When you want to leave, remember those who can’t

This young man was one of the youngest voters I saw at the watch party for Jari Askins. There were very few in the 18-29 age group in attendance. Did you know that the majority of Generation Y voted Democrat last Tuesday? 

A member of Oklahoma’s Silent Generation, former Oklahoma State Legislator (1966-72) Anna Bell Wiedemann, wears a jacket bedazzled with sequins at the watch party for Jari Askins. The GOP owes a big part of its victory to the increased turnout by older conservative voters. According to the Pew Research Center, 23 percent came from the Silent Generation, the 65-and-older crowd. That’s an increase from 15 percent in 2008 and 19 percent in 2006. Nearly three out of every five seniors (58 percent) voted predominantly Republican. 

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips is interviewed by Channel 4′s Meg Alexander at Jari Askins watch party last Tuesday. Both Coyne and Alexander are Gen Xers (by broadest definition, those born between 1961 and 1981). Just over 50 percent of Xers voted primarily Republican in the election last week. 

Editor’s Note: I am pleased to share with you the thoughts and opinions of Colin Newman regarding the virtual nationwide obliteration of Democrats last Tuesday. Newman, an Oklahoma Democrat, was born in 1982 and is a member of Generation Y. He lives in Oklahoma City and is the editor of okc.net! the essential urban survival guide. I connected with him on State Senator Andrew Rice’s recently established OKC Urban Roare Facebook Page.

If you’re a Republican member of Generation X or Y and would like to share an opposing view, I welcome your respectful post (250-500 words). Contact me at jenx67[at]cox[dot]net.

The Morning After
An Original Note from Colin Newman

As predictable (and predicted) as the Republican tsunami that hit tuesday was, even more predictable was the wailing and gnashing of teeth immediately afterwards from those of us on the world savers brigade. Thanks to modern technology, it was immediately syndicated to my mobile phone: a piteous caravan of weepy facebook posts, 140 characters of grief and disillusionment on twitter, and the odd text message, easily summarized as “OMG, WTF??”

I was among the distraught; I have been able to fight the good fight for the past few years partially because I knew that at least at the state wide level, the good guys sometimes win. Having a statewide executive that was, by and large, comprised of centrist democrats has made it seem like things aren’t all that bad. That’s part of the problem.

Like a dysfunctional family, we Okie Democrats have been able to focus on the good times and pretend that everything is fine; ignoring, as it were, the elephant in the room. That is why this landslide for the Republicans has taken us somewhat by surprise. It’s like the moment that mom gets arrested for DUI or the lump turns out to be cancer. We can’t live in denial anymore, and while it’s horribly stressful and painful, it’s really more healthy for all of us to know what’s really going on.

This election was the culmination of a long term re-alignment in the south central United States. Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma all have long progressive traditions going back to the 1890s. All have equally long and storied reactionary, racist, and conservative traditions. For the last umpteen years, the rural areas of Oklahoma, once the stronghold of left populism, have become much more conservative. In the meantime, the cities have become more liberal, but that shift is happening much more slowly. It also doesn’t help that the Democrats, in many years of power, gerrymandered the legislative districts to limit the influence of the (at the time) strongly Republican cities, which has come full circle in the last few cycles to empower the now strongly conservative rural areas.

“That’s nice,” you may well say, “but what do we do now? Move? Cry?” Well, yeah, you could do that, but what would that accomplish? You really want to abandon this beautiful state because some demagouges weaseled their way into office? You want to leave those who can’t leave for whatever reason at the mercy of people who either don’t care about them at all or have not altogether good intentions for them? I don’t think I could do it. There is a way forward for progress minded people; it’s hard, and we may not see the fruits of our labor anytime soon, but here’s how we do it.

1. Build the base. Rural Oklahoma is lost to us, at least for now. This is a sad but nessicary fact to understand. The Democrats who did really well last night were progressives in urban districts; Andrew Rice, Seneca Scott, Al McCaffery, etc. The urban centers are growing fast and becoming more liberal. The surrounding suburbs are also moderating somewhat, but what is really crucial to overcoming the increasingly conservative tint of the rural areas is making sure that there is a strong and active party organization in OKC proper, Tulsa proper, and Norman proper that can be effectively mobilized for state and local elections.

2. Essential to building a movement in the cities is running candidates that aren’t just squishy moderates but who can energize young, black, latino and women voters to actually get to the polls. When those people vote, progressives win, and here in Oklahoma most of them live in the cities. We have relied too long on the old New Deal coalition- union workers, farmers, and urban professionals. Between a de-clawed labor movement and a farm population that is aging and getting more conservative, this is far from our best strategy.

