting that took place on Sunday, July 20th at 5 pm in a local Portland, OR neighborhood was reflected across the country in similar homes. Small numbers of people converged at homes across the country with hot button issues in tow. Unfortunately, not every issue makes it through the platform process. There were approximately nine issues that were listed to look at with in the context of narrowing down for the platform. There is a time limit of two hours allotted to work on platform issues. It is problematic for everyone who wants their issue to be addressed. Then there is the question of whether or not each issue should be dealt with narrowly or generally. Everyone had the opportunity to vote on each issue up to 3 times to figure out which issues would be the focus. Out of all the issues that people felt were important such as the economy, education and the war, three issues trumped the war and healthcare and they were the economy, a unifying party statement and election reform.

One person walked out when he realized that his issues of drug policy reform and accountability of the Bush Administration were not going to be in the platform. Contrasted with another gentleman whose issues were disability rights that also were not on the platform, who stayed and participated in the entire process.

Once the topics were voted on, the larger group split into three smaller groups with approximately 45 minutes left to hash out each plank of the platform. What was abundantly clear was that two hours overall were not enough to deal with all the important issues that everyone had brought. The three topics alone could not be fully addressed in 45 minutes. Sue Staehli extolled all of people present to hold similar events throughout this week to continue to expand and inform the Democratic Party Platform.

An overarching common ground/unifying concept for the Democratic Party was introduced as "We believe that the nation's problems will best be solved by avoiding an adversarial approach and exploring common values and difference through cooperation, collaboration and compromise to serve the whole common good without limits of narrow advocacy".

The main points of the election reform included instituting public financed elections, instant run-off voting, rotating regional primaries, eliminating the Electoral College, strengthening voter protections as outlined in the Oregon Democratic Party Platform, enforce media public service, and institute a national voting holiday. Jim Stinson, a local writer who participated in the election reform discussions noted, "Public media should perform its public service", which received overwhelming support from the rest of the group.

The economy plank was tagged as the "green" economy. The statement that was discussed and approved was "Offer green financial incentives to promote local jobs, encourage green production and reduce pollution. Enlist people into green public service. Support green education."

Needless to say, somehow, when the group met together at the end of the deliberation process, three planks of the platform were introduced, discussed and approved by the entire group. There was no shouting, no screaming, no angry holdouts. The process was quite democratic, while incomplete in depth and breadth, seemed to display the energy and sensibilities of the Barack Obama campaign as a whole.