In Memoriam Tim Carpenter (1959-2014)

(Tim Carpenter here with his daughter Sheila) Today would have been the 56th birthday of Tim Carpenter, whose work with the Progressive Democrats of America truly inspired me. He was its national director until his passing last April from cancer. He represents everything that is SALVAGEABLE in the Democratic Party, at a time in my life when I am believing more and more that the Democratic Party of today cannot be saved. I remember getting their emails around the time that I moved back home to Florida in 2004, and was completely unsure about what I wanted to do with my life. I remember reading Tim’s emails and getting a sense of direction. His firm belief that the Democratic Party could in fact be saved and used to serve the people is what inspired me. I remember using the capwiz petitions to send letters to my elected officials disapproving of their continued military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember using their DataBank server grids to know which congressperson voted for the war. I think Tim Carpenter was instrumental in teaching me that the internet can be used as a watchdog against elected officials serving the interests of the ruling elite. In The Nation’s respectful obituary to him, he is described as never being “a member of the Democratic Party establishment. He was a thorn in its side, declaring, ‘I’m not satisfied with the party as it is. I want the party as it should be.” He helped radicalize me into believing that revolution can only come about by being involved inside and outside the electoral process. Tim Carpenter taught me how to be involved inside the electoral process. I remember attending the 2009 Progressive Democrats of America National Conference at the University of the District of Columbia, where I met Barbara Lee for the first time. So much was happening in my head and my mind: it was around that time also that I knew what it felt like to be in love with someone. I was very supportive of the goals of the Progressive Democrats of America. I led chapter meetings at Temple University for years up to the important healthcare debate in 2009 when PDA fought to include the public option as part of the national debates. I had so many “Healthcare Not Warfare” bumper stickers. When I think about Tim Carpenter, I think about his belief in the electoral process, despite it being so easily corrupted by moneyed interests. I think about how vehemently he fought against the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that granted Fourteenth Amendment rights to corporations. I was most humbled by how much Tim respected my work when he and David Swanson showed up to Temple University to have a discussion about David Swanson’s book Daybreak. I remember feeling so completely validated by Tim Carpenter when I was so disappointed that more people did not show up to David Swanson’s Daybreak book talk in Anderson Hall of Temple University on November 4th, 2009. I remember former Philadelphia Mayor John Street showing up to this book talk. Tim reassured me that the event was a success even though I thought it was a failure. That was so validating. I will never forget that. I will also not forget him giving me a copy of Jeff Cohen’s book “Cable News Confidential” when I went to DC on a canvassing trip for PDA. I appreciate his supportive role in my time as a chapter member of the Progressive Democrats of America. I have connected with so many life changing events and people as a result of his leadership of PDA. The work of Tim Carpenter has created a base that helped elect Donna Edwards. I see how the Democratic Party machine assigns those popularly known as “progressive” to the most mundane, soul-destroying fundraising tasks of the party, to remind them and every educated observer that the Democratic Party is ultimately under the thumb of the almighty private capital. This is what Obama’s 2009 bailout proved to us, and Obama’s making the Bush tax cuts permanent for the top 2% of income earners. Tim Carpenter taught me, like Manning Marable wrote in his biography of Malcolm X, the importance of being educated about the electoral process. Even though I learned the value of the electoral process, the administration of Barack Obama has showed me the ultimate futility of depending on it, and the Democratic Party for any real change. These institutions are fundamentally interested in window dressing. We need more people like Tim Carpenter to hold the Democratic Party accountable. It amazes me how deeply he truly believed in the function of our electoral process. Tim worked on conceivably every issue, from healthcare to the environment, to make the Democratic Party better. He forced me to learn how to critique the Democratic Party in a way that will expose its loyalty to private capital. I will always hold him dearly in my heart. His work is why the Democratic Party is remotely close to addressing the issues of working people. May he rest in power. –RF.