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Fast Walker 52

(7,723 posts)
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 11:46 AM Apr 2017

Experience with my local Dem party versus local activists

Last edited Tue Apr 18, 2017, 01:34 PM - Edit history (1)

I've been trying to get more involved in my local Dem (county) party but have had a hard time getting anywhere. I have done some election day poll work for them in the past. The local party is an elderly bunch and really just seem to be there for running elections, and don't seem to have much interest in generating enthusiasm or in winning elections. Their monthly meetings about as boring as they could possibly be. They don't seem to do any real fundraising. I was dismayed that they recently had an election for new local party leadership, and they chose the same elderly lady who had previously been chair.

I live in a red state (Indiana), in a red county, and have a Republican US House representative (Todd Rokita). I've been tired of seeing the Dem House candidate get pummeled in election after election. A race that never gets any media attention. I'm sure it's a "safe" Republican seat. But still I feel like we need to really run a competitive race, and more importantly get some energy and money into the race.

I reached out to the guy in charge of running my congressional district race for the Dems, and he pointed me to a meeting last night which had some candidates that are running for Congressional representative. This meeting was put on by a local "Voices for Change" and local "Indivisible" chapter. They had invited Rokita, but he chickened out. I hadn't heard anything about this from the local Dem party!

There was real progressive energy at this meeting, and it was great. A LOT of talk about healthcare but also about environmental issues and jobs. Our representative Rokita was really unpopular with this crowd, and there's a lot of energy to remove him. Unfortunately, none of the potential candidates were that thrilling and it was hard to see them being real competitive. The ladies who spoke from Voice for Change actually seemed a lot better than the candidates. So one worry is getting good candidates. Another worry is getting money from the local Dems, who don't seem to have much.

Another worry is these local progressive groups may not be committed Dems. There was little mention of Democrats at this meeting and it was mostly about opposition to Trump and Republicans, though they did promote liberal/progressive ideas. The woman in charge of Voice for Change said she used to be a Republican, and got turned off on them.

So I think these non-Dem-affiliated groups are going to be our best bet for change, where the passion and energy is. I think Dems have to make sure they work effectively with these groups, though I'm not sure what is going to happen with my local party.

Anyway, I'd appreciate if anyone shared their thoughts about this situation.

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(32,620 posts)
1. Here's one suggestion
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 11:55 AM
Apr 2017

Try writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper, and sign your own name.
Let them know how you feel about certain issues or candidates.

I'll bet the Democratic party runners will see your letters, but you can also mail copies to them if you want.
You'll be contacted by them or you can approach them again after several letters have been published.

I don't have any info about Indiana, but this has worked for me when I was new and didn't know the ropes in my area.

Good luck!

Tom Rinaldo

(22,912 posts)
2. Your experience is far from unique
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 12:27 PM
Apr 2017

I live in a rural part of New York State that is close enough to NYC and the Hudson Valley that it does vote Democratic, though we are in a swing Congressional District that voted Republican in November. I am also, essentially by default, the Chairperson of our Town's Democratic Committee. There are a good number of social activists in our Town, but very few of them actively identify with the Democratic Party though many no doubt register Democratic.

On our 8 person committee anyone under 60 is considered "young". We now have good folks but it took a year of painstaking outreach to recruit a full committee. We've struck out at enlisting anyone under 45. We are networking with activist groups now and are about to host a free spaghetti dinner and discussion night for local Democrats. If we don't go out of our way to engage with folks who have political sensibilities they would never think of connecting with the official Democratic Parry on their own. We would be the last people they think of except perhaps when local elections roll around and they expect us magically to organize a slate of candidates and promote them.

To be honest there is a fair amount of tedious drudgery involved in complying with election laws to get candidates onto the ballot. It's not glamorous and very few people want to do it unless they are running for office themselves and then they just expect that there will be a local party apparatus to steer them through the process. But we are all just volunteers. We almost crashed and burned at the local Democratic Party level a couple of years back and came close to legally blowing our ability to run candidates. That's when I got involved.

