Saturday, August 13, 2005

In a nutshell


Where are all the boy bloggers?

I just couldn't resist...

Perseus Blog Survey finds that majority of bloggers are female.

Via sister Virginia blogger Watchdog VA.

Don't pass this on: the Dems' Demographic Problem

Speaking of aging precinct captains, the Democratic Party has a massive demographic problem coming up.

I know we are largely fans of electoral demographics guru Rudy Teixeira around BOP, and we find great assurance his theories that traditional Democratic constituences such as African-American, Hispanics, New Americans, and Urban Americans are growing (that's off the top of my head, apologies to Messers Teixeira and van der Rohe if I muddled it in the details), and the increase in their relative numbers will carry the Democratic party to victory in the future (putting aside fact that the GOP is actively courting these groups, at the same time as they sponsor front-groups to appropriate the voices of community leaders to hijack the power of the communities and change their direction, in the same way the GOP historically accomplished their take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention).

But, Teixeira et al leave out a parallel and critical problem: the activist base of the Democratic party is OLD. And we're not letting anyone new in.

Want to see Lord-of-the-Flies-style alpha male antics in action worthy of Animal Planet? Go to a local Democratic committee meeting. The members are overwhelmingly old, overwhelmingly white, and overwhelmingly female. (Perhaps the gender skew is because party activists are the functional "ladies auxilary" of the party; note that in the upper echelons of the Democratic party power structure, gender skews in the opposite direction.) And, they aren't letting anyone new inside.

[Part of the phenomenal ongoing success of Democracy for America has to be that, unlike the Democratic Party, DFA let people in. Imagine letting people (demos) participate in government (cracy). What a crazy, radical idea. How'd they ever come up with it?]

I know *lists* of people who have tried to join/get involved with their local Democratic committees, only to be shut out/shut down, or explicitly told they were not welcome or not needed. I know people who have gone on to become accomplished elected officials who were shut out by their local committees and told they were not welcome as candidates or even as volunteers. I know some accomplished young local activists who recruited people to get involved in their local committee--and in response, their local commmittee **attempted to change the bylaws** to block new people from joining. Especially younger people. (I'm not age-ist, for "younger people" read...people under...50? 60?) No joke. Welcome to the dysfunctional family of the Democratic Party.

Which is all well and good, except that our current activist base has, if we are lucky, another 10-20 years left in them (and that's generous). And what happens after that? We have no instutional memory--we don't keep lists, we don't recruit replacements, we don't train new people. Our infrastructure is growing obsolete (I know great precinct captains in their 70's...surely we don't expect them to still walk a whole precinct in their 90's), and we have no plan to replace or reinforce it.

And yes, there are vibrant, dynamic, exciting Young Democrat chapters all over the country...but what happens to those members when they turn 36 or 41 and age out? Why, absolutely nothing...those YD's and all the expertise and hands-on experience (think: instutional memory) that they bring get shut out just like everyone else... (I don't know how the Democratic Deathwish got started but the party just really wants to lose, doesn't it?)

We're left with 3 options, okay 4 options, to respond to the problem:
1. Change from the top
Mandates from on high, recruiting quotas (that include age as a demographic diversity criteria), some sort of financial or prestige incentive to make it work. At the DNC or State Party level.
-This would be great, but as it outside the control of most readers here, just *waiting* for change to happen isn't good enough.
2. Change from the bottom
Overwhelm your local committee, the way Michael Moore wanted to do with the NRA. ;) Recruit your own people, join, get involved, and change the way your local committee does things. This takes, of course: committment, determination, and bodies. If you are up for it, it is also a lot of fun. That is, if you define "fun" as "banging your head against a wall." But think about it. It is something you can *do* yourself.
3. Change from outside
- If you like shadow parties and grassroots politics, get involved with DFA. DFA *is* the Democratic party, without official sanction. Roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done through DFA without "asking permission" from the people who don't want you to play.
- Who *does* the Democratic party pay attention to where you live? You can bet it pays attention to groups that write big checks during election cycles, and groups that deliver big voting blocks--especially swing voters, and voters that respond to GOP red meat issues. Do you belong to an black baptist church in a swing district?--Get involved. Do you belong to a professional association for doctors, dentists, lawyers, hospitals, car dealers?--Dig a little, and there you'll find a legislative action committe: get involved.
4. Do Nothing Until There's a Crisis (the official option)
This option requires holding your breath for approx 15 years, and then throwing up your hands in dismay and crying out in unison, "Our last party activist has died and now there is no one to run the fish fry/crab feast/bean bake. Woe is us. Those evil Republicans win because they are so sneaky and evil!"
- Although this option is exceedingly popular in Democratic circles, I do not recommend it.

And, if enough rank and file regular Americans get involved and do something now, we won't have to watch it happen.

Oh, by the way, I shouldn't be talking about any of this. And neither should you, so don't pass it on.

The failings of the Democratic Party are like child abuse or alcoholism--not Nice Conversation in Mixed Company. They are horrible secrets that we are implicitly or explictly told NOT to discuss in public, so we can keep them to fester and rot and perpetuate, rather than doing anything so crass as openly dealing with them. How gauche. How effective. Why, one might even win--how parvenu.

No, we are supposed to keep a stiff upper lip, smile and think of Applebees, dance to the tunes of the Titanic House Band, and pass a mint julep to our GOP neighbours in the Great Political Cotillion--and lose, graciously, while we act like Nice People.

So, tackling this issue makes me a Bad Democrat. (Isn't it fabulous? You can channel all of your adolescent rebellion at the establishment *and* save the country at the same time.) If you want to win, you can roll up your sleeves right beside me and be a Bad Democrat, too.

