Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

May 5, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I am a member of the College Democrats at a university in Alabama. While these two concepts may seem odd, I assure you that our organization is doing well. What I am having trouble with is public relations. Most of the Republicans down here are very far to the right and they view anyone who is even an independent as a liberal, baby killing, god hater.

We have tried reasoned discourse. We have tried protests. We have tried public debates. None of them have worked. How can we get our message out to the students and show that Democrats are not so far to the left, but instead a mainstream ideal?


Auburn, Alabama

Dear Bill,

First of all, thank you very much for being active and involved in the Democratic Party, especially in a challenging environment! If the Democratic Party is going to keep up with the needs of America's citizens in the 21st century, it will be because young people like yourself are putting their time and energy into participating actively.

Auntie suggests that you stop trying to go head to head with the Republicans. You are on their turf and it will always be difficult (maybe nearly impossible!) to keep discourse and debates from degenerating into "Are not! Are too!" No matter what you say, it's unlikely that you will be able to overcome the thick blanket of prejudgment and propaganda that have built up over a long period of unquestioned conservative domination.

Forgive me for lapsing into Biblical argot if you find it too reminiscent of some of the more offensively smug conservatives, but I recommend you take a leaf from the book of Matthew, chapter 7, verse 16: "Ye shall know them by their fruits." Or again from the same chapter, verse 21: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father in heaven." In other words, what you say is unlikely to convince anyone of anything, especially those who are already highly prejudiced against you. Rather, it is what you do that will speak most loudly for our Democratic values.

Way back when Mr. Paul Wellstone first ran for the U.S. Senate, no one believed that it was possible for him to be elected. He was a teacher at a small college, with no money, no big campaign war chest, and no 'power base' within Minnesota's Democratic Party. In fact, most of the Party's 'movers and shakers' had never heard of him! He campaigned hard and tirelessly, meeting people all over the state, listening wherever he went, but so do many candidates. What made the difference for Mr. Wellstone?

For many years, Mr. Wellstone had made it a point to be there when a farm family was being foreclosed on in Minnesota's then-collapsing rural economy. He showed up, helped organize the neighbors to get what legal relief was possible, he attended the foreclosure auctions and stood with those losing homes and businesses, he listened and watched and people knew he understood. He went and stood with striking workers on picket lines in freezing Minnesota winters, and learned about their fights for economic justice and dignity in the work place. And when he ran for the Senate, those people remembered. They came to every rally and every campaign appearance.

And they told people just like themselves, "Listen to this guy. He's not just blowing smoke like politicians do. He knows. He was there with us. He listens. He cares." It was those people, not big money donors or party powerbrokers, who sent Mr. Wellstone to the Senate.

That's what your College Democrats can do, Bill. It all starts with listening. Find out who's hurting, and why. Who has to go to hospital emergency rooms, because they have no other way to get medical care? Why don't they have any other way to get medical care? What can you do to help? Who is losing jobs because factories are closing, and what is being done (if anything) to help them? What recourse do they have? What do they want? Don't tell them "This wouldn't happen if Democrats were in charge." Don't preach, listen. Let them tell you what they want, and let them know that you have heard their voices and understand them.

Maybe some of these people have never even met a Democrat. If you show up at the local NASCAR races with a snow-cone stand, raising money to build a Habitat for Humanity house or to help out the family of a disabled veteran from Mr. Bush's war, it will speak infinitely louder than you plastering slogans around or pushing literature on people. They might actually look at your for the first time, and notice the lack of horns and tail. It might not convince them to vote Democratic tomorrow, but sooner or later, it will have an effect, especially if persistence and repetition show them that you're not just trying to impress them, but this is who you really are.

And even if it doesn't seem to have much effect right away, you can take comfort in the fact that you'll be scaring the daylights out of the conservative propaganda machine! Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko, Bill!

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