The Movement Resisting Donald Trump Has A Name: The( Local) Democratic Party
Local Democratic parties are tackling a problem in the Trump era that is as confounding because this is unexpected: space.
All across the country, party meetings that had once been sleepy affairs, dominated by Roberts Rules of Order and a handful of graying activists, had now become standing room only. The overflowing mob have sent stunned party regulars scrambling to find new venues, while the surge in interest, and the coinciding fundraising boost, is enabling local chapters to hire staff and build infrastructure in previously unthinkable ways.On the national level, Democratic legislators have been rushing to respond to the sudden outpouring.
Im as busy this year as I was at any time last year in the hot of a huge election, said Mark Fraley, chairman of the Monroe County Democratic Party in Indiana.
Fraley said he received 65 emails in a single weekend from people requesting to become precinct chairs, a thankless task that normally requires praying and pleading to get somebody to fill. The district party has restructured and added five deputy chairs to channel all the energy, and generated six new committees.
Whats very different is that its built the party younger. Young people never actually wanted to have as much of a meaningful part in the Democratic Party infrastructure. Now that doesnt seem true anymore, he said.
The resistance to President Donald Trump has taken a variety of forms, all of them well chronicled by the media. The Womens March, which watched some 5 million people take to the streets in a single day, helped fuel the growth of Indivisible chapters around the country, and has itself continued coordinating meetings and protests since. The groups Swing Left, Flippable and The Sister District Project are routing people to swaying districts where they can be most effective, and groups are forming to challenge Democrats in primaries. Amid it all, commentators and participants alike have wondered what the name is for this nascent motion. The Resistance? The Opposition?
But if the swelling ranks of county-level meetings are an indication of things to come, the grassroots movement underway already has a name. Its called the Democratic Party.
Interviews with activists in 24 states red, blue and purple expose a strikingly similar pattern: Shocked by the outcome of the election and fearful for the future of the country, people of all ages, some of them Democrats, some independents, some Greens, received the time and locating of a local party meeting and showed up. Here are a few of their stories:
Carol Cure had been an active is part of the Democratic Party more than two decades ago in Arizona even running unsuccessfully for Congress but she guessed those days were behind her. Shes now back in video games.
Just lately, Cure received her route to the local La Plata County Democratic Party organizational meeting and was named a bonus member of the Colorado House District 59 committee.
I actually guessed, until now, that I had done my part and was content to enjoy my retirement and all of the great activities available to us here in Southwest Colorado, she said. Many new people are getting in video games, many of them young, recent college alumnus. We only had our two-year reorganizational meeting last Saturday, and two recent graduates were elected to the County Executive Committee. Now that the Dems are fired up and involved, it has become apparent that many of us are Progressives and may have been when no one noticed.
Ilene Johnson, a veteran party member, said a recent meeting in Greensboro was standing room only. And at a breakfast meeting there, 70 people showed up. Fulton County, Cobb County and Dekalb County Democratic meetings are packed. But Dekalb and Fulton are majority Dem.[ Greensboro is] not, neither is Cobb. My mailbox is full. I have more volunteers. Im inundated, she said.
Oak Park Democrats usually get perhaps 80 people at a meeting. But at their most recent gathering, they had more than 120.
Our meetings are bursting at the seams these days, Oak Park Democratic Party Executive Director Karen Fischer said. We literally couldnt get them in the door. There were people out on the street who actually couldnt get in.
Fischer emphasizes that so far, the party hasnt yet increased its advertising in the new year; all these new folks are finding their route on their own. People are strolling in off the street every day and asks how to get involved.
Were planning to[ step up outreach ], in part because organizations are popping up all over the place, she said. Were kind of looking at it and going, Wait a minute! Were here! You dont need to invent the wheel!
