Democratic Party Hates Meetups
Sometimes it’s hard to know whether to rejoice or weep for my political party, the Democrats here in Cleveland, Ohio.
The unprecedented energy and internet based activism born out of the despise for George W. Bush is cause for most of the rejoicing. The Meetup phenomenon – like-minded people using the internet to connect, hold meetings, and become politically active, is drawing more first time volunteers into the political process than I’ve ever seen in a lifetime spent in politics. Despite the end of the primary, the Meetups continue, now gaining more energy from the decision on John Kerry as our candidate, and the emergence of Bush as the only target.
Cause for weeping can be found in the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party’s reaction to the monthly Meetups. On my Meetup adventures, I’ve always wondered why I never saw anyone representing the party. The other day, I learned why.
The party hates ‘em.
I visited the party office on St. Clair, just to pop in, see what’s going on, get my name on a volunteer list. I said something about Meetups, and their eyes bulged in shock as if presented with blasphemy.
“Don’t get me started,” one of them said, shivering and groaning like she just stepped in manure.
“Not authorized,” said the other, a newly arrived Kerry staffer from out of state.
“That website they have, that’s not an authorized Kerry website.”
(by the way, it’s www.neohioforkerry.com).
“They could get into a lotta trouble…”
“Nothin’ but trouble.”
I noted that there are at least five different Meetup groups ongoing, including Meetups for Kerry, John Edwards, Wesley Clark, and Howard Dean’s morphed organization, Democracy for America. They became even more shocked.
“Not authorized by us,” they kept saying.
I had thought that the local party didn’t attend the dozen or so Meetups occurring in Cuyahoga County every month out of mere laziness. No…apparently, a strategic decision has been made to ignore the most significant recruitment of new people into the Democratic Party in decades.
Meetups are “unauthorized”.
If you’ve ever attended any “authorized” Democratic Party meeting, in this county or any other in Ohio, you’d wonder at this strategy. The average age of attendees at monthly meetings is about 72. Average turnout is about six. Average amount of activity between meetings is precisely zero. The only thing missing from a monthly ward club meeting that would make it a nursing home is an ambulance on call outside.
The precinct committee structure of the party, locally elected Democrats in each precinct, is dead from the inside out, many precincts unfilled due to death without replacement, the other seats occupied by unmovable dinosaurs whose last meaningful political activity may have been in the Carter administration.
Meetup attendees, on the other hand, are new to politics, average age about 40, people from all races, educational backgrounds, careers, incomes…brand new activists just itching to get at Bush.
That night, I attended the Meetup calling itself the “Democratic Party” Meetup. About fifteen people attended to hear a presentation from a retired Case Western Reserve University Professor who has finally gotten involved in politics, first time in his life, because of the issue of electronic voting security. People were there to recruit volunteers to register voters, speak on behalf of John Kerry, work on campaign visibility. Two attendees were actually disgruntled Republicans who were now voting for Kerry. Stuff was actually going on.
I didn’t have the heart to tell them that they were all getting into really big trouble.
If any organization ever needed new blood, literally, it is the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. Through the Meetups, new blood is practically oozing out of the ground like oil in the Beverly Hillbillies backyard, and the local party officials shun the whole thing as “unauthorized.”
Something’s going to have to give here. Either the party will reach out to the burgeoning political activity around it, work with the new people, and with them reinvigorate itself, or the new people becoming active will one day realize that they are more important than the party.
Some enterprising person in the Meetup crowd will figure out that down at the party HQ, there’s no “there” there – that it won’t take much to just assume the precinct positions that now lay empty or are irrelevantly occupied by aging place holders.
Between now and then, there’s an election to win, and it’s all hands on deck.
Authorized or not.