Ramping Up

Published July 12, 2018 in Warp & Woof

Ramping Up

Summer Ground Game Coming
William Sundwick
Over the last few weeks I’ve been in a real funk over the daily outrage in the news cycle. I sometimes feel like my only solace is to unplug myself from the outside world. But, something inside me runs counter to that impulse – I can’t allow myself that indulgence. I must make sense of what is happening around me.
Being saved from despair requires action. I can’t ignore the constant drumbeat about the state of American politics, and the world, but I can give it perspective. It’s important, and somebody is managing that drumbeat – there is a plan behind it. The media’s plan is to engage us, they want outrage, they want eyeballs. If they want responses. I am responding this summer. Participation in the political process, the ground game, is my secret for overcoming fear. What started as disgust is beginning to melt into depression now. It must stop.
For me, the greatest challenge of the last month has been the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy on the border. They have taken accepted international law on asylum for refugees and rejected it wholesale. Separating children, even babies, from their asylum-seeking parents is cruelty unworthy of our country.
Attending the #FamiliesBelongTogether march at Lafayette Square on June 30 presented me with one of those steeling opportunities for action. Not as big as #MarchForOurLives in March, but what it lacked in focus, it made up for in timing. Now is the time for action regarding the November elections. The ground game is underway.

 Marches help, but they need to be followed up with volunteerism. Virginia volunteers proved their mettle last year when an unprecedented 15 seats in the House of Delegates flipped. So, this year we need to focus on certain Congressional districts which are eminently “flippable.” Out of a total delegation of eleven seats in the House, there are only four Virginia Democrats. Two or three additional Democratic seats are within easy reach this fall (especially the VA-7, Abigail Spanberger, and VA-10, Jennifer Wexton).
Few doubt all incumbent Democrats will be re-elected (including Sen. Tim Kaine). Living in bright blue Arlington might suggest local apathy, except that even the Arlington County Board has one seat that Democrats can gain, with a challenger to established Board member John Vihstadt. It’s a great local contest – friction point being affordable housing advocacy vs. NIMBY fears. Matt de Ferranti is that young Democratic challenger. 
Beyond Virginia, however, prospects are less clear. I hear and read lots of political analysis. I can’t pull away from the apparent train wreck of national politics. It seems that we’ve devolved into two antagonistic tribal societies in the United States. I need to think that there must be a path back to a somewhat more unified country. But, what is it?
The first sign of dysfunction, visible in the 2016 Democratic Presidential primay, was the splitting up of the Democratic Party. No longer a unified national party, and not the old New Deal/Southern Democrat coalition that had been familiar for some eighty years. Dems were confronted by a deep ideological divide, left vs. center, so it seemed. But was it real?
Since the 2016 election, much time has been spent trying to “understand” Trump voters – what were they looking for? What did Trump say to them? My only conclusion as a consumer of much of the punditry is that whatever the message of Trump and Republicans, it’s not a message understood by the new elite of the Democratic Party – the professional class of East and West Coast cosmopolitan urban areas. That may be fine given the changing demographics of America, except that this new elite needs to work harder in traditional Democratic constituencies, especially white working-class voters (male and female) who treat them with profound distrust.
We also know that few voters are knowledgeable about the actual mechanics of public policy – they are ideological only on a symbolic level, not a policy level. This is uncomfortable for candidates who feel they must explain “where they stand” on specific issues. They just need to speak the language of their voters, use the correct buzzwords, that’s all! We’ve seen successes at getting the right mood going in special elections so far. These candidates will be the winners in November. It’s intensity of emotion, and symbolic language, not policy, that will carry the day.
Long-oppressed groups, like communities of color, speak one language. Working class whites speak another. The latter now see themselves as threatened, the new “hopeless ones,” especially in rural areas ravaged by opioid abuse and unemployment. Their language expresses fear and sense of loss, the most acute emotion for the Trump loyalists. Those accustomed to marginalization, on the other hand, feel they are on their way up in American society — or were, until the 2016 election. The pernicious influence of money in politics tends to exacerbate the divisions. It seeks to vilify “the other” – whether it be race, gender, or class. The worst possible outcome for those moneyed interests would be a united front of ordinary Americans focused entirely on them, and what they do with their money. Much better to keep Americans fighting among themselves!
With the supercharged news cycle that we see these days, it’s hard to predict what will happen tomorrow. The news cycle is managed. It is managed both by the media and by the White House itself. Those tweets from the President are not accidental. Neither are the leaks. The best that can be said about the proliferation of Internet news outlets is that a multiplicity of sources makes managing the flow more difficult. News consumers have effectively more power in this rich environment, if they know how to use it.
And, we feel it. The streets are alive with protest – it’s not that difficult to organize demonstrations in major cities simultaneously, each drawing tens of thousands of marchers. We know we can identify and promote the good — or identify and discourage the bad. Not just in mass demonstrations, but in the political ground game as well. We can canvass and phone bank. We can open our checkbooks. We can even find where cabinet officers dine out and confront them individually!
Perhaps the “arc of the moral universe is long but bends toward justice,” as MLK said in 1956, but we can move it on a steeper curve if we commit ourselves to action. And, being part of a team is much better than sitting all alone in our righteousness. Interaction with teammates tends to get more things accomplished. It’s also a balm for the ego.
Alex Jones of InfoWars said that “Democrats” were going to start the second civil war on July 4. So, on July 5 I did my first “Beyond Arlington” phone banking shift calling infrequent voters in Spotsylvania County, urging them to vote for Abigail Spanberger to replace Dave Brat. It felt good!

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