At the last meeting of the womens caucus of the Monroe County Democratic Party usually a sparsely attended affair people spilled out the door onto the street. For the partys upcoming reorganization meeting, district chairman Mark Fraley said theyre looking for a new venue, because the courthouse room that had always been more than sufficient is now too small. If they cant find a new room, he said, theyll put speakers outside the door so the spillover mob can still hear. Democrats here have find such an outpouring of new members, theyre on track to raise enough money to hire an executive director for the first day .
Right after the election, we were just inundated with emails[ asking ], What can I do? said Fraley, 37, who works at Indiana University Bloomington.
Fraley said the county party has restructured and added five deputy chairs and generated six new committees. The influx of new people is making the party younger, he said: About two-thirds of them arrived through Sen. Bernie Sanders( I-Vt .) campaign, many of them encouraged by his organization Our Revolution to do so.
If we can maintain 30 percentage of this energy, thats a huge increase in our local Democratic capacity, he added, arguing that Republican House seats that were 9-point wins in the past could soon become competitive.
The Winneshiek County Democratic Party had its largest central committee meeting ever in January, with a third of the 40 attendees being people who had never participated in a meeting, according to the district correspondence secretary.
Polk County , which includes Des Moines, is bursting too. Tamyra Harrison, the district party executive director, said that over the past decades, around 50 -6 0 people have shown up for central committee meetings. On Nov. 14, however, they had 177. The committee has 359 elected positions and at this day two years ago had 120 open seats. That number will soon be 80 , now a record low, and is falling fast.
Every post-election meeting I have attended has been mobbed and humid, Thomas Henderson, the partys district chair, said.
Down in Page County , in rural Southwest Iowa, party member Christine Adcock said that four times the normal mob showed up to the first district meeting after the election a whopping 20 people !! Adcock followed up a week afterward with an update: The February meeting drew 30.
In Montgomery County , a standing-room-only mob showed up to hear freshman Rep. Jamie Raskin talk about threats to democracy in the Trump era.
Just since this past election, a number of friends have quite suddenly expressed interest in becoming more involved in the party many of them have been activists with local environmental groups and in some cases the Green Party, said Sylvia Tognetti.
Raskin told HuffPost there were some 900 people at the Trump event. It was one of eight events he did that day and all of them, he said, were bursting.
A group affiliated with Sanders Our Revolution ran a slate of eight people to be delegates to the June state party convention, and all eight won, said Jordan Weinstein, one of the eight. Several are also moving to become members of the town Democratic Party committee in Arlington . Weinstein said hes running for a seat on the town council, known as the Arlington Town Meeting. The ages range from 30 s to 60 s, he said.
Most of us have been registered Democrats eternally but just so we could vote in the primaries. Since Trump, we all find the need to get involved with the goal of trying to move the Dems toward more progressive positions, he said.
Alice Trexler, a veteran is part of the Arlington Town Democratic Committee, witnessed the same bursting attendance at the convention meeting, but did so with the perspective of somebody whos been to many of them.
It was roughly triple the size of the past three to four I have attended. There were many new folks who were, on balance, younger than many of us on the Town Committee, she said, adding that a afterward Indivisible meeting downstairs was overfilled with people backed up in the hallway and into the vestibule.
Our town is hopping with resistance. I know, its Massachusetts, but its still extraordinary to watch the number of young parents and those new to protest and to politics, she added. Believe me, I havent seen this before.
The spring conventions of the Michigan Democratic Party dont usually attract too much notification, described by the Detroit Free Press as sleepy affairs filled with party regulars devoting speeches and calls to action.
This year, however, was different.
Nearly 5,000 people came to the convention, with longtime attendees saying they had never seen anything like it.
That blew the doors off previous conventions, especially considering its an off-year, said Herb Helzer, a member of the Northville Democratic Club. Sure, plenty of people showed up for the midterms in 2014 or 2012. … But this is wintertime 2017 after the biggest trouncing weve gotten.
Helzer said the meeting of the progressive caucus was especially popular at the convention, with about 600 people showing up.
Chris Savage, chair of the Washtenaw County Democrats, said he usually gets about 50 -6 0 people at a meeting, if hes lucky. But at their last meeting, on Super Bowl Sunday, 225 people showed up.
