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.