Cross-posted on BOP News.


Run Everywhere, Build Everywhere 1.1: Budget Version

In "Run Everywhere, Build Everywhere" on BOP News, Ian Welshmakes the case for fielding more candidates and providing them with more support--in order to accomplish long-term goals.

In its broadest strokes, this strategy is called Party Building. There are different tactics to expand the base and extend party infrastructure. One of the most cost-effective tactics is the largely abandoned tradition of Precinct Captains. In other words, Precinct Captains are the way you "Build Everywhere, Run Everywhere...for FREE."

Much of what Ian discussses in Run Everywhere, Build Everywhere" boils down to political will, organization, and setting and enforcing effective policies--much more than to a need for money.

Why? Because much of what Ian describes below is *supposed* to be done by the county-level branches of state Democratic parties.

The way to make this happen for free is to go back to the precinct-captain structure. Local commitees (in theory) recruit, support, and train precinct captains for every precinct in their jurisdiction. A precinct captain *walks* his or her precinct (smallest geopolitical unit, for our non-US readers, which generally corresponds to one polling place on election day); identifies (and records) the party affiliation of voters (which is critically important to field ops in states like Virginia where voters do not register by party); registers and ID's new voters; recruits volunteers; and mobilizes those volunteers for local political events. Precinct captains also staff the polling place in their precinct on election day (which constitutes filling all day shifts for pollbook watchers for the 1-3 voter lists, depending on the size of the precinct; plus all-day shifts of greeters for every entrance to the polling place who give out sample ballots; plus, ideally, phone bankers who remind ID'd voters to vote; and, equally ideally, a knock-and-drag team who goes door to door, reminding ID'd voters to vote, and taking them to the polls). In exchange, the precinct captain is an informal liaison between precinct residents and the party structure, and if a resident has a problem with a pothole, a schoolboard issue, or their social security...or wants to get the State Party Chair as the keynote speaker for a highschool graduation...that resident knows to go to the Precinct Captain for assistance. Why is this free? Precinct Captains are unpaid volunteers.

Apparently, in some mystical golden age of US campaign politics, Precinct Captains once were the norm. In Texas and Virginia, where I have worked in politics, the Democrats no longer seem to actively recruit or train precinct captains. There are handfuls of nominal precinct captains who have held the same position for decades, but no longer walk, and no longer even fully staff their polls on election day. As a result, we're losing.

(In fairness, there are also Precinct Captains who still actively run their precincts. There just aren't enough of them. And bless them for the work they do.)

Precinct Captains: essential, zero-cost, effective. And we (the Democratic party) don't do it. Because it means getting our hands dirty talking to real people, letting people into the party, and fraternizing with the grassroots. We'd rather write a check to a direct mail firm once a year and lose comfortably from inside the air-conditioned santums of our members-only, closed-club offices.

If anyone reading this says, "Hey, *I* could be a precinct captain," well, you're right. And you can make a huge impact on your local elections as a result. Tell your local Democratic Committee (which may be a ward, city, supervisory district, or county committee) that you want to be a precinct captain. If they won't help you out, go to your state party. If they don't give you any support, just DO IT. Walk your precinct. Talk to your neighbors. Keep your own lists. And, keep your eyes out for trainings from groups like Democracy for America, which will give you the tools and support and information that you should be getting from your local party--whether you are or not.

If you live outside of NJ and VA (which have elections every year and thus have major state elections this year), that is all the more reason to become a precinctp captain *now* and get a head start on putting your precinct in order for the 2006 elections.

Don't wait for the local Democratic Party to start to win. This whole mess turns around when real Americans take matters into their own hands and start participating in Democracy, whether the entrenched power structure wants us in or not.

Cross-posted at BOP News


Welcome to the Unmown Lawn

If this place was a front yard, I'd have a stack of citations from the city by now. Good thing it is called Tsuredzuregusa*.

(*To gloss that last comment for any readers who may not be fluent in Japanese or acquainted with traditional Japanese lit, the term approximates into English as "grass blown all the hell over the place" -- only in a more refined, harmonious sort of way, of course.)

Belated catch up:
I've been sick. Really sick. I'm not dying thankfully (although my docs have threated to leave me for dead if I ever work myself into the ground again the way I did in 2003/2004), but I'm just rotten, rotten sick. And, I haven't been online, or checked email, or tended to this blog in months. I am right now downloading 1100 email, which will join the other over 2000 unread email in my inbox. *sigh*

The unfortunate part of keeping a blog is that the act of not keeping it becomes conspicuous. I have been impossible to reach for some time (one year and counting of intermittant insomnia = phone ringer shut off), and I haven't meant to worry people. My apologies to anyone who was concerned or inconvenienced.

I stuck my nose in at BOP News the other day, and wrote some comments in response to a great article on a 50-state strategy by Ian Welsh that grew into not one but two stand-alone post. So, I'm cross posting them here, as well.

If you have an email mulching in the weedpile that is my inbox, I apologize. I really will reply, when I dig through to the non-spam mail...but I have no idea of how soon.

And, I know this place looks like a dog's breakfast. Template cleanups, etc., are honestly a pretty low priority right now. One day I'll suprise all y'all with a shiny new blog, though. If we all live long enough. (Take your vitamins!)

I have belatedly stumbled onto news of Waldo and Chad's Bipartisan Virginia Blogger Conference at the Sorensen, and my fingers are crossed that I can attend. It was a huge pleasure to meet Lowell Feld and Maura Kearny in April, and I look forward to adding more faces to the roster of blogging names I admire.

I hope *you* are all doing well. I hope to be reading through your blogs and catching up with your great writing over the next few weeks, too.