When renowned progressive activist Mike Lux was in Missouri a couple of months ago to discuss his book The Progressive Revolution (an excellent read, by the way) he told me that while it’s shocking to see Missouri turn from a reliable Democratic state at the presidential level in the 1990s to a reliable Republican state in this decade, it’s not surprising given that every county in Missouri has a one or more pillars of the conservative movement actively promoting the conservative agenda. Every town has at least one conservative Christian church, every county has at least one NRA chapter, every county has a Chamber of Commerce, and so on. And there’s just no analog on the progressive side.
The implications for his observation are clear. The local Democratic Party presence in most of Missouri’s counties are not all that strong, and the state party puts little of its resources into building a local presence. And organizers sent in from outside the county or state every two or four years for campaigns are no substitute for conservative organizations that are ever present. Even if local Democratic candidates manage to navigate these challenges and win election, they still have to be cognizant of the power of each of these conservative institutions, and coopting any single one of those in exchange for victory means that the party shifts to the right.
So it looks pretty bleak for progressives in Missouri, right? Maybe. But progressives have been ascendant in the past, and with some work, we can do it again. Let’s remember a young Whitney Houston – “I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” One ripe target for building progressive institutions in Missouri is young people, who voted for Obama over McCain in Missouri 59% – 39% among 18-29 year olds, a whopping 17 point shift from 2004. Young people are more likely to be amenable to organizing online (a cheaper and more effective method with a wider geographical reach than biannual electoral campaigns,) since we are more likely to read blogs and communicate via online social networks. And since today’s youth are tomorrow’s civic and business leaders, the more you reach out to young people now, the more you are growing your potential in every community, whether the young people are currently in high schools, university, vocational and trade schools, or if they are young professionals, laborers, and stay at home parents.
But I fear that the Young Democrats of Missouri, the Democratic organization in the state that would nominally be precisely the one to take on this challenge, is not up to the task. After what I saw at the state convention in April combined with the complete lack of focus by the outgoing state board following up on Obama’s historic mobilization of young voters last year, they seem more interested in trumping up their success in already established college chapters in order to guarantee internships and jobs as Democratic staffers.
At the YDMO Convention in Springfield in late April, there was a lot of talk about how they were going to revamp their website and their Facebook and Twitter presence. But there’s been little activity on the YDMO Facebook group and, other than a hello from new YDMO president Chris Miller, zero updates on the website since last November’s general election, let alone since the new board took office. I mean, they still have a poll up about Governor Matt Blunt on the front page!
I also found the handling of the convention strange. The YDMO convention rules stated that the officer elections were to be conducted by secret ballot, yet we were required to mark our names on our ballots as we received them! When this was pointed out to the chair, outgoing president Rick Puig, he claimed that the rule contravened DNC and national YDA bylaws, which invalidated this specific rule. I’m pretty sure that DNC rules against secret ballots have to do with various committee meetings and conventions where the delegates have been elected by several stages of local and state caucuses, so the elected delegates and committee members can be held accountable by those who elected them to the position. I recall that I’ve voted by secret ballot in local ward caucuses to elect delegates to the state party convention, and a quick Google search reveals any number of local Democratic Party groups who elect officers by secret ballot. The most hilarious argument for using signatures on ballots was by one from the Mizzou delegation; apparently, we sign our ballots when we vote in city, state, and federal elections! I suppose I can excuse someone who has only voted once and forgotten that a voter signs in at the polling location to receive a ballot, but the ballot itself is not signed by the voter.
In any event, I’m highly skeptical of the YDMO’s ability or will to expand beyond a few motley college chapters and increase organization among young professionals and workers, which is exactly what we need right now. I’m happy to be proven wrong, of course, but I don’t see it with this group.