Friday, July 29, 2016

Vote (And Run) Local

While listening to president Obama's stirring speech on Wednesday, I could also not help thinking of how much more his eight years in office could have been. I am not talking here at all of things he could have done, but rather what his party and its supporters could have done. Obama's biggest legislative accomplishments, health care and the stimulus, came when Democrats controlled Congress. They controlled Congress because of the massive backlash to the failure and ineptitude of the Bush administration, not because of a great progressive movement. In 2010 conservatives astroturfed the Tea Party into existence, and used to win the midterm elections, and destroy much chance Obama had of advancing new legislative initiatives.

Because of that failure, each mass shooting is met with indifference by a Congress in the pay of the NRA. Because of that failure, Obamacare has to be constantly defended against challenges, rather than expanded and improved. As I have discussed before, and as the recent email revelations have shown, the Democratic party is ineptly run and far too beholden to corporate interests.

I would like to see that changed, but that change has to start from the ground up. Many American progressives buy into a facile cult of personality, whereby they put all their hopes into a particular politician who will become president and magically fix everything. I've seen that messianism among Bernie supporters, but there was also a hefty dose of it back in 2008, too. 

Seeing the Bernie hard liners boo at the convention initially irritated me, then just made me sad. It reminded me of when one of my students asked if Mets fans should boo Chase Utley hard after his first game back in New York this season after having taking a Mets player out in the playoffs last year with a dirty slide. No, I told him. Booing and clinging to past slights are what losers do. Winners go out and win. If they don't win, they try to figure out how to win next time.

I do not want to be a Bernie booer, but I do want to be part of a movement to build up much stronger local political power on the left, power that can then be used to push up higher on the chain. The right is decades ahead on this. We keep hearing about right wing nuts getting on school boards in elections where a few ideologically-charged voters can decide things. Why doesn't the left take the same opportunities? Furthermore, in areas where only Republicans run, why aren't we challenging them? I used to live in Louie Gohmert's old district in Texas, and in some elections he runs unopposed, even though a sizable number of people there are embarrassed by him. If I had stayed there I would've seriously tried to get involved in local Democratic Party politics.

Here in New Jersey it would be harder to make an impact in local politics, but something needs to happen. The Democratic Party here in Essex County is run by a machine that helps its friends and unlike Tammany Hall, very little trickles down. Its boss, Joe DiVincenzo, actually supported Christie in the last election. Party affiliation mattered not, Christie was the boss of bosses. Meanwhile Christie advocates policies that seriously screw over Essex County, which contains Newark. Thus the Democratic Party in this area effectively supports actions harmful to the people it's supposed to represent. That has to stop. I am not sure how I can participate in that change, but I desperately want to.

The issue of racist law enforcement is one that can be especially altered by local action. Mayors have a great deal of control over police forces. In Newark, for example, recently elected Ras Baraka has aided the federal government in its probes into brutality, rather than hindering them. County sheriff is an elected post. Voters can get county prosecutors elected who will bring killer cops to justice. 

Getting involved only every four years in the presidential election is clearly not enough, and the Democratic Party itself seems unable or unwilling to do much else. It's time for activists, progressives, and leftists to get organized, and to vote (and run) local. 

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