By Bill Phillips
Political Consultant, Sound Strategies
For a certain set of political geeks, nothing is more fun than sitting around a table discussing ideology. In context of an official Democratic organization, those discussions are often centered around resolutions and bylaws. We political geeks dearly love our philosophical conversations, debates, and wordsmithing for a reason––we’re passionate people who never tire of finding ways to communicate that passion to anyone who will listen.
Who is listening? Unfortunately, only those in the room for the most part. While discussions about the pros and cons of an education initiative or environmental concern might thrill activists, the public at large remains distant and removed from the process. In short, those conversations rarely help us elect Democrats at all. This is one reason many feel political activism is a waste of time and energy, and why official Democratic organization meetings were often poorly attended in the past.
The candidacy of Bernie Sanders changed that. For the first time in a while, large numbers of people became active and engaged. Now they’re looking for ways to stay active and involved, and many have assumed leadership positions. The question is whether we’re going to succeed with new people doing the same old things, or if a new direction is needed. Putting words in a platform or issuing more resolutions may be cathartic, but do they create the change so many want to see? I would argue they generally, with some notable exceptions (such as a 2014 resolution submitted to, and passed by, the Washington State Legislature that made spousal rape a felony), do not.
Just as talking about having an awesome home won’t put anybody in one, talking about our values only goes so far. Showing our values, reaching out to the community, those are actions which can engage a whole new group of people. Instead of simply talking about rules and taking votes on motions, what if every Democratic party meeting included a direct-action component? It could be as simple as making phone calls to district residents about a proposed bill, or asking them to contact their elected officials. Even something that simple empowers people who may not be involved at the official level.
The 39th LD Democrats have begun doing this under chair Karl de Jong. The group’s first ‘direct action’ of the year involved phone calls urging folks to contact their elected officials regarding a bill in Olympia. Others are planned. Because this is a new feature of our meetings not every member was happy about the change, but most agree that reaching out to the community is the best way to keep the community involved.
The lesson of Bernie’s ‘people-powered’ campaign is that people get involved when they’re empowered to be involved. Providing opportunity for direct action at each of our meetings for direct action is just such an empowering move. It may not seem right or feel comfortable for every LD and County Democratic organization, but if they all did it then just imagine how many more people the Democratic party could reach.
Each of us must decide for ourselves what type of activist to be. A party full of activists who are ready, willing, and able to engage with the public will be stronger than one that does not. Finding time to inform, contact, and mobilize the public––including using a portion of meeting time to do just that––could be key to turning districts from red to blue.
Bill Phillips is a political consultant and owner of the Everett-based Sound Strategies consulting company. He is State Committee Man for the 39th Legislative District and former Snohomish County Democrats Chair.