Wikimedia Commons

Despite freezing temperatures, community members waited on Elm Street on Saturday afternoon to hear from one of the Democratic Party’s most prominent leaders.

Democratic National Committee Deputy Chair and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-MN, spoke to a crowd of more than 200 at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven. Ellison discussed the importance of electing Democrats up and down the ballot in 2018, and announced a new vision for a DNC focused on local elections. In a time of Republican control over the national government, Ellison — who ran to become chair of the DNC last year but lost to Tom Perez — urged attendees to volunteer and organize under the Democratic Party. He said he hopes to “revitalize” the party as an instrument of social and economic uplift for working people.

“At the end of the day, we all have to take [part in] our party of knocking the doors, of making the calls … and we have got to organize our people. The Democratic National Committee has changed its mission,” Ellison said. “Our mission used to be to re-elect a Democratic president … which happens every four years, what happens to the city council, the state legislature races.”

Ellison said the Democratic Party needs a new strategy after losing more than 1,000 elected seats in 2016. Ellison discussed the importance of rebuilding the party and building on momentum created by progressive activists and elections won by Democrats in 2017. He said that while the DNC used to focus solely on electing a Democratic president, the committee has changed its focus to supporting grassroots organizing and statewide and local elections. He argued that his party should not only focus on winning elections, but also persuading voters to care about progressive issues.

“You can win an election by simply getting a bunch of money and running ads,” Ellison said. “You cannot build a sustainable economy and society unless you win the argument that we ought to have health care for everyone, that housing should be affordable.”

Mayor Toni Harp noted the event was held in a place that “epitomizes” democracy. In recent months, First and Summerfield United Methodist Church has provided sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

Harp also read a statement prepared by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven. In the statement, DeLauro criticized laws recently passed by Congress, including the tax overhaul. She said community organizing is integral to spread a progressive message and for Democrats to retake control of the House of Representatives in upcoming elections this fall.

“Too often we are so bogged down by the missteps and poor choices of the Trump administration, those steps they make every day, that we do not see the bigger picture … It is easy to fall victim to cynicism and the belief that this is just the way things will be from now on,” DeLauro’s statement said. “We can do something about all of this. We must continue to resist the dangerous agenda of President Trump.”

During a question and answer session, attendees raised concerns over a lack of volunteers to canvass in citywide and statewide elections and the transparency of the DNC. In addition, attendees brought policy arguments, about such topics as voter identification laws, into the conversation.

Sonny Stephens ’19, the vice president of the Yale College Democrats, said he was impressed by Ellison’s enthusiasm and ability to inspire attendees.

“One of the most inspiring things about the event was when Keith Ellison was talking about how human solidarity is one of our greatest tools to resist the Trump presidency,” Stephens said. “That was really reflected in a lot of diversity in the people that were there and the issues that were brought up.”

Isabel Bysiewicz | isabel.bysiewicz@yale.edu