By Les Marsden
Reprinted with permission from the author.
“I have always regarded the California Democratic Council as one of the United States’ most important centers of citizen participation in politics.”
—President John Fitzgerald Kennedy
“I’m not a member of any organized political party…. I’m a Democrat. Democrats never agree on anything, that’s why they’re Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they’d be Republicans.”
In 1953 the California Democratic Council (CDC) was a brilliant, brand-new idea: a means for the average-Joe/Jane Democrat to be involved with their political party and, hopefully, to influence it. And there was no organization quite like it-for either party. But what caused its birth?
By 1952, two decades of national dominance by FDR’s New Deal Democrats had unraveled – unsustainable with that charismatic President seven years dead. President Harry S. Truman’s popularity was at an all-time low and his re-election campaign itself died following his defeat by Estes Kefauver in the New Hampshire primary. After HST stepped aside, Adlai Stevenson became our Presidential nominee – a new breed of younger Democrat. Prominent liberal that he was, Stevenson really energized the grassroots of the party and his campaign prompted the creation of countless “Stevenson Clubs” of activists. But national tastes had changed, the country had grown conservative and in that 1952 election the GOP pulled off a complete rout. With Eisenhower’s victory in the White House and the Republicans gaining control of both houses of Congress, the Democrats were suddenly party non grata. And be stunned, in the event you didn’t know this: California – our beloved, bright-blue liberal California – had not only a Republican governor but BOTH senators were ALSO Republicans. Fortunately, the excited, activated liberal and youngish California Democrats, which Stevenson’s candidacy had awakened, were dedicated. They had a place to go when – during brainstorming sessions in 1952 and ’53 at Asilomar and Fresno by Alan Cranston and other similarly – inspired Stevenson supporters – the CDC was born. An over-arching organization to help create, encourage and unite Democratic clubs throughout the state. And in only a brief amount of time the CDC’s success was remarkable, as attested to by JFK.