I attended a political event yesterday with three NC House members

Some good friends here in Chapel Hill hosted an informational meeting yesterday, featuring Verla Insko, Graig Meyer, and Darren Jackson. Attendance was off the charts, people were eager to find a way to take action in the face of so much ugliness and overreach by Republicans in Raleigh. There was plenty of chit-chat about the national scene as well, but the focus was on North Carolina in general, and the NC House in particular.

I had two takeaways from the meetings. First, I was encouraged by the level of energy of people to take action. Second, I was deeply frustrated by the "strategy" that seems to be driving the Democratic Party. I was looking for bold, fresh thinking. What I heard was "give money, host fundraisers, make phone calls."

Don't get me wrong. I get it. My wife and I do all of that and more. We have been able to give many thousands of dollars to Democrats in North Carolina over the past two election cycles, and we're always on standby to host events. Jane, in particular, is a tireless fundraiser for Lillian's List and Planned Parenthood. We make contributions as a matter of faith and practicality. It takes money to run campaigns. We have also made hundreds of phone calls, both here and down east. We know how GOTV works. And we know how it doesn't work. My personal contact rate for calling in the last election cycle was 1%. That means I dialed 100 numbers to reach one real person, a person who said, "Stop calling me!"

At this event, I was reluctant to sign up for more of the same. What I wanted to hear about were about opportunities for Democrats to actively participate, as Democrats, in local communities. Not just in the six weeks before an election, but year round. I wanted to hear about a different kind of effort ... community organizing ... which has been suggested by my friend Thomas Mills. Thomas makes a compelling case for organizing around the needs of communities, not just election campaigns, in order to reestablish trust, engagement, and relevance.

If I'm going to give money to Democrats, I'd like half of that money to go to groups of people who are actively and visibly involved in making their communities better. Local Democrats in local communities should already know what's needed.

What kind of things might Democrats focus on? Here are some examples: Roadside clean-up through Adopt a Highway. Collecting toys for daycare centers. Making small donations to sponsor local events. Holding classes about health issues. Building Habitat houses. Helping families who are victims of fires or other disasters. Delivering water to people whose wells have been contaminated. Holding annual plant sales, like they do in Watauga County. Sponsoring Meals on Wheels. Volunteering in schools. Supporting teachers. Anything and everything to establish a deeper and more relevant connection with real people living real lives.

I understand that I can do all of these things today, but I would rather do them with other people who are Democrats. That's why I want to see precinct and county organizations focus on helping communities and helping people year round. I can't think of any other way for us to become and remain relevant to people's lives.

While I have your attention, two more thoughts.

Branding. Party affiliation is collapsing everywhere, we've all seen the numbers. Many people simply don't see parties as relevant for their lives. So let's stop talking about the North Carolina Democratic Party, and instead start talking about North Carolina Democrats. Democrats are people. Parties are faceless bureaucracies.

NCDP organization. I've attended several local and statewide events as a Democrat, and I know many people who pour their hearts and souls into being good soldiers in the organization. But from where I sit, I'd rather have a lobotomy than have to go through another meeting. Arcane and obscure barely describe the experience. If Democrats want more engagement, someone stronger and more patient than I needs to bring a blank slate to the next meeting and start over. The current system is 95% bullshit and totally irrelevant for the real lives of real people.

Thanks for reading.

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Comments

A lot of good points.

I especially like the community engagement thing. I know some people might find the marriage of the two (charity as a Democrat) inappropriate, or agenda-driven, or (fill in the blank). But you don't have to proselytize while helping, just wear a fricking t-shirt to show who you are. If people ask, well. That's an invitation to proselytize a little bit.

Exactly

It's not about proselytizing. It's about being of service, and, yeah, maybe wearing a button or t-shirt. For many local organizations, a modest contribution of even a hundred dollars we keep some of them alive. And the volunteer labor that could be mounted against a good cause? That value is where things really get interesting.

Some thoughts.

-Orange Dems have engaged in many activities that support their communities, and have done so for several years. Currently, they have a group that travels down to counties hard hit by Hurricane Matthew and help people by doing home repairs. No one sends out a press release about this, and I personally think that would be inappropriate. But community service IS happening and is organized by Democrats. Should there be more? Most likely.

-I really like this comment:

Democrats are people. Parties are faceless bureaucracies.

-Any meeting run by Robert's Rules of Order can quickly decend into a hellish nightmare of challenges, quorum calls, points of order, blah, blah, blah.... There is a need for a method of order! But like all rules, or systems, some can take advantage of the rules to meet their own agenda.

_Republicans leave their tent by one door, arm in arm, marching in lockstep, ready to put their marching orders into practice.
-Democrats leave their tent, straggling out every available exit, going in many directions, and most of them mumbling, I don't like what they said we need to do, I'm going to do it my way.

-It's not just party affiliation that is waning in our society, membership is dropping in most non-profits and in churches as well. We are becoming a nation of individuals who do not feel a need to be part of a group. Seemingly, who don't want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. I don't know that this bodes well for our nation.

-It's hard, practically impossible, to change an organization from the outside. Especially in the case of politics. Change can be driven by outside events, but not from people who are outside the party. Such as unaffiliated voters. If people want the party to change, they need to register as Dems and show up at precinct meetings (coming up in late February). Maybe even get themselves elected as precinct chair!

