Saturday, August 13, 2005

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.