I could not believe it, he said. Our email listing since Election Day has grown by about 20 percentage, and Im getting new people signing up every day.
People are particularly interested in pushing their legislators on policy. He used to have a legislative programs team, which largely consisted of one staffer from a congressional office who would help be a liaison between the party and government officials. Now, that team has 120 people who signed up to do twice-weekly phone banks and engage people in other districts.
Martha Viehmann, of Anderson Township near Cincinnati, said the state, after falling badly to Trump, has come alive. Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of the most powerful progressives in the Senate, faces a critical re-election bid in 2018.
The January meeting had a phenomenal turnout, said Viehmann, a precinct executive in Anderson. The resurgence of the Democratic Party is very clear here in my eastern suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. Lots of new people are not only turning out to protests. They are also learning about our local and state elections and inundating our elected officials in D.C. with postcards and phone calls.
One of those is Aileen Peters, 72, who joined a Dayton Democratic club in the wake of the election.
I have always voted, but not been active politically with the party, she said. I was a fellow in Hillarys campaign. Volunteered in the local office, phone banks, etc. Now Im a member of the South of Dayton Democratic Club, Im coordinating a No Hate group, I have a group I email to keep them informed of opportunities to be involved. The first thing I do every morning is send emails to Congressmen and build phone calls to[ Sen. Rob] Portman and[ Rep. Mike] Turner.
Greenville is the reddest part of a very red state, according to Kate Howard Franch, the chair of the local Democratic Party. Rep. Trey Gowdy( R-S.C .), who led the Benghazi committee, is their congressman, if that dedicates any show of the areas leanings.
Franch usually gets about 20 people at her monthly meetings 40 on a good day. But at the end of January, she had 120.
Franch said that in her nine years there, shes never seen this sort of participation. They had a gathering at Furman University after the Womens March to build upon the momentum and figure out next steps. Even though the meeting took place on Super Bowl Sunday, there were about 1,000 people in the audience.
Over in Charleston , the local party had 130 people show up at its January meeting, a big jumping from the 20 or so they are generally find. Chair Brady Quirk-Garvan said theyve also tripled the number of monthly donors to the party.
The Davidson County Democratic Party in Tennessee perhaps get 10 people, beyond members of the executive committee, at its regular meetings. But in January, it had nearly 200 people show up, and 180 people filled out forms to start volunteering.
We had so many people we had to leave the conference room that we were supposed to be in and move out to the vestibule of the building because there was no room to fit everybody, said Whitney Pastorek, the states members of members of the executive committee.
Theyre self-identifying and self-gathering, Pastorek added, stressing that all this energy is organic. Theyre not waiting for the Democratic Party to tell them what to do. Theyre doing it themselves, and its great.
Typically after an election, Carisa Lopez noted that people only want to take a deep breath and relax before mobilizing again. But not this day .
We put together an event that was kind of an open mic type of event, less than two weeks after the election, Lopez, executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party, said. We had about 400 people in attendance, and that was right before Thanksgiving. So even around the holidays, when … people usually arent paying attention, they definitely were.
Her organization also had a training in early February that they expected about 100 people to attend. But they aimed up having nearly 500 people and had to change venues three times only to keep up with the demand. They also streamed it on Facebook Live because there was so much extra interest.
The state party is hosting successful candidates training in March. When officials opened up enrollment, they sold out 50 tickets in the first day. A week afterward, the party expanded it to 200 places and again immediately sold out.
Democrats have already won two special elections in Virginia since November, and the state House and governors mansion will be up for grabs this fall.( More on that below .) Mike Freeland, co-chair of the local Democratic party in Manassas and Manassas Park, said the party is being flooded with new members.
We had our largest attendance ever at our regular monthly meeting last week, he said. We are averaging 4-5 signups per week on our website and are having events like new member breakfasts in an attempt to capture the momentum and find a place for these new folks to help out.
