Strategist, Organizer, and Outsider: An Interview with DNC Chair Candidate Jehmu Greene

 /  Feb. 24, 2017, 11:13 p.m.

Jehmu Greene[1007]

Jehmu Greene is a FOX News political analyst, former director of women’s outreach and Southern political director for the DNC, and former president of Rock the Vote. Currently, Greene is a candidate for chair of the DNC; the election will take place the weekend of February 24. She spoke with the Gate’s Ridgley Knapp about her past experiences in politics, her current campaign for DNC chair, and her plan for the future of the Democratic Party.

The Gate: What made you jump into the race, and why are you qualified to run the DNC?

Jehmu Greene: I do have state party experience. I worked at a state party and at the DNC, so I’m the only candidate who understands the institution inside and out. I think we have a unique opportunity—and not only because we are living through an unprecedented political reality with the Trump administration—to look at our party and innovate how we communicate and connect with each other. This unique moment requires someone who is not a politician. It requires someone who is a strategist, an organizer, and a fierce messenger, and all of those things are unique to my resume compared to the other candidates.

As a young person working within a state party and the DNC, as well as in my role as executive director of the Texas Young Democrats, I was always fighting to improve our party from inside. I left to build progressive institutions, delivering results that have allowed Democrats to win across the country, such as rebuilding Rock the Vote and registering over a million young people to vote using online voter registration. In fact, I had friends working within John Kerry’s presidential campaign at the time, and I talked to them about why embracing new technology and the youth vote could have a significant impact on the races in 2004. Quite frankly, they rolled their eyes at us at Rock the Vote, but by the end of the campaign, the Kerry campaign said they were counting on young people in order to win. We increased youth turnout between 2000 and 2004 by 11 percent, which was the largest increase ever recorded between two presidential elections. I delivered results at Rock the Vote, as the co-founder for Define American, and as a founding board member of Vote, Run, Lead, where we recruited and trained over fifteen thousand women to run for office.

This moment that the party is facing needs someone who is very comfortable embracing innovation, embracing collaborative leadership, someone who understands that the millennial generation is not the future of our partyit is the present of our party. I am uniquely qualified for this position in ways that the rest of the field is not.

Gate: One plank of your platform is the 2020 “Moonshot” for voter turnout. You want 80 percent voter turnout, and pledge to devote massive resources and energy to achieve that goal. Would you use tactics similar to those used by Rock the Vote, or do you have a new strategy in mind?

Greene: I think the party can learn from what we did at Rock the Vote. Back then, it was music-related, so I referred to my plan as the “surround sound strategy.” I think there is a lot of talk and celebration of the fifty-state strategy, but I don’t think that a strategy from over ten years ago is going to cut it in our current political reality. I think we need to move above and beyond the fifty-state strategy and think of a 360-degree strategy. Certainly there are baseline resources: state parties need to be able to keep their doors open and pay their bills. But, those resources that come from the DNC also need to be tied to very specific requirements, requirements not necessarily welcomed by states that are absolutely critical to our success.

To get all the energy and passion of young people and new voices from outside the party right now, we need to make our state parties more welcoming, and that’s why we need an outsider to come in and help state parties become a more welcoming home for all of the energy that is organizing organically. That means making sure the states are reporting their staff and contracting diversity data, and that they are conducting implicit bias training. For too long, our state parties and the DNC have been mired in an old-school system. I want to tie resources to very specific requirements that would help state parties reflect our values in how they hire and how they are connecting with others on the ground.

We need to invest a specific set of resources into state parties to build innovation hubs where that money will be exclusively dedicated to the idea of experimentation. I am certainly not the one to program some new social networking platform or create some new technology consumer product, but I know that if you provide resources for entrepreneurially-minded people to experiment, and you give them the opportunity to embrace these concepts, then magic can happen. I want this magic to happen at the state party level. I think the idea that the Democrats come around only asking for voter registration or for a vote is ludicrous. I think the party at the local level has to respect how millennials are very tied to experiential engagement. We need to engage in an experiential way in our communities, 365 days a year, so that when there is an election, the communities reflect our ideas and our platform at a local level.

Our brand was damaged in 2016, but I think the damage was happening even before this past election cycle. We need to be telling the story of the Democrats in a much more compelling way: that’s my “Keeping up with the Democrats” initiative. We will be able to not just repair the damage that has been done by Russia and from within, but we will also be able to celebrate what it means to be a Democrat in much more compelling and authentic ways.

Gate: Your platform has significant price tags for increased investment in the state parties. Do you foresee being able to support all these programs financially? If you had to cut one, which would it be?

Greene: I’m not going to cut any programs because I do not think that we should be limited by financial constraints. When it comes to funding the innovation hubs, I’m going to go directly to entrepreneurs in this country who have been wildly successful, who were able to immigrate here or benefit from resources that our government has provided. I’m going to convince them that they have to invest in these innovation hubs. I have no doubt that they will do that. They understand experimentation; they understand destruction.

There’s this whole conversation about corporate money versus grassroots fundraising. We need to transform our donor participation, allow donors to see the impact of their work and to revamp how we communicate from our digital fundraising standpoint. I think all of those things, including increasing the engagement rate in our fundraising, will allow us to have the resources to fund the ideas put forth in my platform. There is no deficit of interest in this country at this time. The problem we have as Democrats is that the interest and the organizing is happening outside the party.

As a strategist and as someone who approaches political challenges from the point of view of a strategist and not as a politician whose eye is always on what’s coming next, I know how to make the adjustments necessary to welcome that new energy from outside the party and to put the Democratic Party on a platform from which that energy, that passion, can be driven. Elections have consequences, and the only way that we fully and ultimately defeat the Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress is through a Democratic Party structure.

Gate: Many political candidates use the term “grassroots organizing and fundraising.” What exactly does “grassroots” mean to you?

Greene: The grassroots as it relates to fundraising is going to be tied to smaller-dollar donations. As someone who was brought into the DNC to run small dollar fundraising programs targeted toward women, this is something I have a unique set of skills and understanding around.

But the grassroots certainly should not be tied to fundraising alone. I look at this enormous groundswell of participation that we have seen every weekend since Trump was nominated. One hundred and sixty resistance organizations have formed since Trump was nominated. Young people who come together to start organizations with very limited resources have an enormous impactlook at the Women's Marchand they are not concerned with funding coming in first. It was an idea, it was engagement and opportunity.

Certainly for me the grassroots is the base of activists, new and seasoned, who are raising their hands and are saying they want to be engaged. Unfortunately, that engagement has been happening outside the party. We need to streamline how we meet as a party, and use technology in ways it is not being utilized. If someone who is not a seasoned party activist walks into a local party meeting, I would not be surprised if they left. It’s not an engaging environment. Information that should be easily and readily available is intentionally made complex to keep people out. I want to break down all of those barriers, all of those walls, that allow only a small number of people with all the information to control all of our efforts and our methods in the state parties.

The image featured in this article is taken courtesy of the Jehmu Greene campaign.

Ridgley Knapp

Ridgley Knapp is a third-year Political Science major interested in domestic policy and economic theory. This summer, he was an intern for Senator Richard Blumenthal in Washington, D.C. On campus, he is a member of varsity crew and the UC Democrats. He also sits on the Executive Board of College Democrats of Illinois. When he isn't working, he enjoys spending time with friends.


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