-You are absolutely right that what worked in the past will not continue to work in the future. The party needs to change.
NC needs a Democratic candidate running in every election, from school board to governor. Every candidate deserves the support of the Democratic Caucuses in the House and the Senate. Every candidate. This is how we build a bench of future leaders.
We need better messaging.
We need fewer campaigns run from professionals in Washington. They may know a lot of stats and polls, but they don't know the people of North Carolina.
We need party leadership that is open to change and not committed to the party as it used to operate, but are open to building the party of the future.

-You and Jane are incredibly generous, in everything you do. And our community is better because you are a part of it.

Thanks for the extensive comment

Thanks for the extensive comment.

I'm pretty familiar with what happens with Democrats in Orange county, but it seems to be an outlier in the state. I could be wrong about that.

Vicki, you are one of the heroes and great soldiers who are tireless in your activism. I don't know how you do everything that you do, but it is a constant source of inspiration.

I think I'm just a grumpy old man who is on the edge of being worn out. Or maybe I'm so depressed that I can't find the way up.

Thanks again.

T shirts

I think the t shirts is a good idea. With so many unaffiliated folks around, let them remember that the person working delivering meals or at the food bank was a Democrat. Maybe they aren't so bad despite what they have heard. Of course, some nonprofit organizations have to be vigilantly nonpartisan.

P R Manning

Engaging

Great ideas! How about organizing Blue NC followers to do just what you describe in the locations that Democrats have a chance to win in the next General Assembly elections!

We've been working on that for ten years.

Almost all of our Community members are very active in their local party organizations. And some are quite effective in getting the "community organizing" activities off the ground. Orange county is pretty good at this, Watauga county is very impressive.

The barriers are institutional. At the meeting we attended, the people in the legislature didn't budge off their talking point of giving money and holding fundraisers.

The untapped power of our County Chairs

I enjoyed reading your interesting and poignant thoughts. You actually discussed a sad truth within our own NC Democratic Party. We have failed the down ballot and our County organizations and the consequences have been plainly obvious. We lost our state and many members as well.

A couple of things I believe would help Democrats and the Democratic Party leadership is for us all to recognize the importance of the County Chairs and provide whatever assets can be provided to them.
The NCDP asks a great deal from the counties and provides very little assets, if any in some cases, particularly in the rural counties, to do the work, or to enhance the work already being done for the Party. We are top down and should be bottom up because that is where the grass roots are actually growing the Party and sharing its message.

Today we have four or five counties in NC where, seemingly, the only voices being heard come from.
The concentration of our attention to those counties has come at a price. We have, to a great degree, lost the rural Democrats.

Although it is true that those four or five counties are the population centers, our almost exclusive attention to them has not brought us election victories, new members, new Democratic Legislators, or any degree of greater respect in North Carolina.

The NCDP in Raleigh is not going to put any democrats in any city council seats , county commissioner seats, School board seats, Mayor seats, or any other elected seats where the NCDP in Raleigh have no knowledge of, interest in, or understanding of the potential impact of those elections.

Only the local Democrats in each County understand what is at stake for them in those down ballot elections and how to influence and even win those seats for Democrats.
Democratic Party County Chairs, their organizations and local assets combined with NCDP assets will greatly help to accomplish this.

We must redirect our focus and our assets, to the degree we can provide them, to the County Chairs and their local efforts. We can only take back North Carolina from the bottom up and that means in every county.

I Dred the thought that we are becoming the Party who measures it's accomplishments on the popularity of three rally great Gala Events a year and the resulting photos we get to share with each other.

Yes we elected a Democratic Governor, but barely. (I like to think the 2016 65 -85% increase in Hispanic voters in NC over the 2012 election had something to do with that victory). We cannot revel in electing a governor whose veto can be overridden seven days a week by a Republican Dominated Legislature. (That is not even mentioning the Elected Democrats who often vote with the Republicans and against their own Party interest and values time after time).

If we refuse to do the hard right we will continue to do the easy wrong. We must accept that what we have been doing is NOT working and we cannot just keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Our Party elections cannot simply be the re-shuffling of the chairs on the Titanic. We must change.... and yes.. that implies risk...lots of risk... We must.

Marshall Adame
2014 U.S. Congress Candidate NC-03

Marshall's Thoughts About County Organizations

Hi Marshall-

I think you raise some good points about the need to focus on county organizations. You are right that that's the level at which we win or lose state and local elections. What's important is not necessarily the chair, but the effectiveness of the organization.

To underscore your point, think back to the last election and ask how many times Hillary Clinton campaigned outside the half dozen biggest counties in our state. Every time an event was announced she was going back to Wake or Mecklenburg or Guilford counties. And her results were terrible, in a year when Democrats won some really important statewide races. To do better in state and local elections, we need to break our obsessive focus on a handful of counties.

Casey Mann's blue ballot initiative was quite helpful to us in New Hanover County. We could use more of the same. The current Executive Director has not been engaged with county organizations. I'm sure she is busy with other priorities, but she is not engaged with counties.

County parties need help with candidate recruitment and training, technology training and direct support, dissemination of best practices and message development. What is working in other purple counties in North Carolina? We really don't know. Doug Wilson has been working to bridge the gap but Doug is just one guy and there are 100 counties.

One thing that would help would be to revive the moribund County Chair Association, including regular meetings scheduled before the SEC meetings. The County Chair meeting has been given short shrift because NCDP officers and some key county chairs like Matt Hughes are siphoned off into Executive Council meetings. Fixing that would be a good starting point.

Richard Poole
Chair, New Hanover County Democratic Party