I don't think a lot of folks realize how hollowed out much of the Democratic Party is becoming. Increasingly younger people don't think of themselves as Democrats. Honestly our Party needs a revolution from below or it might wither away and die like the Leninists once thought the State would. Either that or it will revert to being a machine controlled by people with money to further their own ends.


(25,219 posts)
5. Agree
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 01:00 PM
Apr 2017

Just being a Precinct Chair is tedious. I am willing to help my Precinct Chair GOTV. However, I am under the impression that during the primaries Precinct Chairs don't have any say...for instance I don't think they could have publicly promoted Hillary over Bernie or vice versa. Look what happened when the DNC was caught "privately" supporting Hillary over Bernie. So, if the goal is to move the party to the left it does need to be through grass roots efforts....

Tom Rinaldo

(22,912 posts)
6. The Democratic Party can be subject to "a friendly takeover"
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 01:20 PM
Apr 2017

I don't mean anything devious by that. I mean it is a vehicle that can be occupied and driven in a new direction. But doing that involves drudgery AND persistence. I think the Democratic apparatus functions on disposable energy. Someone shows up, they get invited to help staff a table at a fund raiser, they get asked to be an election day observer at a polling booth, they get asked to make some phone calls off a script for someone running for Judge... It usually isn't that rewarding of an experience, they never feel like their own views are included o anything more substantial than which restaurant should host the annual dinner. Then they drift away and new volunteers replace them...

It takes stamina and it takes determination to get to the steering wheel of the Democratic Party at any level, but it is very very doable. There simply aren't enough drivers left to keep it on the road let alone set the direction for the Party moving forward. People who stick around and show up at meetings where they are legally entitled to attend but not necessarily personally invited to attend start to gain a voice. People who are willing to network with other grassroots Democrats to pursue specific common goals inside the Party start to gain a voice.Ultimately, if they put in the time and also do some grunt work they get appreciated for doing what must be done, and then they are recognized and promoted by others. There may be resistance but it can be overcome with organizing

And there is no other vehicle out there that regular folks can climb into with as much potential for consolidating positive social change than the Democratic Party has.

Tom Rinaldo

(22,912 posts)
11. Thanks. I'll try to expand this into an OP, but I won't have time to do so today
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 01:47 PM
Apr 2017

It's been on my mind a lot though. We actually have our Town Democratic Committee Meeting tonight, which is one of the reasons why it will have to wait a little longer


(146,284 posts)
13. Exactly.
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 01:58 PM
Apr 2017

The problem where I am is that the only people who seem to be willing to do the actual work required are the ones who are currently the elected leaders of the local Democratic (DFL here) Party. A lot of them would dearly like to back off on all that work, and most are over 65 years old (like me). I'm a precinct chair, and have been for as long as I have wanted to be. I'm about to scale back my active participation, but I've been unable to find anyone who wants to take my place, despite it being a job with nothing to do most of the time. At the same time, the committees and boards of the party at all levels here have the same problem. Nobody seems to want the work those jobs entail.

The Party is ready and eager to find new people to fill leadership positions, but it's not easy to find people who have any desire at all to actually fill those positions, all of which do require some voluntary work to keep things running along.

In 2016, I tried my damnedest to encourage some of the younger Democrats in my precinct just to go to the first level convention after the caucuses. I got a full slate to sign up as delegates during the caucus meeting, but on the day of the convention, only four of the 14, showed up for the three hours the convention would take. Four. And those four were the same four people who showed up in 2004 and every convention thereafter.

Frankly, if younger people want to take over the Democratic Party, there has never been a better time to organize and do just that. As I slowly walk away from that work, which I've been doing wherever I lived for more than 50 years now, I walk away shaking my head at the lack of interest going forward.

C'mon folks! Please. Take over the Party, locally and up the line. It will be easy. We old geezers will hand it over to you gleefully.


Fast Walker 52

(7,723 posts)
7. Thanks, that makes sense. I worry about this though I don't know how much is a historic trend vs
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 01:30 PM
Apr 2017

older retired people having more time and mindset/desire for political organizing in general.

