Lost Causes

St. Jude - Patron Saint of Lost Causes
I’ve never been one to just write something off. I don’t really believe in “lost causes”. Sure, when the odds are against you, maybe its time to rethink your position, but calling something a lost cause is, well, just something I’m not all that ready to do. I know I play the cynic a lot, but through it all I’m an optimist.

So it is with interest that I read this post and its rebuttal a couple of days ago. Honestly, I’m just now getting to it because I’ve been working on a project, that is also the reason I haven’t written anything in over a month.

As a general statement, I agree with the overall sentiment of Tennessee Talking Point’s post (TTP). There’s plenty that’s bright and shiny out there to distract people from making an impact right in their own backyard, no matter what the issue might be. Part of this is human nature. Who doesn’t have advice for their friends that also applies to themselves but they don’t necessarily follow? We all do it, which is another point of this post that I agree with.

Also, I’m pretty certain that the assertion of conflict that “Barack Obama isn’t going to win Tennessee” is also true. Interestingly, so does Aunt B. who penned the rebuttal. The Obama campaign won last time without Tennessee, chances are they feel they can do it again.

So I find myself asking, “What is the conflict?” The conflict seems to come from the assertion that TTP has the prescription for all that ails us. Of course, that doesn’t really appear in the post. Rather, TTP is merely noting that because the resources needed to ensure a victory for the Obama campaign in Tennessee will likely never come, perhaps our two most precious resources: time and money, would be better spent locally rather than nationally. I couldn’t agree more with this assessment.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the top of the ticket will carry those below. This can be true when the top of the ticket, whether it be President, Governor, Senator or US House has the overall strength and popularity to carry an area. When it doesn’t, well then what? Then its up to the individuals who are on those down ticket races and the institutions that support them to step it up a notch rather than let some ridiculous notion of fate take the reigns.

We are in year 3 of “rebuilding” and that despite assurances to the contrary, I haven’t seen much evidence of anything being built on a state level. It is actually in the aftermath of the 2008 election that I became better acquainted with Aunt B. We’ve both observed, from different areas of the state, and often different perspectives, what this “rebuilding” has entailed. While I don’t want to get into Democrat on Democrat violence, lest I wake the trolls of years past, I understand where Aunt B. is coming from when she asks rhetorically how anyone can represent the sometimes disparate interests that make up Tennessee Democrats. I would answer by saying by “lead locally”.

Tennessee may have three divisions in the state constitution, but the reality is its more like 10. There are rural/urban divisions, class divisions, race divisions, and many more. While the Republicans like to play “unified” and can come together on the economic and social issues that they tout, they also are not as unified as they seem. There are fractures. There are people upset with their actions. What we haven’t done is activate those people, and I saw that first hand here in Shelby County when the most Democratic leaning county in the state elected 6 Republicans to countywide office. We didn’t get our vote out and we lost.

Putting your time, energy and money behind local resources, be they state or local candidates, or even local parties, is the way to drive vote and build the leaders of the future that will eventually run for the county board, State House, State Senate or even federal office. This is part of what we’ve been lacking statewide. Is it the cure? I couldn’t say because so far it hasn’t been tried…here.

In North Carolina in 2005, as a part of the 50 state strategy, the state party began working to build county parties. They started canvassing areas that hadn’t been touched in a long time. Despite the challenges of canvassing in rural areas, they found a way to do it…effectively. Barack Obama won North Carolina, but it took 3 years of work to make it happen. For more information about this, read Blue Dixie by Bob Moser.

Now there are some differences here. North Carolina had a strong state party. We don’t. They had solid majorities in their legislature. We don’t. They had huge Democratic majorities in local governments. We don’t. But we can, if we will work to build these local institutions. It is this foundation that we need to build to have a strong party and ultimately not only elect more Democrats, but more liberal Democrats. There, I said it…liberal, it’s not a dirty word.

Back to the point, we have to build locally to regain strength, and I think that’s the ultimate point to TTP’s post.

Now would like to talk about the situation more generally…

Let’s face it, we’re not going to have a savior. There’s no shining knight on a hill that’s going to return our party to prominence. We have to do it deliberately and sometimes in spite of “leadership” that seems like its operating more out of fear or short-term self interest than anything else.

The long hard truth is that real self interest for Democrats means making sure more Democrats get elected. Unfortunately that’s not always how it works, but it can and it should be.

For instance, I’ve written a fair amount, both here and at Speak to Power about G.A. Hardaway, or more specifically, his bills. I’ll be the first to admit that there a a whole bunch of them that I don’t like. But when it comes right down to crunch time, G.A. is out there working for Democrats. I respect that, even if I dislike some of the bills he pushes.

Does that mean I’m going to go out and work for G.A.? Probably not, Does that mean he’s my bestest buddy? No. It does mean that while its easy to take a very narrow view of “things”, that narrow view is neither well informed nor is it necessarily in the overall best interest of beating back the overwhelming majorities that Republicans have in this state and the draconian bills that they’re pushing.

If we don’t work to get more Democrats elected, our chances of getting more liberal Democrats elected are effectively nil. I understand that some people want it now and its fine to want things. I ask them, what have they done today, this week, or this month to get a liberal elected? How many doors have you knocked on? How many phone calls have you made? What have you done?

I’ll tell you what I’ve done. I restarted the College Democrats at the University of Memphis, I’ve volunteered weeks of my time for the Shelby County Democratic Party. That’s just the beginning of what I am doing and intend to do despite my hectic life: full-time college schedule, part-time job, extra projects, and my girlfriend Ellyn and her child.

Will it be flashy? No. Will it be sexy? No. Will it work? Maybe.

My point here is, I understand the general anger because I have felt it and continue to feel it. I understand wanting things to get better and being angry that they’re not, because I want that too. I understand the frustration that is out there concerning the general fecklessness of far too many of the institutions and individuals that “lead” our side. But I also understand from what I’ve observed that turning it around will not happen on its own. We will not just magically get it together. It will take a lot of sweat equity. It will take a lot of work. There will be wins and losses. There will be ups and downs. At times, maybe a lot of times, it will suck. But we have to do it , with or without them anyway.

So rather than pointing fingers at anyone, which is also not my intention, and waiting for some mythical “other” to get it together, we as Democrats, whether Blue Dogs or dyed in the wool liberals have to take the future in our own hands and maybe sometimes drag our leadership kicking and screaming back from the brink of the disaster that they have created and we have allowed them to maintain.

The responsibility lies on all of us, not just electeds, or party members or donors. We, the people who believe in the Democratic values we hold dear, all allowed this to happen, and as such, we have to come together and work together to correct it.

I don’t believe in lost causes because the only lost cause out there is the one that you give up on. I’m not willing to give up. Republicans aren’t going to do it for us, despite their best efforts. From my perspective we can either do or get done to. I’m over getting done to. It’s time for us to do.

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