Home National Politics The 2003 Draft Wesley Clark Movement Loses Two of Its Grassroots Superstars

The 2003 Draft Wesley Clark Movement Loses Two of Its Grassroots Superstars


It’s kind of ironic that I’ve been spending so much time talking about Howard Dean this week. Why ironic? First, because I was a big supporter of General Wesley Clark – not Governor Dean – for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2003. Second, because two of the biggest stars of the Draft Wesley Clark movement – both of whom get major shoutouts in my book, Netroots Rising (“How a Citizen Army of Bloggers and Online Activists is Changing American Politics”) – passed away recently, and they’ve been on my mind a lot.

Let’s start with the most recent: Stan Davis (to Clark’s right in the photo, the one with all the Clark buttons), who passed away on Saturday. Stan ran the main Draft Wesley Clark Yahoo group, and said of the Draft movement that it was made up of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”  As I wrote in Netroots Rising, Stan was a “56-year-old Colorado man who had nearly died of a stroke in 2002, and was retired for medical reasons.” Like me, Stan saw Clark’s June 15, 2003 Meet the Press interview, and “Clark’s persona and message excited” Stan, spurring him to attend the first Denver Draft Clark Meetup on July 7, 2003. Stan soon became the moderator of the largest Clark Yahoo group (Clark 2004), as well as one of General Clark’s most passionate – and effective – netroots supporters. He also became someone I considered a good friend, comrade in arms, also a friendly debating partner (as much or more about philosophy and other subjects than politics). Stan was also one of the nicest, classiest, most diplomatic people I’ve ever met, and he needed to be, moderating a group with thousands of members and tens of thousands of messages.

There’s a lot to say about Stan, but it’s hard to top his own life described in his own words. A few points that jump out at me as I reread this: 1) Stan started out as a big Goldwater fan, before his “flaming liberal fiancée opened my eyes;” 2) in 1999, he was given 6 months to live following a stroke, exacerbated by hemochromatosis (a genetic blood disorder in which “the body doesn’t metabolize iron”) and diabetes; 3) after languishing for three years or so, Stan was rejuvenated by the Draft Clark movement, to which he committed “my support…and my life;” 4) as Stan puts it, the Clark movement – along with “crossword puzzles” and his divorce – “combined to…well…save my life.” Politics saving someone’s life? How can that be possible, the cynical might ask? Very simple: believing in something bigger than yourself; connecting with a community and a movement that inspires you; finding a purpose to your existence; those things can make all the difference in having the will to live – or not. And in Stan’s case, it worked – until this past Saturday.

Finally, before I move on to the other Draft Wesley Clark leader who passed away recently, here’s General Wesley Clark himself on Stan Davis, and what Stan meant to him. Very moving.

I will really miss Stan Davis. He was a Navy veteran and a fine man. But for me he had a special role as one of a handful of people who really provided me the will to run for President. He helped organize the draft, and encouraged me at every step. Not because he had great money, or huge political influence but because he had a strong faith in America, and believed that someone had to stand up for our country and our principles. Again and again, Stan was there for me. I could look into the audience in California, or Denver, or New Hampshire, and Stan was there.

I knew Stan would rally the troops, and that he cared about the big issues, like I did.

I knew he was ill, and in failing health. Still, it’s a shock, and a loss. Stan, we miss you!

Yes, we do. Rest in peace, my friend (or as Stan would say, “mon ami”).

The other Draft Clark superstar who passed away recently is Ellen Dana Nagler, who Stan Davis identified as of his key mentors. On February 2, I got an email – followed by a long phone call – from our mutual friend (and Clarkie) Kelly Flinn, informing me that Ellen had passed away the day before. There’s a lot to say about Ellen, but to give you a flavor of her role in the Clark movement, here’s an excerpt from Netroots Rising:

On October 5, Ellen Nagler, the leader of Santa Barbara for Clark, and one of the brightest political people in the Clark movement — her campaign experience went back to Bobby Kennedy in 1968 — wrote to Lowell in an instant message chat that “the Clark Movement is being systematically excluded.”  Nagler complained that Digital Clark (a repository for radio and TV interviews with Clark) “is gone” and that “for days, if you clicked on the [popular] Clark Tribune newsletter on the main site you got redirected to the main campaign press page.”    Nagler expressed her belief that the campaign professionals viewed the draft people as “mavericks” or even “unruly children” who needed to be “brought under control or sent away from the table if we ‘misbehave’.”

In short, Ellen was a fierce defender of – and believer in – the power of the progressive grassroots/netroots activism to change American politics for the better. And she certainly practiced that in her life. Of course, that shouldn’t be surprising for someone who called herself an “unreconstructed liberal,” and who never lost her Brooklyn/NY City attitude (“chutzpah”), nor her sense of outrage at injustice and right-wing lunacy. Ellen also was highly involved in her local and state Democratic Parties.

As for the Clark campaign, Ellen and I both grew increasingly frustrated – and alienated – during the fall of 2003, after we had both been as excited and energized as can be for General Clark during the summer. In numerous, early-morning (for me – VERY late night for her in California!) chats, Ellen and I discussed our growing frustration over the systematic exclusion of the draft elements from the Clark campaign. Among other things, this contributed to the decision of Clark’s first campaign manager, Donnie Fowler Jr., to resign on October 7, 2003. As Fowler told me later, the “professional” political folks brought in to run the Clark campaign had made the mistake of trying to “dam up the river” of netroots talent and enthusiasm, instead of working to harness it intelligently, as the Obama campaign did in 2008 and 2012. In my view, and I’m confident that Ellen would agree, the decision to make the Clark campaign “top down,” instead of “bottom up” (or even better, a hybrid of “top down” and “bottom up,” as we ended up with in the Webb campaign of 2006), played a major role in General Clark losing the primary.

The last I heard from Ellen was actually in September 2009, when she emailed to tell me that Virginia is “such a critical state” politically, and how glad she was that I was still blogging, at Blue Virginia, after the demise of RK/Raising Kaine. My hope is that if there’s an afterlife, that Ellen and Stan are sharing a cool drink, debating politics and philosophy, in English and/or in French, which they both loved. And, of course, leading a “draft” progressive political movement wherever they are! 🙂

P.S. I miss you both!


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