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Commentary Politics

El Paso’s Democrats are divided, and civility politics is not the answer

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By Graciela Blandon

For years, El Paso County’s Democratic Party has existed as a shadowy figure to the average voter. With limited digital and field teams, Democratic Party organizing has happened mostly within its own ranks, neglecting popular recruitment. 

This shortcoming in coalition-building is particularly true for youth engagement. The new chapter of the El Paso Young Democrats, however, has been able to foster political participation among talented youth thanks to the executive board’s digital savviness and their robust political ideology — an ideology of steadfast populism and critical support. 

The operative word here is critical. El Paso’s youth, whether associated with EPYD or not, finds itself in a city where elected officials have failed us at every level regardless of party, leaving us with a shell of a world to inherit, papered over with rhetoric to make it more palatable. 

Thus, one finds El Pasoans under 35 pushing for unapologetic public discourse.

Graciela Blandon

This strategy and its associated tactics — vigorous community debate, courage to confront allies and enemies alike — is not at all unique to EPYD, but youth-led revitalization of popular critical civics has caused a fracture in the local body politic. 

Established elected officials and enablers have considered themselves safe from accountability, but this election cycle has revealed that no one is protected from being voted out, regardless of political affiliation, if they have not provided a record of consistent advocacy for the least of us.

This sudden deviation from the status quo did not go over well with longtime Democrats. Suddenly, there were extremely vocal coalitions criticizing the party. The line has been drawn in the sand between those who are calling for unity and those who are inconveniently calling for progress — those who have been denounced as “no better than Trump supporters” for demanding better from our party.

But the stakes are too high to play civility politics. It’s a good thing, actually, that working-class El Pasoans have leveraged their voices against a party that hasn’t served them. 

On the ballot this election was the survival of Barrio Duranguito, the curtailing of a deadly pandemic, and combating climate change. But in the case of the mayoral election, the Democratic vote was split between a candidate who won about 22% of the electorate and an establishment-backed candidate who won 7% of it. With these figures combined, one of the two could have made the runoffs against the incumbents, but Democrats were unable to rally behind one camp.

Post-election discourse saw voters levying concerns about this lack of foresight, but party leaders failed to justify their miscalculations, instead turning on voters with accusations of being divisive sore losers. 

Those at risk of gentrification, pollution, and poverty were tone-policed by powerful members of the Democratic establishment. Perhaps the most important figurehead of the party took to Facebook to call the dialogue “irrational,” “absurd” and “offensive,” before concluding with a call for unity. 

But El Pasoans are not dull. To this, we could only say that true unity would have been uniting behind the candidate with the most popular support.

It’s a blessing to Democrats that young progressives are willing to run on their ticket line, as tactical populism has won unprecedented political power. The rise of an organized conservative front under Trump is no match for those calling for middle-of-the-road consensus as essential elected seats are sacrificed at the pyre of politeness. 

Additionally, there is increased stress on acquiescence to corporations and institutional powers for the purpose of being “kind” — an empty word for working families who have been fighting tooth and nail to survive. 

No, there can be no unity between those who pollute and those who are polluted. There can be no unity between those who are funded by power and the neighborhoods that are destroyed by it. True unity will be achieved only when El Paso agrees that we won’t stand for anything less than justice for all. Unity is a privilege that is earned, it’s never a given.

Civility assumes that respectability is the greatest virtue for progress; a cursory familiarity with history tells us how misguided this sentiment is. 

Saying “Make America Kind Again” ignores that BIPOC and poor people have never been treated kindly in America. Ours is a system wherein all their victories have been won through dissent overriding irreconcilable differences. 

And yes, there are irreconcilable differences between Democrats and Republicans, but there are also differences between Democrats and low-income Americans that become more fixed by the day. Choosing to ignore these differences maintains hegemonic ideological order rather than promoting democratic discussion. 

We can no longer bring knives to a gunfight, civility and unity cannot be used to delegitimize the concerns of the many for the benefit of the few, and the Democratic Party is approaching a reckoning that will ask of us: whose side are you on?

Graciela Blandon is an organizer with local community groups and has taken on consulting and campaign management for local candidates such as Veronica Carbajal for mayor and Alexsandra Annello for District 2. She is policy director for the El Paso Young Democrats and a remote student at New York University.

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