From The Ground Up — My First Local Democrat Meeting

Last night, I went to the meeting of my local Democratic Legislative District. I had been iffy early in the day on my attending; I had some deadlines to complete for Talk Film Society and hadn’t really planned dinner that well. I told my wife maybe I’d slip, but, wives being generally smarter than their husbands, she insisted I went as this has been something I’ve been wanting to do since the general election.

I was listening to Pod Save America on my way, and one of the last exchanges between Jon Favreau and Katie Couric was about turning the energy of the marches and the protests into action, something I’ve struggled with directing my energy and frustrations with. I’ve followed the actions on 5 Calls and jammed every possible Senator and Rep phone line during the confirmation hearings. But besides commiserating on Facebook Feeds and a frustrating run in with the Local Berniecrats group, I hadn’t found an actual avenue for what I felt like I could provide.

So I rolled up to the intersection, proceeded north, and passed a small building and headed to the large church beyond it.

There was no one in the parking lot.

I looked south, to the smaller building, and saw a packed parking lot. I had to park in the soft, muddy pebbles that served as an overflow parking area.

I made it in time for the social hour, but anyone that knows me knows I am aloof and bad at engaging in conversation. I did find someone to chat with, and learned how she was attending because her friend couldn’t, that they lived on separate sides of legislative districts, and would be going with each other to try to coordinate across districts. I found that really inspiring, that she went that much further out of her way to support a friend.

The meeting was a little over my head; I followed the agenda and referenced the Mast Head, but had to use context to figure out some of the structural things. The Co-Chair talked about one of my most important actions, which is making sure no Republican is unopposed on the ballots going forward. The chair had a speech read by her daughter because she was away for work; at this local of a level, the leadership are juggling day jobs and family life just like everyone else, something I think gets lost on casual engagers to the process.

The treasurer got me the most concerned. When you think of the millions of dollars that were raised by the campaigns and the donations pouring in over the last few months, it’s shocking to hear just how little a local action group has in the coffers. And the fund raising goals were so meager; $500 a year, $10,000 by summer of next year for a dedicated office. Not exactly folding money, but the kind of money that you expect large organizations to have. But the treasurer also got me the most excited — he really took the time to get into the granular needs of communication, organization, committee planning; the kinds of dish washing, paper filing and people connecting I felt were missing. I put my name down as a volunteer, and I couldn’t even make it home without thinking of 3 or 4 ways to help out.

Then there was a presentation about charter schools and why they are bad — Nothing I hadn’t learned on Last Week Tonight before, but not everyone consumes their media like some of us cultural omnivores do.

These meetings will surprise you with just how little support they have. It’s easy to push back on national structures like the DNC, but the truth of how decentralized political power makes delusions about grand conspiracies and vast organized fraud seem like the rantings of crazy people.

And I know I’m deep in a red area, so this is going to be scrapping and clawing for wins where the team can find them. I noted some comments about ‘Radical Islamic Terrorism’ that took me by surprise. But progress is often a slow game, and at the minimum a market of ideas needs to be present on any ballot instead of just a confirmation of the status quo.

My Takeaways For Anyone Looking To Get Active Locally

— Know Local — Know your district, know your precinct, and know the elected officials who oversee it. Having that basic information is more important to getting involved than any other activity you can do.

— You got a skill that can be used. Even if it’s basic structure or a strong back, your local party can use you.

— Take a friend. Take a friend to your local meeting, find a local meeting in your friends district and go with them, get people out there. The protests and the march are a good show of force, but we need long term organizational work.

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