I guess the question is what WOULD attract younger folks to be more active in their local Dem party?

Tom Rinaldo

(22,912 posts)
12. Younger people are willing to put in lots of time doing political organizing
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 01:53 PM
Apr 2017

When they feel empowered doing so. One problem that the Democratic Party has is that it is a formal organization that has to observe lots of legal procedures under State and Federal law. It adds to the tedium factor. But mostly I think it is just that it is very hard to get anything remotely like near instant gratification for working in the vineyards of the Democratic Party. It should be viewed as an investment of time, like earning a college degree, that can pay off big time down the road if you are willing to navigate through the hoops. Except it is best done together with others, in a support group of people with a similar goal. In that way it can be different than (and much more social than) pursuing academic credentials for oneself.



(30,481 posts)
3. It is similar in the area I live.
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 12:37 PM
Apr 2017

I live in an area that goes back and forth during elections. It should be a pivotal area. Funny enough, Republicans redistricted a portion of my area and lost the seat to a Democrat. Kind of. Charlie Crist.

Overall I have had the same experience as you. I even view it in a similar manner.

That said, come the months before the election, our local party is extremely active and helpful. It's times like now they just deal with the order of the week and move along. You might notice this change in your area come election time as well.

Thanks for sharing. Enjoyed reading.


(49,964 posts)
4. For a minute I thought you were talking about my county party meeting!
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 01:00 PM
Apr 2017

But the recent election losses have injected a bit of urgency into the membership. And the addition of some young Bernie people is helping a lot.


(48,955 posts)
14. I saw video of a Rokita "Chamber of Commerce" event
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 02:55 PM
Apr 2017

the other day - full audience, a lot of energy challenging him. In looking for the video I found stories from back in February when he wouldn't hold a town hall, that some locals were planning to hold one anyhow - without him. Doubt after the "safe" event (morning meeting sponsored by a local Chamber of Commerce) not being so 'in the bubble yea Todd!' as he would have assumed, guessing there won't be many meetings with him.

If these groups you saw are the same folks involved at getting people to the Rokita event, and/or staging a faux town hall - I'd saw it sounds like that is where your energy should go. I think there are a number of districts in Indiana where the active democrats are aging and as you describe - serving a function like holding elections.

I am in Bloomington and there is a lot of energy - more aligned with the democrats (our recent Democratic candidate for Congress was leading the non-affiliated event which grew out of energy from the Women's march.) That, however is due to being a liberal pocket in the state and a big College town.


(11,243 posts)
15. Become your precinct captain if it is not organized already.
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 03:04 PM
Apr 2017

Then you get to vote for leadership too. If you get enough new people and agree on leadership, you can vote in a new slate. And try to get people from the Indivisible group to attend Dem meetings and volunteer as well.

The group in power now may not have the time or resources to do the things you think should be done. As both a boss and regular volunteer, I find if annoying to have people telling me how to run things who have no experience or interest in actually doing the work. If you go in and politely offer to take on responsibilities and then follow through on actually doing the projects, you might be amazed at the changes.


Fast Walker 52

(7,723 posts)
18. Yes, thanks. Good tips.
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 05:26 PM
Apr 2017

I think they could improve with simple things like better communications -- announcing local political events and some online fund-raising efforts. I only get emails from them for monthly meetings and some unusual events. I never get them asking for money.


(25,219 posts)
16. I think the grassroots are making an inroads here in Texas!
Tue Apr 18, 2017, 03:06 PM
Apr 2017

Look what I found on our state's Dem website:

During our Fair Shot Summit, you’ll learn about how we can work together to elect more Democrats across Texas, and create a winning plan for how to organize your community and to talk to your neighbors about the values of Texas Democrats.


I'm impressed with their bios. There is an effort to connect with the Bernie Sanders wing and a Youth Engagement Panel. I'm also familiar with two presenters who are grassroots organizers in my town. This event was held on April 1st and was sold out.
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