In my post on “What’s Next?” I talked about the “next step” for dealing with the police problems that are currently grabbing the nation’s attention. In the comments, there were statements made about the Democratic Party’s need to “reach out to activists, and invite them in.” All well and good, but in many ways, it’s a variant of a theme I’ve heard a lot of over the past few years from many on the left: That the Party needs to do something before they’ll get involved with it. It’s more often than not a case of putting the cart before the horse.
In previous posts over the past few years, I’ve talked about “Politics 101,” along with the need to get involved in the local parties. There are any number of reasons for that, but it boils down to a couple of factors: If you don’t vote, you don’t count; and an old truism, “All politics are local.”
That second aspect is what most people tend to miss, or aren’t aware of: That at its core, all politics are local. Pundits aren’t the only ones who don’t understand politics, it’s a common misconception. The assumption is that there is “The Party,” a monolithic, top-down controlled political organization. That’s not the reality. Instead, “The Party” (any national political party) is made up of many small local political parties which share a general set of beliefs (a platform). There is a local party organization, it can be for a town, city, county, or for a district. They have a committee and a chair, and they’re the ones who select local candidates and decide who they’re going to support in larger elections, like a House race, or state legislature districts. They have delegates to the state party, a voice in electing a state Party chair, help decide what the state party’s platform will be, and endorse candidates for statewide offices. The state (and to an extent local parties) also elect delegates to the national party, once again helping determine what goes into the national party’s platform as well as electing various party officials and national committee members. In short, the national party doesn’t control or dictate to the local parties, it’s the other way around.
It’s great to say that “The Party” needs to “listen to the activists,” or “they need to listen to us,” but activists for what, precisely? Ask yourself: Do those activists live in the area? Do they vote regularly? Do they make an effort to get involved in the local party? Is their agenda item of local interest? All of those questions come in to play. If they don’t live in the area, their “activism” more often than not can be seen as “outsiders trying to tell us what to do.” If they’re not regular voters, then saying “you might vote if…” is going to have the party taking a gamble, and if it doesn’t pay off, there’s a lot of scrambling to recover from it. “Local interest?” Let’s use the fracking issue. It was not an issue here in the Adirondacks. Yes, I was against it, but it was mostly academic on my part. I understand that it was a huge issue in western NY and the Southern Tier, but that’s because they sit on the Marcellus and Utica shales and would be directly impacted. We sit on granite and gneiss, and no geologist is going to suggest drilling here. Take the “local interest” part and go across the country, and you have an idea of why it appears that getting Democrats to act in unison has been compared to an exercise in herding cats. The items that may seem to you to be part of “the progressive ideal,” and truly critical in your area may not matter in the least to – or be actively opposed by – progressives in another area.
The next point is something I’ve harped on here for a while: Voting. I’ve heard any number of times over the past few years any number of “reasons” why people don’t vote. “The party needs to do this (fill in the item) to get me to vote.” “I’m not voting because the party didn’t run a good progressive.” “The party is controlled by the corporatists.” “I’m sending a message by not voting.” As I’ve said numerous times in the past, it’s crap. Let me state this again: Political parties pay attention to voters. Honest to god, guaranteed to show up at the polls every election, regular voters. If you’re not one of those, your agenda item isn’t terribly important to them, no matter what an opinion poll shows, how many people read your blog, or say they support you. Have a petition? Great, now tell me how many of those people who signed it are guaranteed to show up at the polls, because every politician will either know that, or want to know.
Here’s the other factor about voting: You’re almost never voting for just one office. Take the most recent one here in New York. The voting turnout was frankly horrible, a pathetic 28% of the eligible voters. Why? Besides it being an “unimportant” midterm, our governor had pissed off a lot of Democrats over the past 4 years. So, they stayed home. Except here’s the thing: He was running for just one office. We also had state assembly, state senate, an Attorney General, Comptroller, House of Representatives, and a few other offices on the ballot. My congressional district, which had a fairly progressive candidate, is now going to be represented by a Tea Party Republican. Other Democratic candidates in this state and around the country also lost. So by “sending a message,” you now have to live for the next 2-4 years being represented by, or having your local and state governments run by Republicans, who are going to do quite the opposite of “progressive.”
What I’ve been seeing over the past few years is a lot of people who are more than happy to tell everyone what “The Party” should do in order to “excite them,” get them involved, or into the voting booth. It’s putting the cart before the horse. The cart may move, but more than likely won’t go very far. You want change, you want to the party to listen to you? You need to vote, regularly. You need to start getting involved in local politics and the local party. You need to understand how the party is constructed, and recognize that your “ideal” may only be of interest locally or regionally. That’s putting the horse before the cart, and you’d be surprised at how well it moves if you do that.