Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Middle America’s mothers and grandmothers are coming

Eminent researchers of social movements, Theda Skocpol (Harvard) and Lara Putnam (University of Pittsburgh), are making some bold predictions. There's no scholarly caution here; they really believe they are seeing a democratic (that's with a small "d") inflection point that will profoundly shift the Democratic party in the next few years.

At the current pace, it seems likely that the pop-up leaders and grassroots groups of 2017 will, by 2019, have repopulated the local layer of the Democratic Party in much of the country. National media misperceptions to the contrary, this will not look like a far-left reinvention of Tea Partiers or a continuation of Bernie 2016. It will look like retired librarians rolling their eyes at the present state of affairs, and then taking charge. ...

This change will come smoothly and cooperatively in some places and through conflict and displacement in others. The change will move farthest and fastest outside of the metropolitan cores where local Democratic Party patronage structures still persist. Purple suburbs, mid-size cities, big towns in red regions—these are the unexpected epicenters of the quake underway. The cumulative result will be local Democratic Party leadership across much of America that is slightly more progressive and much more female than it was, although not much more socio-economically diverse.

Everywhere, the renovated party locals will be passionate about procedural democracy: determined to fight gerrymandering, regulate campaign activities and finance, and expand and guarantee voting rights for all. ...

These researchers' argument in Middle America Reboots Democracy is the product of months of interviews with activists newly energized in the wake of Donald Trump's victory in 2016. Much of the research data that underlies these predictions is from the politically volatile state of Pennsylvania which has just seen its Congressional boundaries redrawn by its courts to break up a Republican gerrymander. Putnam and Skocpol found an emerging horde of newly active, largely white, women at or near retirement age, with the skills, resources, and social confidence to replace, or displace or revitalize an atrophied Democratic party. They make the case that these women are already winning local victories and will only win more and become more central to Democratic politics over the next three years. This is a very hopeful prospect; the case seems plausible. Read it all.
For decades, I've been helping local organizations in the communities of color realize that the Democratic Party is porous. If you organize a constituency, the powers-that-be with more cash and historic leadership positions will court you. In California, that actually happens, thanks to diligent work emanating from Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay. These forces give the California Democratic Party, for all its internal struggles, a breadth and comprehensiveness that the Dems would not otherwise have. The Republican Party in California is near dead, likely to be outnumbered by indies by November..

In the rest of the country the question that will arise is whether the rising white suburban women can find a way to coexist with urban Democratic pols who've had party power to themselves in a season of decline. That's not a simple question. The cities have been bastions of leadership of color. These urban Democrats have been and will remain the power base for communities of color within politics unless residential patterns change a lot. And they are the irreducible foundation on which the Democratic Party depends. There's a challenging road ahead, but the highly pragmatic forces emerging in the 'burbs just might be able to walk it, at least for a few seasons.

To be continued ...

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