I’m a registered Democrat. I’ve always voted for the Democratic presidential candidate, well, except the two elections earlier in my life when I voted for a third-party candidate. As some say, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. My parents, Mack and Sue Mulkey, were progressive southern Democrats who fervently supported Tennessee’s liberal senators Al Gore, Sr. and Estes Kefauver in the 1950s and 60s. And throughout their lives they voted for every Democratic presidential candidate who ran—from FDR to Barack Obama.
After the debacle of 2016, however, I was seriously considering changing my voter registration from Democrat to Unaffiliated. The reason? I believe that, over the past several decades, the Democratic establishment has tilted to the right of center and that they’ve become more interested in serving their big donors than the working people of this nation. As I wrote in an earlier essay:
A 2014 Princeton study that reviewed more than twenty years of data (that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues) indicates that political leaders of both major political parties listen to the economic elites, business interests, and people who can afford lobbyists (all entities that fund their re-election campaigns) rather than the citizens who elected them. According to the study:
The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
We live in an oligarchy, a country run by the economic elite. No matter how popular a measure might be with the bottom ninety-percent of income earners in America, no matter which party holds the presidency or a majority in Congress, issues that are popular with the public—such as federally-funded healthcare insurance for all Americans, regulating the prices of life-saving drugs, job creation, and effectively dealing with global warming, among others—never see the light of day. Our government apparently doesn’t care what you think. Not unless you are willing to contribute excessive amounts of money to a politician’s campaign, an action that is tantamount to legalized bribery.
Just as I was making plans to change from Democrat to Unaffiliated, I got wind of a group called Our Revolution, an offshoot of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president that claimed they wanted to shift the Democratic Party toward more influence from the grassroots and less from the party professionals. The group’s upcoming meeting was at Odyssey Community School, only a half-mile from my home, so I walked over to check it out. I anticipated twenty or thirty of the usual suspects, and a disorganized gathering that would come to little or nothing. To my surprise, there were more than 150 enthusiastic participants there, some of whom I knew, many I did not. The founder of the group, Matt Coffay, led a lively, well-organized session. Coffay, youthful, spirited, and well-informed, presented an inspiring and clear message: Given that there’s no real path for a third party, we must work within the Democratic Party to reshape it from the bottom up and make it more representative of the working people of this nation. And we would begin at the precinct level of the Buncombe County Democratic Party.
As a result of press releases to local media, e-newsletters, texts, Facebook posts, and word of mouth, at the next meeting on February 18, it was standing room only for the meeting at Rainbow Community Center in west Asheville. Four hundred motivated people received practical information about how the state Democratic Party worked, the importance of attending the upcoming county precinct meetings, and logistical info regarding when and where the precinct meetings would take place. Then, the participants broke into their individual precincts to strategize for the February 25 precinct meetings.
On February 25, many Democratic precincts across Buncombe County reported record turnouts, in some cases ten times the usual attendance. Rather than the predictable handful of graying activists, in some cases approximately eighty percent of attendees said it was their first time at a precinct meeting, and fifty percent of those said that they were there because of the efforts of Our Revolution Asheville. Many of the newcomers were elected precinct officers and chosen as delegates to the county convention on April 8. While deep concern about the fate of our nation during the Trump presidency drove the majority of the new participants into action, they would likely not have known their way into the process without Our Revolution.
Needless to say, I am re-energized and re-engaged in Democratic Party, despite the recent selection of an establishment favorite as DNC chair. It’s exciting to realize that this grassroots activity is taking place in counties across North Carolina and in states across the nation—California, Washington, Hawaii, Nebraska, Florida, and Michigan. I believe a new day is coming for the Democratic Party, a day in which we will eliminate corporate money, disavow the influence of the wealthy elite, retire the moribund party establishment, and again become the party of the people.
Photo: Getty Images