Let’s give everyone a fair shot

Victoria Advocate Pat

Up until the last few years, politics had little place in my day to day life. I was a news junkie, raised on TIME magazine, “Meet the Press” and dinner table discussions of world affairs; but the only thing political I did was vote. Politics meant Democrat or Republican, how everyone voted and who won.

The presidential election of 2016 blasted away my complacency and, apparently, that of millions of other Americans. Our belief that the power of the traditional two-party institutions would prevail proved untrue for both parties. 2017 opened the doors to a new political reality, resistance, the power of individuals motivated by inspiration.

The resistance movement was embraced by most Democrats but also by the unaffiliated, the nonpartisans, nonvoters and the anti-party. Callers, letter writers, tweeters and marchers are taking time out of their busy schedules to be heard – not as party members but as individuals who feel unheard and overlooked.

A whole industry of apps and programs related to political activism have blossomed on our smartphones and iPads. Check out apps like 5 Calls, Political Tracker, BuyPartisan and Congress.

In this new way, politics is becoming part of many people’s everyday lives. Even Facebook has a Town Hall button now that connects the individual to his or, more frequently, her representatives.

Inspirational politics has led to the formation of a myriad of groups that mobilize online first and face-to-face second. Groups like Indivisible, #resistance, Texas Pantsuit Republic, Planned Parenthood Votes, Our Revolution Texas, Voto Latino, Texas Organizing Project, Emerge USA and scores more.

Annie’s List, promoting progressive women in Texas politics, held a luncheon March 31 in Houston, attended by some 2,500 supporters.

In August, Dallas will host the national conference of the Young Democrats of America. Yes, in Texas. Monthly meetings of the Victoria County Democrats Club have been standing room only.

All this new energy will either water down or enrich the power of the party as an institution. Party leaders must learn new ways to identify and reach out to these passionate voices, many of which are critical and others whose truths make us uncomfortable. If the Democratic Party cannot come together with a meaningful agenda that reaches across geography, race, age and gender, then we are doomed to remain out of step with our own future.

Many feel the ugliness that the Trump presidency represents may be the shock it takes to get us to face up to the social and economic problems that we have allowed to fester for decades. Racism, sexism, xenophobia and intolerance have been given a place at the table, and the invitation needs to be rescinded.

That’s what the resistance is about. It’s not about what party won or lost. It’s about every American having a fair shot at the “Blessings of Liberty” as enumerated in our Constitution.

Pat Tally is the chairwoman of the Victoria County Democratic Party. Before retiring to Victoria, she was the director of a clinical social work department in a large Dallas hospital system for 22 years. She may be emailed at pattally@outlook.com.

This story originally appeared 4/9/2017 in the Victoria Advocate.

Democracy in Color Promotes Return of the Majority

Return of Majority

Today, Democracy in Color, launched a new report and campaign entitled “Return of the Majority: A Roadmap for Taking Back Our Country.” The efforts seeks to redirect the Democratic Party’s focus toward strategic investments in communities of color and among progressive whites to help re-establish Democratic primacy in critical elected offices across the nation. In the last election, the Democratic Party only spent 2% of its budget with people of color. Further, it disproportionately focused financial resources on national television ads instead of investing in local, grassroots organizations with a proven track record of registering and mobilizing new voters.

Democracy in Color, an organization founded by best-selling author and social justice advocate Steve Phillips, is calling on “Democrats and progressives nationwide to spend $1 billion over the next four years focusing on mobilizing 10 million new voters – people of color and progressive whites – in the 17 closest battleground states of 2016,” according to a press release detailing the effort’s launch.

“Return of the Majority highlights data that clearly shows the key to Democratic victories in Congress and the White House is in investing in communities of color who were key to Obama’s reelection, as well as registering newly eligible New American Majority voters,” said Phillips. “It’s about spending less on TV ads and more on hiring on-the-ground organizers, especially in the 17 Frontline States we have identified.”

According to Phillips, Democrats are facing a crisis of strategy and operations. “For too long,” he contended, “Democratic spending has been driven by a flawed strategy that overemphasizes tv ads and tries to target, persuade, and change the minds of white voters.” For more effective results, #ReturnoftheMajority advances a data driven, empirically sound plan to swing momentum back in favor of the Democratic Party.

Targeting 17 states – Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin – this effort encourages donors to reallocate their resources to on the ground organizations doing the work of direct voter contact. Among the 18 “Frontline Freedom Fighters” initially identified by Democracy in Color are New Georgia Project, which registered 200,000 new Black voters in this past election cycle, One Arizona, which registered 150,000 new Latino voters in 16 weeks in 2016, Blueprint North Carolina, and the Texas Organizing Project.

The #ReturnoftheMajority advocates a civic web approach, which calls for strategic investments in on the ground staff, volunteers, and community block captain to the tune of $40-$50 per new voter. Using this model, an investment of just $500 million could yield 10 million new voters in key states.

“Clearly what was done is 2016 did not work,” said Phillips, noting that the lack of diverse spend – both in advertising and in direct grassroots mobilizing – coupled with a lack of accountability, transparency, and evidence-based spending have provided Democrats and progressives an opportunity to “see the consequences of that failure every day now.”

Failure to adapt to changing times and adopt a more dynamic on the ground strategy would likely lead Democrats and progressives to a permanent political underclass. As demographics continue to shift, however, we can realize a return of the majority through more strategic efforts to engage and mobilize voters of color and progressive whites.

