Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Overcoming DEC Strife

After five consecutive electoral cycles of defeat, Democrats finally appear poised to make electoral gains at all levels of government. The only thing standing in the way of Democratic victory may be other Democrats.

The problems vexing the Williamson County Democratic Party are pandemic in Democratic party county Executive Committees (DECs) nationwide. Continue reading for an article about our local problems, links to related stories around the country, and a discussion of how to transcend petty grievances and focus energy on defeating Republicans.

In 1994, when former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill wrote "All Politics is Local", Democrats controlled the Presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives. A dozen years later, Democratic influence over government has receded to an unprecedented nadir.

The transition from O'Neill's world to the one we inhabit today has been tragic for America's working families. The challenge for Democrats in 2006 is to unite those displaced by Republican corruption and incompetence into a unified opposition that is strong enough to defeat ineffectual incumbents' lobbyist-financed warchests.

There is no shortage of displaced Americans from which Democrats can form a base of support. Seniors, college students, minimum-wage employees, scientists, former residents of New Orleans, school children, veterans, the unemployed, homosexuals, women who desire reproductive freedom, environmentalists, the uninsured, Freethinkers, employees threatened with outsourcing, employees forced to accept reduced health and retirement benefits, miners, competing local exchange carriers, air travelers and generally any person who is not a white male Christian have significant grievances.

Indeed, the widespread displacement of mainstream Americans is partly to blame for the Democrats' inability to congeal. With so many disaffected, driven by injustices large and small to engage their local Democratic Party, there is a steady supply of highly motivated political neophytes. These "activists" begin attending DEC meetings, asking questions, volunteering and participating in executive decisions.

It does not take long for the activists to cross swords with the party "establishment". These are the long-time DEC members who have long ago sewn their activist oats, and tend to be less idealistic and more plugged into the statewide and national party machinery.

Soon, the activists and the establishment find themselves expending more energy fighting each other than the Republicans we seek to defeat. Even worse, the vitriol can often drive potentially hard-working volunteers away from participating in the DEC.

For months, the Williamson County Democratic Party Executive Committee has been beleaguered by conflict. To grotequely oversimplify, one group consists of members loyal to outgoing chairman Jimmy Rocha (the "establishment"). The other is made up of various EC members who have at one time or another been offended or slighted by Rocha's actions; inactions; or worse yet, actions taken without adequately consulting the EC. The latter group loosely comprises the "activist" camp.

Those who fault poor Democratic message control should commend the
WCDP-EC for keeping a fairly tight lid on the fireworks. Some reporters have come around, but lacking a strong lede, the story has "no legs." When viewed up close, the WCDP's troubles are not particularly newsworthy. However, it is becoming clear that similar dramatics are playing out in DECs across the nation.

The recent problems in nearby Bexar county have been widely reported.

Gatordemocrat has been reporting on DEC battles in Florida over at MyDD. He has started a blog to discuss several possible solutions to county party woes.

A month ago, Demondeac related his frustration with the DEC in a North Carolina county (probably Forsyth County). A commenter from Corpus Christi referred Demondeac to the Nueces County Democratic Party as a model for other DECs to emulate. Very nice site, NCDP!

MetaData's excellent comment on Demondeac's diary deserves repeating:

My personal experience with volunteering met similar resistance or incompetence. A friend of mine exerted a huge amount of effort, and finally got to be half-precinct captain. Even then, when she showed up first in line for the county meeting, she was 20th to sign in because the "in-crowd" had already met behind closed doors.

Your report about the difficulty of entry into the local Democratic Party has several possible interpretations (all of which I think are true):
- (1) Dysfunctional Management; long-termers just holding down a chair between elections
- (2) It is human nature to work with known factors (friends, culturally similar)
- (3) Intentional barriers to maintain control and keep out people and ideas they don't like.

Perhaps you mostly need persistence to push through barriers 1 and 2, although you can see how difficult-to-open the gates might be to busy people, different culture from present club members, minorties, less-educated.

Barrier number three requires strategy, intentionality, and knowing when to keep your mouth shut. I know, it's supposed to be democratic, but think about it more like getting a new job at a company where you have to start at the bottom rungs, perhaps even a company where you don't agree with corporate policy or the corporate culture. You're not going to change things right away, but build a resume over time. In the short term, competence, courtesy and volunteering for the dirty jobs can gain you respect.

In the medium run, generating money, voter registrations, volunteers and ultimately voters moves you up the ladder.

Speaking of resume building: Join a non-profit board with community visibility. Learn how to fund-raise. Make lots of political friends. Dress nicely. Speak articulately.

Hudson at MyDD provided a nice overview of the successful tactics employed by a small group of activists in New York's Hudson Valley.

Dkulju at DailyKos pointed us to the Rochester County (New Hampshire) Democratic Committee website.

In Williamson County, our DEC has been significantly demoralized. The voters have probably detected the despondence. In the 2002 Democratic Primary, voters cast 6,228 ballots. Last week, only 2,581 voters cast ballots in the Democratic Primary.

The path to victory in November requires maintaining a positive attitude, persistence, forgiveness and continued Republican miscues. The most important thing each one of us can do to improve government is to converse with our neighbors (in equal parts talking and listening) to improve our political acumen and restore our faith that an informed electorate can be trusted with the most important decisions society faces.

Improve the world by improving oneself. All politics is local.


At 3/14/2006 1:11 PM, Blogger Right Of Texas said...

I agree that nationally Democrats will make gains, but in Texas I think you'll see Republican congressional gains...as Van Taylor picks up a seat..and DeLay manages to hold his.

At 3/14/2006 3:13 PM, Blogger South Willco Man said...

One of the reason no reporters have probed the Williamson County Democratic Party is because Democrats are such a small influence. If elections were in the balance, then attention would be drawn.

In light of the problem with (any) political party in which party wags and their groups strive for control of the party, it makes an independent campaign somewhat virtuous. Strayhorn has a real shot at Perry, and Kinky certainly will influence the election. There isn't much interest in Bell, and he likely will get fewer votes than either Independent. Perhaps we need some "Independent" candidates at the county level.


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