Dean, continued from page 7 counties in West Texas and use their free weekend cell-phone minutes to phonebank. After their experience with the Dean campaign, individual volunteers will be comfortable with downloading phone lists and scripts directly from campaign web sites without going through local organizers. Finding the right combination of online and offline campaigning may still hold the key to overcoming the significant obstacles to organizing Texas’ Democratic grassroots. There’s a man in Hansford County, a rural county of 5,000 that borders Oklahoma, who doesn’t want anyone to know he’s a Democrat. Although he was a Dean for Texas member and is active in nonpartisan farming and water-rights issues, he says “not getting shot” is the extent of his local activity as a Democrat. He sees little chance of making any headway in his town of 3,000, “about five” of whom are fellow Democrats. “I pick my issues:’ he says. “There’s no need to beat my head against the wall.” He explains that meeting other Democrats in his area is practically impossible, because anyone who isn’t a Republican is scared to admit it. “Sometimes I’ll let out a subtle hint, and then they’ll give back a subtle hint, and you just figure it out. It’s kind of like a courting,” he adds. Long-time Democratic campaigners say they hear the same thing all over the state, from isolated small towns to wealthy Republican suburbs. When they’re out blockwalking, they consistently meet Democrats who believe they are the only Democrat in the neighborhoodand who are thrilled to hear they aren’t alonenot that they’d put up a yard sign, mind you. But Sue Weninger of Lubbock believes the techniques developed by the Dean campaign can change that. She was amazed when she hosted a “house party” for supporters to participate in a conference call with Dean, and 40 people came. “A refrain I kept hearing was, ‘I didn’t know there were this many Democrats in Lubbock:” she says. Weninger wants to use house parties to unite scattered Democrats behind regionally important races. For example, she wants Democrats all over West Texas to get out the vote for veteran Congressman Charles Stenholm, whose District 19 was mangled by redistricting. And she wants to see her fellow Democrats emboldened by the knowledge that there are, say, 40 of them in Lubbock. However, she still recognizes the possibility that without Dean, West Texas Democrats invigorated by the chance for sweeping change will fall back into apathy and disinterest, rather than transfer their passion to long-term party building. “I tried to get a meetup going in Plainview because we got a critical mass of five people driving 40 miles to Lubbock,” she says. “But then Iowa and New Hampshire came along and people started wondering what they were doing.” 0 ne of Dean’s constant refrains was that his campaign was about his supporters and their power to change politics, rather than simply about his candidacy. “This is about you,” he told his supporters, over and over again. While the campaign was at its peak, many claimed the real point was to build a grassroots network that would take over the party. That is, the campaign was more about changing the political process, with its big money and scripts and polish and punditry, than it was about a specific policy platform. The emphasis on process was reflected in the sheer diversity of Texans who supported DeanGreens, independents, and at least one anti-choice, anti-gay Christian conservative incensed by the “fascist” Patriot Act. But without Howard Dean, that diversity poses a significant challenge to those who want to build a movement from the ashes of the campaign. If Texas Dean supporters are to make good on their plans to build a network for long-term activism, they will need to find a way to keep alive the passions stirred by their candidate and avoid fragmentation. At the March meetup at Scholtz’s, many rolled their eyes at Maxey’s insistence that everyone in the room would leave as “a John Kerry person?’ Kerry, to many a Deanie, is exactly the kind of scripted business-as-usual politician they were out to dethrone. Even if the “I have a scream” speech and others like it didn’t play well on TV, they were magic for the thousands of people in the room who were screaming right along with the former governor of Vermont. The passion that Dean aroused was an essential element in his ability to inspire volunteerism; without it, there is a real danger that campaign blogs will go unresponded, phone lists will not be downloaded, meetups will be unattended. In short, apathy as usual. Finding something to inspire similar passion will be difficult when Dean people feel bitter toward Kerry, and are too diverse to make issue-based organizing feasible. Unless that issue is participation itself. Larry Horton believes Dean people can still make the Democratic Party respond to the grassroots, and is ready to keep “changing America” by changing his heavily Republican county. He believes he can get just as excited about filling precinct chairs and building a county executive committee as he ever was about Dean. “Howard Dean’s campaign was founded on passionate belief in the democratic system and Democratic Party,” he says. “This is what I’m trying to bring into Comal County.” Thus, when Glen Maxey urges Dean supporters to represent “our” issues at the state convention, he is simultaneously being disingenuous and dead-on right. On the one hand, there is no “Dean platform” to stand for. On the other hand, showing upparticipatingis the Dean platform. It doesn’t take a single charismatic leader to bring an end to boring, big-money, business-asusual politics, or to make Texas a twoparty state. It takes a whole lot of people demanding something different. Rachel Proctor May is a writer in Austin. 3/26/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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