Photo by wiccked on Flickr.

Top DC Democrats have taken drastic measures to prevent voters from disrupting their control of the party. Ironically, as a result, they have sown the seeds for a successful voter revolt to open up the party and turn it into a powerful agent for change.

The party leadership was so worried about facing voters next April, they canceled the election in which 340,000 voters get to choose who will lead the party. We should elect new leadership for that reason alone.

In the local primary of every presidential election year for decades, DC’s registered Democratic voters have elected who represents them on the Democratic State Committee. Of the committee’s 82 members, 48 are—or at least were—elected at either the ward level or at-large, while another 34 are appointed.

The Democratic State Committee is supposed to represent Democratic voters. It could, and should, weigh in on “national” issues like DC voting rights and legislative autonomy, and local issues including the conduct of Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. Thomas is under federal investigation for allegedly stealing $300,000 in taxpayer funds intended for a youth athletic organization and spending it instead on himself.

Rank-and-file Democrats could open up the party and turn it into a courageous force that engages, listens to and represents the grassroots — and demands that our elected officials honor the highest ethical standards. It’s up to us to put “democratic” in the Democratic Party and voice our clear disapproval of the current chairman’s recent decision to disenfranchise DC voters.

As 2008 presidential candidate Barak Obama repeatedly declared, “sí se puede.”

Or, we can decide now to not complain and to accept backroom politics-as-usual.

In August, party Chairman Anita Bonds ended a decades-long tradition of Democrats voting at their nearby polling place in the local primary for the Democratic State Committee. Instead, the party will hold a convention — in just one location — probably next November. It will likely last at least a few hours and involve complicated rules.

In deciding to eliminate the right of hundreds of thousands of Democrats to vote next April on the party’s leadership, Bonds didn’t even allow the current members of the State Committee to vote. And according to the Washington Post, “Committee members say they were not told of the decision until it had already been made.” You can’t make this stuff up.

Democratic activist John Capozzi, himself a former member of the State Committee, told the Post, “This is why we need new leadership in the [D.C.] Democratic Party…Deciding to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of D.C. Democrats is just plain wrong.”

It’s a sure way to drastically reduce voter participation in deciding who will lead the party. A turnout of even 1% (3,402 voters) would be exceptionally high. The leadership is unlikely to plan to accommodate even half that many attendees.

But the Democratic Party can move from insular to invigorating, if we insist it do so. What do you care about? Affordable housing? Accessible health care? Improving our education or transportation system? Do you think members of the DC Council are being influenced too much by big donors whose agendas may be seen as being at odds with your vision of what the Democratic Party should stand for?

The Democratic State Committee could be a perfect vehicle for the grassroots to engage in order to press our elected officials to pursue a policy agenda that is actually consistent with the party.

The DC Democratic Party organization today is so removed from the grassroots, there isn’t even a place you could go to volunteer.

That might just be because the party’s leadership has its priorities wrong. Donald Dinan, general counsel for the Democrats, wrote in an August 16th letter to the DC Board of Elections and Ethics that the party was canceling the primary vote for party representatives because of the “disruption” that an election could have on the Democrats’ delegate selection process for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Dinan confirmed by telephone on Friday their fear that if new party leaders were chosen in a “DC Spring” next April, they could decide to upend months-long planning on who gets to go to the convention. Regrettably, it sounds more like bunker mentality than an outreach strategy.

But Dinan’s letter, along with Bonds’ quotes in the Post, indicated that the Democratic National Committee had pressured the District’s Democrats to select their party representatives in a convention rather than in a primary, as has been the custom for decades. On Friday, I called the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to request a copy of a letter that would have forced DC Democrats to disenfranchise approximately 339,000 voters. They had no idea what I was talking about. Then I called Dinan. He didn’t have it either.

Democrats get to vote in primaries for who the leaders of their party in such states as New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland and many others. It would defy belief that the DNC would force only the District of Columbia to replace the primary with a convention to select party representatives.

In fact, despite his letter, Dinan told me that ditching the primary method was indeed not the central reason for the move. “Had the DC Council picked May [after delegates are selected] for the local primary, it would have been fine.”

The notion that the Democratic National Committee forced DC Democrats to make this move is malarkey.

Enough backroom politics-as-usual. Let’s do something radical. Instead of accepting less democracy, let’s create more. As Ward 8 activist and DC’s former Youth Mayor, Markus Batchelor, recently wrote:

The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of the people, the party of inclusion and the party seeking transparency and fairness. The DC Democratic State Committee, through this decision, has single-handedly flushed all these principles down the toilet simultaneously and I believe it is our duty to call for new leadership and a new way forward for the Democratic party in this city.

Let’s not allow ourselves to do nothing and then read the newspaper next November reporting that just 200 Democrats met the day before in the corner of a high school gymnasium to elect their party leaders. Instead, let’s adopt President Obama’s 2012 campaign slogan — “We can’t wait” — and start now, talking neighbor to neighbor to open up DC’s Democratic Party with a campaign that declares, “We can’t wait to clean up DC politics.”

Dennis Jaffe has lived in the Washington area since 1999. Elected to two terms on his hometown school board and a former head of NJ Common Cause, he champions opening up government and politics. Dennis led the effort to establish the Metro Riders’ Advisory Council and served as its first chair. Now an Arlington resident, he chairs its Pedestrian Advisory Committee. His views here are his own.