One of the challenges facing the Netroots in creating a progressive movement is the transformation of Netroots activism into grassroots action. This panel will discuss the benefits and challenges in working within the Democratic Party on the state and local level. This discussion will include a primer on how to get involved, as well as a discussion on the resistance one may face “crashing the party.” The goal of this discussion is to encourage more Netroots community members to actively engage in politics on the state and local level.
Panelists: Chris Bowers, Jason Melrath, Dante Atkins, Steve Thibodeau, Brian Keeler
Here are some highlights, and my commentary.
"You can see where this is going. Not a single Democrat filed against the Republicans"
This statement from Steve Thibodeau identifies the first item on our list. A list of the positions that are open in the next few election cycles is part of it. This list needs to be available to the grassroots at all times for a number of reasons. We need to be able to see that our frustration over the actions of our elected representatives have a remedy: we can file against them and take their place in the halls of government. Even if we don't win the seat, by taking a principled stand, and making use of the governmental processes that exist to challenge what we don't like, we encourage others to stand up as well, and eventually someone who stands up will get enough support to win.
One of the important points in the discussion that I want to highlight are the differences among the parties. All 50 states have a different set of bylaws and rules for elections to the state central committees.And it's not just state, but local parties as well. My LD website, which I put together during 2003 and 2004 and have kept building ever since, was the first place on the web to collect the bylaws of the local, county, state AND NATIONAL Democratic Party. Our former chair used to get calls from all over the country because it was the only place that people could find the national level document. Has anyone done the work to collect all 50 states?
"Delaware is a deceptively Democratic state," says Jason Melrath. Considering that two of the three counties in Delaware voted for Bush in 2004 with strong margins, I would have to agree. Representative Michael Castle (R) won all three counties with at least 53% of the vote, winning 57% overall. However, Senator Thomas Carper (D) won all 3 Delaware counties with at least 63% of the vote in each area. It seems to depend on who the candidate is, and you'll find that all across the country at every level of the ticket.
Now, the question becomes, how did I know that? Those numbers came from the State Of Delaware Elections System. Wikipedia helps as well, although if I'm looking for something and Wikipedia doesn't have it, I'll keep looking then come back and add it. There are other places that I use and update, mostly wiki systems, that have some of this information.
Knowing what seats are open are one thing. The next step in being able to win those seats is to understand a bit of history. Election history is the record of what races were run, what candidates ran in those races, and how well they did, broken down in as much detail as you can get, down to the precinct level if possible.
Chris talked about the existing party members when he started getting involved not wanting anyone to get involved in Philadelphia. That wasn't the case here in Seattle. Even though we live in a very blue city like Philly, the attitude that I got when I walked in and asked "how can I help" was extremely positive, from everyone. And the more I do, the more I get called on. I'm sure each area of the country, and probably within states, has a different level of encouragement coming from the current party members. Around the country, various groups have come together to combat it, but I'm seeing a trend that I think we need to think about. With so many stories going around about party members trying to hold onto their kingdoms, it's becoming the "norm" when someone decides they might want to get involved. That can be dangerous to our goals, because while it may be true in some areas, there is no way that we can safely assume that everyone currently in the Democratic Party has the attitude that they don't need us. I don't think that we can assume anything. And the only way that we can find out, and take the next step towards getting progressive leadership and ideas on their way to discussion and success, is to walk into the lion's den and see what happens. Don't be afraid of it. If it doesn't work, that's the time to start doing organizing on your own. But let's not make those assumptions. They can lead to trouble that we don't need.
Internal elections are a big part of being active in the party. When I decided to run for the King County Delegate position from my local 46th District, I contacted every Precinct Committee Officer that I could, mostly via email. This was in 2007 after our success in the 2006 election. Everyone running for the specific positions on the board got no challenges and 100% of the vote. It was too easy. The lowest level of the party in Washington is the Precinct Committee Officer. They elect the local party leaders at the Legislative District and County, including the representatives to the State Central Committee. Every state is going to be different, and we need to determine how it works everywhere.
Jason also describes a failure of representation. Delaware has members of the US Senate and the US House who he doesn't consider to be good representatives of the Progressive voices in the state. I'm sure that's true all over. At this point, I want to give my definition of Activism. Activism is the work of finding answers to three questions:
- What decision is being made?
- Who is making that decision
- How do I/we influence that decision?
You can apply that to just about anything. In this context an electoral vote is a decision being made by the people of a district or state. A legislative vote is a decision being made by a committee, a legislative body, or an executive. How we influence the decision depends on the target, and if an individual continues to make decisions counter to the ideals of a political party or movement, that political party and/or movement needs to stand up and either threaten to, or actually accomplish, a replacement of that representative. That's the big picture, and that's how our system was set up in the first place.
So what are the dream tools that activists would like to see on the Web? I have a list of the kinds of things that I would like to see, most of which I've been slowly building if I can't find them elsewhere. Please comment with your ideas.