Sunday, November 11, 2012

Election 2012 - some thoughts

In contrast to 2008 when I was singularly focused on the presidential race, this year I eagerly awaited awaited results from a few places, particularly two State House of Representatives races in Colorado, Mary Parker in HD 28, and Brittany Pettersen in HD22. I worked with Mary and Brittany as community organizers for the Obama campaign in 2008, and both have risen to the challenge President Obama gave us to continue organizing for change in our communities. The quick summary is that Brittany was elected and Mary was not, but I have taken significant inspiration from both.

When considering results from election night, I feel very hopeful. In 2008 President Obama won the presidency, but civil rights and marriage equality took a major body blow with the passing of Prop 8. 2012 was better, the president maintained a substantial mandate and we saw ballot measures legalizing gay marriage pass, elected a gay Senator, and even expanded the majority in the Senate. Brittany’s success makes me very happy for several reasons. There are not enough young women running for public offices of every kind. Julie and I have talked about this several times, and there are many reasons for why it might be, but I think it is a big problem. Brittany took a courageous step, and she is going to do very well.

But two things trouble me:
1) Republicans are still overrepresented in the House of Representatives, which I have not really been able to wrap my mind around given Obama’s convincing margin. I have no insight to offer on why this is or what to do about it, suggestions? I have read some claims that republicans have had control over redistricting in many states and have been able to use that to their advantage.

2) Despite a professional, organized, strategic, and driven campaign Mary Parker was not rewarded with victory. She lost to a lame opponent because voters in her district blindly voted their party affiliation, despite the fact Mary knocked on over 20,000 doors in the course of her campaign efforts to get her message out. Mary did not get much outside support because the registration numbers were against her, but she built out her “Kitchen Cabinet” of incredible friends (who were also dedicated volunteers with our Neighborhood Leadership Team for Obama in 2008). Her opponent was silent, he did not even show up to the Republican town hall event in the district. Mary walked over 1000 miles getting to the doors of voters in her district, listening to them and hearing about their concerns. Who would you want representing you?

I have also been wrestling with some things at a personal level. There is a big difference between my involvement in the elections 2008 and 2012. As a field organizer in 2008 I was completely committed to the campaign (to a point that might even have been unhealthy). But in 2012 I have done almost nothing, I donated to the campaign, did one shift of canvassing for Mary, and made 3 hours of GOTV phone calls on election day. When I realized at the end of that shift that those were the last phone calls I will ever make that start with “Hi, This is Galen, and I’m a volunteer with the Obama Campaign”, I wished I could go back a month and make more of those calls! Over the past couple of years I have distanced myself emotionally from politics, feeling disappointed and cynical at what I felt was a lack of progress. I am embarrassed now to say that my hope and faith were shaken, but I feel re-energized by several things that happened this election day.

Mary and Brittany and President Obama and their teams have been tireless, and when I consider the self-righteous apathy I let myself fall into at times, I envy them. I am fortunate to spend a lot of my time with young, ambitious, politically concerned friends, many of whom are impressive people, very articulate about the progressive political agenda. But often we simply don't do enough to back up our political beliefs. I provided plenty of hyperbole of my own to describe the importance of our efforts in 2008. What we accomplished in Jefferson County and across the country was historic, but then, somewhere along the way my faith gave way to distraction, apathy, and even cynicism. I criticized Obama for not having a better "communications strategy" (he had better things to do than try to get my attention), or for being "transactional" rather than "transformational". I talked about the missed opportunity of not harvesting the energy generated during the campaign in 2008. Blah blah blah.

While many people were busy showing off our vocabularies, Mary and Brittany were knocking on doors, making calls, organizing (agitating) in their communities. As soon as the election was over they canvassed for health care reform, in 2010 for Michael Bennet’s Senate race, and then they put it all on the line and ran for office themselves. Their energy, their commitment, and their endurance is the exactly what the foundation of a progressive platform will be built on. In his acceptance speech Barack talked about his hope for our political system and he gave a moving defense of politics as tool for social justice. But they never needed convincing, they have been out there in the trenches all this time.

Mary lost because the partisan divide in our country is wider than it has ever been, and it seems people retreat further behind party lines every day. But I believe that if we have more campaigns like hers for local offices this would not be the case. President Obama is too big a figure to bridge the gap, there is too much at stake at that level. The massive special interests have more power than ever, but not in our homes. The special interests don't have influence in our neighborhoods, in conversations with people who shop at the same grocery store. In some places, like Mary’s district in South Jeffco, the divide is still wide, but it is narrowing.

I don’t think that every progressive person should run for office, but there is no excuse for not making calls, donating when we can, and just as important is maintaining a positive and committed attitude rather than trying to poke holes. At the very least I will draw from the example of Mary and Brittany and recommit myself to the political process as a tool for change. I will not despair at an obstructionist congress, or bemoan ridiculous special interests. I want to combine the naive energy from 2008 with the constancy that people like Mary have shown.

The gratitude I have for President Obama, the excitement for Brittany, and the mix of admiration for Mary and the frustration and disappointment I feel about her result are all powerful tools. I am grateful to be among their supporters and admiring observers, and I will draw on their example and find new ways to engage!

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