California progressives effort to censor Sen. Dianne Feinstein

This is a great story of grassroots politics, with progressives demanding accountability from elected representatives and Democratic Party officials. The particular battle today was lost, but in the long run, the tide is against the party operators and entrenched interests.

The people's effort to censure Senator Feinstein was killed with a few objections in a crowded committee room tonight, just a stone's throw from Disneyland. […]

While the censure resolution failed, the movement succeeded on the substance of the issue — namely holding elected officials accountable for their votes. As others have noted, CDP Chair Art Torres addressed the plenary session of the executive board this morning, extolling the long and virtuous record of Senator Feinstein and explaining that he had spoken with her, telling her that people are upset. While Chairman Torres chose to frame the anger at the senior senator as stemming from two votes out of thousands in her career, trying to diminish the existence of a whole pattern of votes by the senator, Mr. Torres got the point. And I hope so does Senator Feinstein.

Let's take stock: Two weeks ago, people all over the country and especially in this state were angered and dejected because Senator Feinstein had, in quick succession, voted for an apparently morally bankrupt man for federal judge and then for judge Mukasey as attorney general. This followed on the heels of earlier votes that extended the rights of the federal government to spy on us without warrants. And the senator was signaling that she would vote to give retroactive immunity for such spying to telecom companies.

We banded together and took action, even as many thought it was futile. Today, thanks to very agile and determined grassroots organizers at PDA, some forty Democratic Clubs and organizations in California and our good friends at MoveOn, more than 31,000 individuals signed on to support the censure resolution together with those clubs. Max Follmer's reporting at the Huffington Post forced party employees and consultants as well as senator Feinstein's staff, to acknowledge that there is a problem. The Sacrament Bee's online insider political website wrote about the issue. And no less than the UK's Guardian newspaper filed a story.

Of course we wanted the California Democratic Party to pass this resolution. But political parties are not built to do that. They exist to perpetuate the party and that comes through keeping incumbents in office. There were sharp disagreements here today as people in the corridors buzzed about the temerity of 31,000 individuals and dozens of clubs asking for a senator to be held accountable. And having sat through the resolutions committee hearing today, I think that the vast majority of the folks who volunteer countless hours to serve on these committees take their work seriously. They really care about what they are doing. Had we polled the members on whether they approved of the senator's recent votes, my guess is we'd have had near unanimity that her votes were wrong.

But that's not the way it works. There remains an element of democratic centralism in the party structures, a sense that we can disagree behind closed doors but never in public. And many think we have to defend “our own” no matter what. The problem , of course, is that those who are not part of the system stop registering as Democrats. Today, over 20% of registered voters in California are “decline to state” (not affiliated with a political party) because they increasingly see the parties as pale shadows of each other. People want honesty and transparency, they want to vote for people who will stand for principles and get stuff done, not just work to win an election.

Our job is clear. We are outside. We must be willing to upset the applecart to assure that our nation is not weakened by those who would temporize about essential civil liberties. Torture is torture. We oppose it. Domestic spying is illegal. We oppose it. Hate speech and separating families due to sexual orientation is an abuse of fundamental equal and human rights. We oppose it.

We make our own leaders stronger when we tell them that we watch them as closely as we watch those who have led our country into its current state. In many ways, we owe it to ourselves, to Senator Feinstein and to the Democratic Party to hold all on our “side” to higher standards than those who overtly trample on America as the Bush Administration has for seven years.

We'll stay vigilant. And we'll continue to call on Senator Feinstein and others to communicate with her constituents, to listen and to be expect public consequences if she again puts the fundamental issues of democracy at risk. The party leaders know we are here and so does our senator; now we have to stay here.

This hearkens back to last year's inter-party battle in Connecticut, which resulted in Sen. Lieberman losing the Democratic primary, then running as a third party candidate, winning with significant assistance from conservatives, uninformed moderates and of course, Karl Rove.

Across the country, people are rising up against the status quo, particularly against the incumbent-support system within the Democratic Party. Some have chosen to leave the party and work outside of it, others are fighting to wrest control of the party's values and resources, and put them to work for the people, instead of big business, the military and the elite media.

Other such efforts for Democratic Party reform can be found at sites like and (both led by David Swanson), at the Blue America sites in each state (see for the local version), and at community blogs like and