Monday, November 29, 2010

The Georgia Democratic Party after the 2010 elections: Start looking towards the Suburban and Rural Areas: Part 2

It’s something that I’ve felt for quite some time, with reasons.

The areas that Republicans are strong in, the areas where they defeated Democrats in this election, are almost all rural or suburban areas. Democratic “strongholds” tend to be urban areas, and with that, the place where most progressives seem to be. Which is fine, except that it has unwittingly led to a set of blinders when it comes politics. Many progressives base their policy and program ideas from their experience – which is mostly urban.

In a Urban area, I probably could go to see a major league game in any one of several sports. Culturally, there are major libraries, museums, zoos, theaters, and concert halls. Thousands of restaurants with a wide range of cuisines, and a dizzying variety of shops and stores.

Further my education?

There could be several major universities and a number of colleges to choose from. If I needed medical care, there would thousands of doctors and dentists to choose from, and a number of major medical centers and hospitals. If I wanted to go to any of these, a short walk, a quick ride on the subway, or a bus ride would do the trick.

Contrast that with where I live now, no major league sports teams, 2 small libraries, 1 museum, no zoos, 1 small primary care clinics with limited hours and mostly staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, 1 dental office, no colleges, and 3-4 restaurants depending on the season. There is no mass transit, but do have cell phone coverage, and “walking distance” depends on how far you want to walk or if you happen to live near any of those. I do know the people who live near me, and I have "few" friends here who don’t share most of my interests. Majority of my friends have left the country & now are residing in cities like Atlanta, Warner Robins, Miami, Portland, Oregon & Cleveland, Denver.

One of the frequent complaints I’ve heard from progressives is wondering why various areas “vote against their own interests.” There are two reasons why this happens. First, they may be voting for their own interests, and second, they may be voting against you – the urban areas. I live in West Central Georgia, and in many ways, it’s a microcosm of what’s happening. Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, etc may be considered as “a lot of people crammed into a very small area” (Metro Atlanta) attached to a big, sparsely populated rural area – the rest of the state.

It’s referred to as Upstate and Downstate, and it’s been a source of tension FOR YEARS, IF NOT DECADES. Atlanta has half the population of the State, and because of that wields an enormous influence on state politics. It’s also overwhelmingly Democratic. The result is that the Democratic Party is often seen as consisting of “Atlanta liberals,” and in a reflexive countering, Upstate & downstate has tended to go Republican. They’ve also had experiences with “bright ideas” that either don’t fit or go awry. In other words, just because urban progressives think it’s a good idea, it may not be from the rural standpoint. That’s the problem, so how can it be changed? There are several things that can be done.

First and foremost, listen to the locals.

No matter how “Red” an area appears, there are progressives there, and there is a Democratic Party. Policies that may be terrific ideas for urban areas can be irrelevant to the rural areas. Policies developed for rural areas in urban areas may not be practical – or have the opposite effect from what was intended. What policies will work should either lead to additions or changes. A “one size fits all” prescription may not fit at all. The people who are telling you this are not necessarily “obstructionist” or “insufficiently progressive.” They’re trying to help.

Second, support the local parties.

You may live in an area with a large, powerful Democratic Party, where there are lots of progressive interest groups, and you can get together on a regular basis. Fund-raising is generally not too much of a problem. Rural parties tend to be small, widely dispersed, and lacking in resources. They’re the ones who are on the ground, recruiting candidates, running campaigns, and trying to get the message out. Giving them access to resources to help them do that is often not that expensive, but does build the Party in those areas.

Third, watch the rhetoric.

Many of the catch-phrases used by urban progressives grate on the nerves of the rural population. It’s not seen by them as someone trying to help them, it’s seen as someone attacking them. When progressives rant about “corporate agriculture,” “agribusiness,” and “factory farms,” the progressives may think they mean large corporations like Tyson, Monsanto, and Cargill, while being for “family farms.” The peanut farmers in SW Georgia or the dairy farmers in Eastern Georgia read the rants, descriptions, know they’re the “family farm” and feel you’re describing them. Blanket descriptions of people in various areas in derogatory terms isn’t calculated to make them want to listen to you.

Finally, be in it for the long haul.

The political “complexion” of an area doesn’t change overnight. It’s great to have a message that fits the area, support the local party, and addresses concerns. But there’s an inertia , a tradition that takes time to overcome. Many of the young people starting out today are voting Democratic, but their parents grew up voting Republican – or were driven to the Republican Party. That took time to happen and it’s not going to change in one or two elections. I said this to some progressives before the election: “You weren’t here before, and you won’t be here after this. What makes you think we’re going to listen to you?” While you need to listen to us, you have to be there for them to listen to you.

Dems want to take back the legislature & governor's office & to re-build the Democratic Party? You need to get out of the city and move to the country.

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