A Path Forward – Part Two

Today I want to continue discussing ways in which the Democratic Party’s approach to campaigning must change if they want to start winning in sufficient numbers again. As in yesterday’s posting, I want to concentrate on younger (18-39 year-olds) voters. Let’s continue.

As I outlined in the first article in this series, for the purposes of this exercise I am looking at progressives and Democrats as one, often referring to them as “we”. Especially with young voters that is a large part of the problem. Young people largely reject party labels! In fact they often detest the very idea of political parties. Since so much of our political activism revolves around political parties this is a monumental structural problem. Looking at it from the other end of the political spectrum think of how the Tea Party didn’t strike out on its own; it took over the Republican Party.

There appears to be an emerging progressive movement in this country that is led by women. (That presents another set of interesting challenges/opportunities which will be explored later in this series.) Regardless of age, many of them reject Party labels but identify strongly with causes. This energy is crucial. Immediately it focused attention on the transgressions of the Trump administration and already has served to keep them somewhat in check. (Can you imagine how wild they would have already run if left uncontested?) Long term impact will only be achieved via the ballot box. It is important that this energy be channeled to increase voter registration and turnout. However, if it is hijacked by the Democratic Party we will alienate many of those we want to influence and the entire project will be significantly less effective.

I don’t have the statistics handy, but nationally more and more people (especially young people) are registering to vote without declaring a Party Affiliation. (While the terminology varies by state, generally they are called independents. In many states there actually is an Independent Party.) Since I am no longer constrained by being part of the official Democratic Party structure, I have often advised young people to register as unaffiliated unless they wanted to pursue a future within the Democratic Party. America is currently very polarized and party affiliation is easily accessible public record. I would hate to see anyone lose a job opportunity over their party affiliation. Here is my bottom line on the topic: I don’t care about your Party affiliation; I care that you vote and how you vote – that makes the difference. Registrations don’t vote; voters do.

So the present day solution is that in addition to the voter registration and turnout work the Democratic Party has traditionally done we need a major effort that is aligned in cause but does not involve or carry the Party’s name. Unless you have been on the “inside”, you have no idea of how difficult a concept this is to “sell” to Democrats!

On the negative end entities like Saturday Night Live are carrying the water for our cause. Today’s cast is doing to Donald Trump and Sean Spicer what Tina Fey did to Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign. Trump has nobody to blame but himself. Spicer is just an incompetent following the boss’s orders. At the moment progressives need to concentrate on registration and turnout. This cannot be done primarily via the Democratic Party for the reasons mentioned above. The question then becomes how to accomplish the mission.

The outreach has to take place under the banner of either third parties (not in the political sense) or independent and sometimes seemingly individual efforts. This is where harnessing and channeling the efforts of motivated women can garner huge dividends. One example is letter writing campaigns. Hand written, non-scripted letters have a major impact. If a young person gets a slick, four color flyer in their mail it ends up in the recycle bin without being read. If they receive a hand written letter in the mail they open it up and read most if not all of it. If the writer’s issues resonate with them you may well have motivated them to vote and just possibly recruited another volunteer for the movement.

Voter registration is a bit more challenging. It often takes a bit of coordination and is easiest to accomplish with the aid of an organization’s framework. That organization, while perhaps staffed by a good percentage of Democrats, cannot be under the banner of the Democratic Party if you want to maximize your acceptance by young people. Depending on the area it may be best not to operate under the banner of a given church either. Come up with some innocuous sounding name like the right wing does. The group just needs enough structure to coordinate the logistics and stay within the laws of your state; it doesn’t need a huge power structure complete with officers and minutes.

If you are going to get into somewhat sophisticated messaging I encourage the use of surrogates to attract crowds and attention. Again remember the target audience. Getting your Governor or Senator to appear isn’t going to entice a typical twenty year-old to show up; in fact it may well alienate them. A local sports hero or entertainment celebrity will get more local youth to get off the couch.

More than a message problem we have a Party problem. We have to get the right message to the right people without attaching the Party’s name to it. That involves doing some things in an untraditional manner and it’s difficult to teach many of us old dogs a new trick.

This article is part of a series dealing with the path forward for progressives to start winning at the polls again.

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