I will admit, I am getting tired of dusting off this keyboard every two years to lament about the Florida Democratic Party. Election after election we, as Van Jones calls it, “polish the turd” and act like every election went fine, even when we have major electoral defeats. However, this election loss is different.
First of all, I am not going to talk about Donald Trump. Why? Well, I know that I will be preaching to the choir about Trump. Yes, Election Night was a shock for all of us. But I don’t want to get into that now. I really don’t even want to get into the ideological battle within the party. I also will not talk about the faults with Hillary Clinton, which I think is just as, if not more, important. I will save that for a later post. So everything in this post will be about Florida Democrats.
During this election cycle, Florida Democrats were given the Florida Senate on a golden platter. Yes, winning it would be hard, but having a 20-20 split in the Florida Senate was entirely possible. Yes, somehow, Florida Democrats totally fucked it up yet again. Yes, we had some wins in Congress, but it is the Florida Democratic Party’s job to worry about state races, as the DCCC worries about the Congressional races.
So, where have the Democrats gone wrong? More importantly, what do we need to do to rebuild it? While this article is primarily focused on rebuilding the Florida Democratic Party, I think that it can almost apply anywhere.
First, we need to do more for DECs, but also require more from its members.
Of course, many county parties argue that the state party should do more for local parties. This make sense considering it is the grassroots that understand the voters more than anyone. However, just throwing money to county parties, as well a resources, is not the solution.
In 1991, I was the precinct committeeman for Precinct 103 in Orange County at the age of 17. What did I do when I was the precinct committeeman? Absolutely nothing. I went to events, meetings, and whatnot, sat there, talked about politics, voted on a few things and that was it. Basically, I was useless.
But why was I useless? Because the Orange County DEC required nothing for my membership, with the exception of regularly attending meeting. If Democrats around the state want to build the party, they need to start at the precinct member level. We need to require these precinct members to work their precincts, whether it means conducting voter registration drives, canvassing, or educating the people on issues. Yes, being a precinct committee member should actually require work, and those not willing to put in the work should be removed from the committee.
What should they do? Well, that is for each DEC to decide. But sitting idle should not be an option.
We need to build “community coalitions”, not ideological coalitions
Democrats, I think more so than Republicans, are usually more segregated from society along an ideological divide. In Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, he discusses how the social connection has value, which is called ‘social capital’. And while Democrats do connect socially, they usually do in their own ideological circles. Most Democrats that are active in politics are usually in organizations driven by progressive politics. On the flip side, Republicans are more likely to be part of a community organization, whether it be a church, women’s club, or other non-political social group.
One problem for Democrats might be that it is hard for us to adapt to those social groups. As an atheist, I would not adapt well to a social group that is based on churches. However, as someone who volunteers, I am more likely to be part of a charity organization. This is where the Republicans have the upper hand…they are involved in these organizations.
Yes, our ideological organizations are important for policy and to change society, but it does nothing to help us build social capital, or win elections. Instead of expanding our ideas to others, we sit in a circle and preach to the choir. We need to expand to make the party better.
We need to become representatives of the community, and let them know it.
Along with the last two points, precinct committee people need to become the “representatives” of their precincts. Not only do we need to get to know all the voters in our precinct, we also need to be their “go to” person when it come to problems within the community. Basically, precinct committee members should become ombudsmen for the precinct. Is there a pothole that needs to be address? The precinct committee member takes the initiative. Should the community have a new park? The precinct committee person should help to make that a reality. Is there a problem with bullying in the local school? The precinct committee person should go to the school board on behalf of the community to address the concerns.
If Democrats can build trust within the community, then we can start winning local elections. If this election taught us anything, issues did NOT matter (as they never do, ask any academic). People want to vote for someone who they think will do “the job” (whatever that job is). If we build that in our communities, then we can start winning the respect of the people. That is how the Chicago Democratic machine was built. We can do the same in Florida.
Start asking the new generation to step up, and use community connection to find candidates.
All of what I mentioned should help Democrats build a stronger Democratic party with stronger connections to the communities. But we still have a problem when it comes to actually putting people on the ballot (a point I made abundantly clear in House District 44, a district Hillary Clinton won by 8%, yet was considered “too Republican”). There are a number of talented young Democrats in Florida, yet it seems that the prospect of them eventually running for office is quite low.
It is time to ask our younger members to contribute. They want to promote change, but the only way to promote chance is be having the power to propose and pass legislation. Progressive organizations can chant “Hey hey, ho ho, (insert name here) has got to go” (which, for the love of God, come up with a different chant already), but there is a lack of these people actually taking the next step. Yes, a few do, but many do not.
Additionally, we need to look beyond what I call the “activist class” when it comes to candidates. This ties back in with the community. We need people who have some connection to a geographical community, not an ideological community. Again, Democrats fail when it comes to this community connection, and that is where we need to build.
We start now.
Every election season, we wait until the last minute to organize. Many of you involved with DECs will know what I am talking about. I bet that your DEC meeting last month was the largest that you had in two years. And then what usually happens? Well, we keep people around for the election of officers. But once we have a bitter DEC chair race, the winners will stay and the losers will leave. After that, not having any elections will continue the decline of the party over the next year and a half. Then, like clockwork, the membership starts increasing right before the election.
This should be a full time commitment. I’m telling you, the Republicans are doing it full time. We should be as well.