By Emily Lin
I recently saw this post on Facebook:
Can you answer these six simple questions without Google’s help?
- Which US Congressional District do you live in?
- Who is your Representative, and what Party do they belong to?
- Which State Senate District do you live in?
- Who is your State Senator, and what Party do they belong to?
- Which State Legislative District do you live in?
- Who is your State Representative, and what Party do they belong to?
If you can’t answer these questions, you have identified a big part of the problem with politics today … If you want to fight for what’s important to you, these are the people you call.
Once you hit the US Senate you’re dealing with people who report to the entire state, but these three people, whoever they are, report to you and your neighbors.
In other words: All politics is local. All. Even if Trump (or Bannon) is the one who is haunting your dreams and raising your ire and motivating your calls – the reason they’re in the White House, and the way to get them out, is by getting involved in local politics. While we had our eyes and hopes pinned on Barack Obama for the last eight years, the Democratic Party was collapsing around the country. And now – whoops!
So it’s time to rebuild, starting right where we live. But how to start?
As someone who has been to two local Democratic Party meetings in the last two months, I am now more than qualified, by our current administration’s standards, to be an authority on issues of social and political significance. So here’s a FAQ on who and what and where and when and and how and why to get involved in your local arm of the Democratic Party.
Q: Who should get involved in local-level Democratic Party activities?
A: Anyone who is freaking out about any/all of the following:
- Economic inequality
- White supremacy
- The government-sponsored war on science
- 1984 and/or the Handmaid’s Tale
- Stephen Bannon
- Everything, we’re all doomed.
Also, anyone who loves any/all of the following:
- Representative democracy, our best worst hope and the great American experiment
- Neighbors and potluck dinners
- Robert’s Rules of Order
Really, anyone. Everyone.
Q: What happens in local Democratic Party meetings?
A: In our state (Washington), the smallest geographic area that has a Party organization is the legislative district – i.e., the area represented by a single State Representative. I live in a robustly blue legislative district (though, gerrymandering alert, I feel suspicious of the inclusion of my neighborhood in this district, as my fairly liberal street basically serves as the border to a robustly red LD). This means that my local Party has a long history and a deep bench, and our meetings reflect that.
The first meeting I went to was a “re-organization meeting.” In my state, these happen every two years. Each local Democratic Party organization only gets a two-year charter, and when that expires, it has to get rebuilt by its membership (elected Precinct Committee Officers [PCOs] and dues-paying members). This re-organization manifests as an hours-and-hours-long discussion and debate, governed by Robert’s Rules of Order, and culminates in the election of officers in the local organization, many of whom then serve as representatives of the local district in larger regional and state-wide bodies.
I was not aware of how extensive this process was when I attending the meeting. I was only able to be there for about 1.5 hours of the actual business meeting (preceded by an hour of socializing), and they BARELY got started on the business of the night in that 1.5 hours because of all the granular discussion, amendments, and debate necessary to move forward as a group. Topics of discussion included: How many chairs and vice-chairs should we have? Should we mandate gender-balancing among the chairs and vice-chairs? Who gets to vote on officers? Who gets to vote on rules and rule changes?
Listening and observing as a non-voting attendee, I definitely found myself feeling bored and Gob Bluth-ish at times (“COME ON!”), but then I’d realize, “Hey, this is the sausage-making of democracy.” These people were arguing over commas and clauses and bullet points because a) they cared, and b) they were paying attention. And that’s honestly what we need more of. While there was some amount of grumbling on all sides about things going too slowly, about inefficiency and pettiness, everyone was for the most part respectful of the process and really engaged.
The second meeting I went to was more typical. We began with the standard hour of potluck and chit-chat, including a 15 minute orientation for new members (attendance numbers are going up all over the state, apparently!). We then had an update from the newly elected Chair, and some rules-making, and then guest speakers, including one of our County Council Members and two women from a local Indivisible chapter. After that, reports from the newly elected State and County Committee representatives, and from each of the committees (events, issues, membership, elections, and communications and technology).
One of the really interesting things I learned during this part of the meeting was how state Parties organize their primaries. Our state currently has a caucus system for selecting the Democratic Presidential nominee. Last year’s caucus was the first one I had ever been to – and it was a shitshow. Not only was it chaotic and stressful, I personally knew many people (including my spouse) who wanted to but could not participate because doing so required committing to spending several hours sitting in a school gym on a Saturday morning – hard to do when you have caregiver responsibilities, or a job, or transportation or health issues, or so many other things. Combine that with the fact that we do mail-in ballots here, and participation was much, much lower than I think it should be.
During the state committee representatives’ report-out, I learned that it is the “Rules Committee” of the State Committee that decides whether we do a caucus or primary – and that a) one of our district’s representatives has applied to be on the state Rules Committee, and b) he believes – as I do – that the caucus system for electing a nominee is deeply, deeply flawed. He also happened to be someone I made chit-chat with during the break, so suddenly I felt like I had a voice in helping change a system that had frustrated me a great deal in the previous election cycle.
Q: Where do these meetings happen?
A: Ours are held in a labor union hall, which is right next to where I used to work – and I never knew it was there! That’s one good thing about getting involved in local meetings – because all members live, by definition, “near” each other (where “near” is qualified by density and gerrymandering), it’s quite likely that your local meeting will be on the way to or from somewhere you go on a regular basis. And it builds up your local institutions!
Q: When do these meetings happen?
A: Our LD has full membership meetings once a month, in the evening. They’re working on getting some childcare built in so more parents can attend, but even without formal child care, people do bring their kids. Dinner is provided (and paid for by dues and donations to the Events Committee).
Q: How do I get involved?
A: A good place to start is at this page from the Association of State Democratic Chairs. It has links to each state’s official Democratic Party website. When I go to the page for my state, there is a tab at the top called “Get Local,” which has links to both County-level and Legislative District-level Democratic organizations. But you could probably also just Google “When is my next local Democratic Party meeting?” and get what you need, because it’s 2017.
Q: Why should I become an active member of my local Democratic Party organization?
A: This is really the most important question. And that’s why I’m going to dedicate a whole new post to it. Bye.