Thursday, March 16, 2006

Caucus Reflections

Jan in SanFran, who makes her living as an organizer, reports on her visit to a DFL precinct caucus in St. Paul:

So, what's an outsider to make of the DFL caucus I saw? My DFL friends are pretty cynical about the process. They see a bunch of bleeding heart liberals (like themselves) who vote for feel good resolutions and can't even fill up a slate of delegates to carry their positions forward to the next level.

I came away rather more impressed. I organize in elections. I am impressed by any party system that can attract 85 people from a precinct to a meeting on a rainy March evening, not to cheer candidates, but to express their political hopes and ensure they have some representation at more influential levels of the endorsement process. There are not many corners of U.S. democracy where you get that kind of participation at the grassroots. Sure, these were the experienced and the comfortable, but they do show up and nearly all of them do some work in electoral battles in a highly contested state. That's terrific.

My precinct had fewer show, with less fire than she describes, but the lesson is the same, and we need to take it to heart: Democracy is not for those who whine or opine. It's for those who show up, especially at the local level.

Yesterday, I heard a speaker (more later) describe the critical detour taken by progressive activists a generation ago. The left moved away from basic politics and economics to focus on issue advocacy — the environment, equal rights, hemp legalization, etc. The right set about building a political infrastructure focused on winning elections. And here we are today, cynical, while the true believers march on the state houses with their torches blazing.

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