This story originally appeared 3/27/2017 on Politic365.

The Key to Taking Back Our Country: Fortify the Front Lines of the Resistance

Sylvester-Turner-win

Do you ever wonder what you would have done had you lived during dire periods in history? What was the best way to fight fascism in 20th century Europe? How did Americans in the 1960s show solidarity with those living under legalized racial segregation in our own country? Fortunately, there are lessons to learn from other countries where national struggles were waged to take back control from undemocratically installed demagogues. One of the most important lessons is that winning back power requires sending as much support as possible to those on the front lines of the struggle for liberation.

I’ve spent the past few months working with the team at Democracy in Color looking at election and Census data through the lens of historical revolutionary struggles in order to identify pertinent patterns that can guide the efforts of The Resistance. Our findings are distilled in the report being released today, Return of the Majority: Roadmap to Taking Back Our Country. What we found is that there are 17 states and 13 congressional districts that will determine the future political control of this country. The quickest path to power involves identifying and strengthening the organizations, activists, and leaders working to build progressive political power in those states and districts.

The United States is currently divided into three broad categories of states—13 states which strongly rejected the anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim candidacy of the 2016 Republican nominee (using the language of revolutionary struggles throughout history, I call these states Liberated Zones); 20 mainly smaller states that strongly supported the Republican candidate (those states are what I call Occupied Areas), and 17 states, home to 64 million voters in 2016, where the results were closely contested, and the margin of difference was in the single digits. Democrats won 7 of those states and lost 10. Outside of those 17 states, there are also 13 front line congressional districts where the margin was close, and the Republican incumbent could be ousted with a concerted effort over the next 19 months.

The upside potential in the front line states is enormous. In 9 of the 10 front line states, the number of potential progressive voters far exceeds the relatively narrow margin by which the 2016 election was decided in that state. The following chart tells the tale:

In order to turn that population potential into political power, we must identify and fortify the community-based organizations and leaders doing the difficult day-to-day work of organizing, registering, and mobilizing voters. Often overlooked, these front line freedom fighters represent the country’s best hope for taking back our country. Although they don’t get the headlines, resources, and attention they deserve, they are there in the trenches, holding down the fort, eager for assistance and support from allies across the country.

Examples of the effectiveness of these organizations abound. While researching and writing my book, I discovered at least 18 groups doing effective, quantifiable voter mobilization work in the front line states. The Texas Organizing Project, for example, has built a neighborhood-based, voter mobilization machine that turned out tens of thousands of people in the 2015 Houston mayoral election and helped African-American Sylvester Turner capture the keys to City Hall, thereby creating a beachhead of progressive political power in what is seen as a conservative and red state. Twelve committed community organizations came together in Arizona to form a coalition called One Arizona, and that network of groups registered 150,000 voters in six weeks in the Fall of 2016, making that heavily-Latino state more competitive than it has been in decades. In Martin Luther King’s home state of Georgia, the New Georgia Project overcame the kinds of state-sponsored voter suppression King faced and still managed to register more than 100,000 African American voters.

A common question of those not in the front line states is, “What should I be doing to most effectively fight back against the madman in the White House?” One of the best ways to be helpful is to organize where you are and send support to those on the front lines of the fight. The recent national Coffee Day was an excellent example of how local actions across the country can be aggregated and channeled to assist the most pressing fight of the moment. The ACLU is one of the leading organizations fighting the travel ban, and on February 4th, more than 600 cafes across the country donated a portion of the sale of each cup of coffee to support the ACLU’s work. In that weekend alone, $24 million was raised to help the litigation against the anti-Muslim Executive Orders.

Another strategic area of impact for individual activists is engaging with those Democratic and progressive groups with the biggest budgets and holding them accountable for how those funds are spent. Clearly, the plans and programs of those who orchestrated $1.5 billion in Democratic and progressive spending last year failed—miserably. What we now need is a bottom-up revolution of transparency and accountability, and the touchstone of that accountability is challenging the Democratic Party to move massive amounts of money into the front line states in order to dramatically increase the number of progressive voters. This can be accomplished for a fraction of the cost of what is spent every cycle.

Based on past patterns, over the next two years, the Democratic Party committees and allied outside groups will spend in excess of $500 million between now and November 2018. Traditionally, most of that money goes to paid advertising (generally unmemorable and ineffective) designed to sway supposedly swing voters. Fortunately, there is a much better and more effective way to deploy political dollars. Employing a community-based voter mobilization model (what UC Berkeley professor Lisa Garcia Bedolla calls a “Civic Web”) of paid, community-based staff working with local volunteer neighborhood captains, an investment of $1 million can increase voter turnout by 20,000 people. Investing the full $500 million in this fashion could swell the ranks of progressive voters by nearly 10 million people. That is how we take the country back.

None of us need wonder what we would have done if faced with a despotic regime hell-bent on destroying the progress made towards justice and equality in our country. We are confronting such a moment right now. But this is not an existential crisis requiring us to peer deep into the souls of those people who enthusiastically supported a candidate promising to turn loose armed agents of the federal government to round up brown-skinned immigrants and place them in chains and cages. It is an operational crisis where our time, energy, and resources are not working to maximize the political power of what is in fact the majority of people in the United States of America. That is a fixable problem, and the first step is to direct as much support as possible to the Frontline Freedom Fighters holding the line in the places we can and should win in the months and years ahead.

This story originally appeared 3/27/2017 in The Nation.