This past Sunday I ran for re-election as a Delegate to the California Democratic Party (CDP). I was on the Progressive Slate, from the 42nd Assembly District which covers parts of LA and the San Fernando Valley.
Two years ago when I first ran, local progressive Dems were fired up and ready to give the state party a shot of bold. That election day, the hall outside the Beverly Hills Library auditorium where we voted was so packed, you could hardly move. It was tough to hear the person next to you pitching for your vote.
The party allows people to register and leave without listening to candidates' speeches (surprised me too). Yet when I reached the podium to speak, all 180 chairs in the room were filled, and more people lined the walls. The candidates spoke with passion, clearly committed to changing the country's direction through state-level activism.
After all the speeches-- each strictly limited to one minute-- those who hadn't already voted dropped their folded ballots into the cut-out slit of a lidded cardboard box. It took hours to count the votes, but most candidates and many of their supporters stuck around to hear the results.
The wait was tense; every so often, an angry exchange pierced the din of voices. People were pissed, mainly at government. There was a lot to be pissed about; there still is.
All of us on the Progressive Slate won. We moved the party forward-- getting or protecting specific language in the state platform about issues like Clean Money, single payer healthcare, Marriage Equality, ending the Iraq War (the CDP was still hedging), and ending poverty and homelessness. We also held exuberant impeachment forums (our delegates; not the Democratic Party!).
When I returned to the Beverly Hills Library last Sunday, no more than 10 people were campaigning in the hall outside the auditorium. Inside, there were so many available chairs you could switch rows and sections with ease. Out of 39 candidates, maybe half showed up.
Still, the race was competitive. Our slate and allied progressive groups campaigned hard to recruit eligible voters. I encouraged my supporters to vote for a terrific candidate not on our slate.
I was in an altered state because I had to make a speech, but the atmosphere overall was casual. The speeches were as passionate as in 2007; several newcomers spoke of being inspired by President-Elect Obama.
Vote-counting took only about an hour, and by the time the convener announced the winners, the auditorium had thinned considerably. Once more, all of us on the Progressive Slate won.
The low turnout surprised me; maybe it shouldn't have. I suspect it's evidence of what's been worrying activists: complacency.
People feel that now that Obama's won, it's ok to relax because he'll fix our problems. It's been remarkable, even weeks before inauguration, to watch him work hard to get things moving in the right direction. But somewhere in our souls, we need to recognize it's our responsibility too.
Of course people are emotionally drained. The day after our victory, one of my slate-mates emailed everyone "condolences to us all." I laughed. I'd seriously considered not running, despite knowing that the country -- the state, the county, the city, the neighborhood, the street-- is in deep trouble.
After Sunday's election the future seemed nebulous. For the past two years, political activism had been my rapier for dispatching the bad, to resurrect the good.
Would I now return to day-to-day grassroots organizing, phone-banking, folding chairs and pursuing sometimes slippery electeds about bills and issues for constituents? A student of Buddhism, I could view this as an opportunity to develop equanimity. I could.
On the way home I stopped at the grocery store. Outside, a scruffy guy with a paper cup was sitting on the concrete. I'd seen him there off-and-on, and put a few dollars in his cup. Then, "God Bless You," "God Bless You." We'd had that conversation before. We really meant it, but...
At that moment I realized that serving everyone in the district includes people without a permanent address, like that man and people in similar situations.
This is a priceless opening. Time to use it.