3. Communicate. Democrats tend to be wonky technocrats with no grasp of the real importance of pathos in political communication. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both understand that you can’t just go out and make a rational argument; if recent history has taught us anything it’s that people aren’t rational actors. Liberals can’t be afraid to talk about difficult issues like race and class. Conservatives do it all the time. We need to be as unapologetic about appealing to the better instincts of people as they are at race baiting. All it takes to shut up most Democrats is for a Republican to say either “race card” or “class warfare”. I think that if they want to talk about race and class, that’s an argument we can win.

4. Local races, local issues.

5. Build relationships and coalitions across ethnic communities. I think that the results of these last few cycles are ample evidence that the left in Oklahoma needs some new leadership, and I don’t mean reshuffling the 30 white hippies who are at every rally at the capitol. Those of us with a melatonin deficiency need to actively support the initiatives of groups like the local NAACP, CAIR, Latino Community Development Agency, etc, and that doesn’t mean showing up and trying to take the reins, it means showing up in solidarity- no one from the mechanics union expects to take over the electrician’s strike, but they show up to help because on a deeper level they’re on the same side.

6. About those rallies…political theater is only good in so far as it advances an actual objective. If you’re going to march somewhere, why not march in pairs through a neighborhood and start registering people to vote, or march down to the community center and actually meet some people in the community?

7. Do things to make the urban environment in OKC and Tulsa more hospitable to people who share your beliefs. This, happily, is already happening in both towns. The more social space we have for creative non conformists, the fewer progressive people we’ll lose and the more progressive people will consider moving here.

We’re not actually outnumbered, we’re just out-organized.

We can’t wait for demographics to save us; by then the damage will be done.

You guys have exactly one week to quit with all the whiny woe is me crap; get it out of your system now. It’s counter productive.

I swear to God, if any of you aren’t registered, it had better be because you’re a convicted felon.

C

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4 Responses to “When you want to leave, remember those who can’t”

  1. Trait

    I appreciate the author of this post sharing his views, but I think he’s completely off base with a few of his assumptions. Before I go further, allow me to state that I was born at the tail end of Gen X (1978), so I identify partially with them and partially with the Millennials.

    In my view, the author of this piece has undertaken his analysis with the assumption that entrenched party politics is the wave of the future, much like it has been in the past. However, if we know anything about the Millennial generation, it’s that they resist labels and the standard characterizations that come with them. For example, I know many in my age group to be fiscal conservatives and social moderates. While they may be registered as Republicans, they they don’t always see eye-to-eye with those in the party who might be older Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. It is my guess that as time moves on, younger voters will identify more and more as Independents.

    To see how the landscape is changing, just look at the elections of the past few years. In 2004, after Pres. Bush was re-elected, the Democrat party was pronounced all but dead by the media and the pundits. However, in 2006 and 2008, it was resurrected while the GOP was announced as dead. In 2010, we’ve seen another political shift toward the Republicans. What does this mean? It means that political parties can no longer count on being in power for long periods of time. The electorate is looking for ideas and results. Absent such progress, they are more than willing to abandon the party of their registration and vote for the traditional opposition (see 2008 and 2010).

    The traditional approaches to politics aren’t going to work much longer. This “us versus them” notion is quickly becoming outdated. One party may register more voters, but it won’t matter if their ideas or performance in the halls of government doesn’t catch the attention of the electorate. The last two elections have shown us that voters want action and absent that, they’re more than happy to go in another direction.

    Reply
  2. Jennifer K

    When I voted on Nov. 2 I was quite happy to see the wide-range of voters at my polling booth-Greatest Generation, Silent, Boomers, X-ers and Y-ers.

    However, I’m still bereft Wisconsin no longer has Russ Feingold representing us. He was truly progressive and a man of integrity.

    Okay, teapartiers, the ball is in your court. Time to get shit done.

    Reply
  3. Friar

    “Conservatives do it all the time. We need to be as unapologetic about appealing to the better instincts of people as they are at race baiting.”

    Respond? How would I respond respectfully to a person who is willing to sling an accusation like this at those who disagree with his point of view?

    Or why would I respond at all? I don’t get a sense from his post that anything I might say would prompt any real reflection on his part, meaning we would become two more people talking or typing at each other instead of with each other. The world’s in no danger of running out of those as it is.

    Reply

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