What I want to talk about is what can happen as a result of pouring personal time, energy, and money into a political campaign: losing.
Have you ever noticed how each of the Democratic candidates for President always speak in terms of "when" they are elected, not "if" they are elected? This language style is election parlance for people like you and me who have the patience and inclination to listen to candidates when they are interviewed. Candidates have been trained to speak in such an unnatural way so not to let doubt of their inevitable victory occur to their supporters.
This kind of talk does not fool anyone.
Elephant in the Room
I got tired of yelling at my radio station last year as they were reporting the latest policy of the current administration. Fortifying myself with some wise bumper sticker philosophy, I resigned to think globally, act locally. I wanted to be part of the solution, not the problem.
I decided to fight back: I got involved in local politics.
I attended meetings. I composed email. I made what seemed like hundreds of cold calls regarding meeting the candidates; displaying lawn signs; reminding people to vote. I wrote letters. I organized meet the candidate events for candidates in the county and town I live in. I spent hundreds of dollars to support candidates and my County Democratic Committee. Mostly, I spent my time and energy trying to make an impact on the local level in my pre-dominantly Republican county in the state of New York.
Time after time, when I heard my Democratic candidates say, "I am the most qualified for this job..." ; "When I am elected..."; "It's time for a change..." I believed them; perhaps, some more strongly than others, but I believed that they would make a strong showing on election day.
They did not. Many of my candidates lost.
The election left me feeling dumped. That achy, hollow feeling in my chest like my heart had been squooshed by a careless lover. I moped around the house all day November fifth, internally wrestling with cynicism and chiding myself for being so naive. Reading local newspaper articles, I repeatedly groaned "Why? Why...?"
Okay, fine. Call me naive. I can take it. What cannot be snickered at is this: I got involved. Perhaps I was blind to the emotional risk I was taking, but I tried anyway. Politics, more than ever, is important to me. Even if I stumbled and fell flat on my face, I still walked the walk.
I've learned this: Hard work is no guarantee of success.
Donkey in the Room
I worry about the Howard Dean campaign.
I like Dr. Dean. My husband and I have contributed to his campaign that asks for 2 million people to give $100 each. We have hosted two Dean parties in our rural area (NOT easy to do.) Clearly, I support this man for the Democratic nomination.
Dean has smart, very organized, pragmatic people behind him, as well he should if he is serious about beating the Bush machine. Dean has succeeded, in nearly historical terms, in energizing the grassroots base of this nation. People who have never been involved in politics before are contributing money, writing letters, hosting parties in the effort to get Dean's message out.
These are the people I worry about. Why?
I worry that these enthusiastic people will be turned off to politics entirely if Dr. Dean loses. If Dean loses, even with this tremendous organizing, energized campaign behind him, I fear that newcomers to politics, like me, will be devastated, will be disheartened. But unlike me, I am most afraid that they will turn away from politics entirely. The average person will be defeated by the large contributions of corporations and the wealthy who support Republicans. To paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, we may lose the Democratic base for a generation.
Apathy Guarantees Failure
Democrats may lose. Howard Dean may lose. Get involved anyway. Get involved anyway because we might win. Get involved anyway because Democracy does not work without participation. I live in America, don't you? I want our democracy to function properly, in a fair and balanced way, don't you?
Call up your Democratic County Chair today and ask how you can help. You risk Democratic Chairs going into shock, possibly dying from a heart attack because someone like you wants to offer their time or money to the Party. Yet, I am confident that many Chairs are unafraid of this risk to their health. People are used to Democrats using what is given to them to help others, but rarely are Democrats used to people offering to help them.
If you are already involved with local politics, I strongly urge you to log in to the Dean website (Deanforamerica.com). Regardless of who you support for the Democratic nomination, the Democratic party can learn valuable, innovative ways of organizing itself by paying attention to the Dean campaign. (Aren't you tired of the stereo-type of Democrats being poor, hand-wringing, disorganized do-gooders? I am. That's the stereotype where I live, anyway.) The Dean campaign is doing remarkable organizing and invigorating of the party's base! Pay attention! Study this organizational structure! Could someone bottle this, please?
I do not expect the left wing to dominate the right wing (ha), but I DO desire people who get involved with the Democratic party to bring with them the seeds that will reap more respect in the eyes of this nation. I get involved because I want to be visible to the Republican frenzy that has dominated this country since January of 2001. I want to be heard by those Democrats who have been suffering from osteporosis of the spine since September 2001. I want to improve my political party. I want to reach out to other Democrats, liberals who are worn out from fighting when I was being lazy, or apprehensive, or even just scared. I want respect for myself and them.
As for me, on my list of things to do today is to write a contribution check to Carol Moseley Braun. I want to encourage her and those who watch her, who may one day follow in her footsteps, to keep on trying. I respect her graciousness and courage to work towards success in the face of loss.
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