The same, he added, is true for other local officials hes talked to lately.
Alison Dennis, 30, only started going to her local Democratic Party meetings in Wenatchee . At her first meeting last month, the hosts were overwhelmed, with about 85 people overflowing the room that was supposed to hold only 53 people.
Folks consider the area Im in to be a profoundly red area, but I think its more purple than folks dedicate it credit. I think theres a lot of potential here, but we need to ramp up the leadership rapidly, she said.
David Turnoy has been involved with the San Juan County Democratic Party for the last five years and was recently elected chair. He said turnout was huge for their meeting in December, and their email listing has grown significantly.
People are energized in ways that they have never been before, he said. And our Democrats group usually only gratifies once a quarter, but we have been meeting monthly since December and look to continue that for the foreseeable future.
SHIFTING TO THE BALLOT BOX
None of it entails anything if the energy doesnt become power, if it doesnt translate into electoral success. One major exam of how potent the new motion is will come on Saturday, when Delaware holds a special election for a vacated state Senate seat. Whichever party wins will control the state Senate. The district leans slightly Democratic, but special elections with low turnouts are often the partys Achilles heel, just as midterms are. But if the grassroots energy is real, turnout wont be a problem.
Sonia Sloan, 88, has been a First State Democratic activist all her life and said she hasnt seen this much excitement in a race since Eugene McCarthy, whose presidential bid she chaired in Delaware in 1968. This year, shes co-hosting a fundraiser for the Democrat in the race, environmental attorney Stephanie Hansen.
Our field operation is off the charts, as is volunteer activity. Organizers and volunteers have already knocked on over 30,000 doors, and theyve built over 28,000 phone calls as of Wednesday, said Carolyn Fiddler of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, adding that theyd knock on another 30,000 doors before the campaign is over.
With only about 31,000 registered voters in the district, that means theyll be making voters repeatedly.
The Republican in the race, a retired policeman, John Marino, is operating as a Trump-esque candidate. We deserve to be First again, he tells.
If special elections are a sign of things to come and they may or may not be signs are good for Democrats so far. In two specials in Iowa, in December and January, on the eastern border in Davenport, Democrats won by larger-than-expected margins. Iowa lets absentee balloting, which lets organizers to go door to door to make sure those votes are being filled out and mailed in. In the state Senate race in December, Democrats collected 2,163 votes. On Election Day, the Democrat won only 1,640 referendums, entailing more people voted absentee than in person, suggesting an extraordinarily high level of organization and energy on the ground. The same pattern held for the House race.
In mid February, Republican won their only special election since November in a district outside Minneapolis. But Trump had carried it by a 61 -3 2 margin, DailyKos reported, and the Republican winning by only 6 phases was a huge collapse.
The question, then, is whether the momentum can carry into 2018. Along the route will be the November 2017 elections in Virginia and New Jersey. The Garden State should be easy to pick off for Democrats, given their statewide advantage and the cellar-level popularity of Gov. Chris Christie( R ).
But Virginia will be interesting to watch. If populist-progressive Tom Perriello can channel the new grassroots energy into his candidacy, theres every reason to believe he can knock off the establishment nominee, Ralph Northam, who is lieutenant governor and was Gov. Terry McAuliffes( D) hand-picked successor. If Perriello can get past Northam in the June primary, hell likely face GOP lobbyist and operative Ed Gillespie, who is perfectly ill-suited for the moment particularly with Trump regularly attacking federal employees, who make up a significant chunk of the Virginia electorate. Democratic committee meetings in Virginia, Perriello told HuffPost, are absolutely bursting out of the room in the hallways with mob.
Governor and state House races like the one in Virginia are more critical than ever because the redistricting process follows the 2020 Census. If Democrats can ride a new wave into power, the gerrymandering of 2010 can be rolled back.
Local officials nationwide say theyre focused on creating a positive vision and a constant creek of activities to keep these new activists engaged.
If we stop devoting them things to do, Im worried that people will get apathetic, said Lopez, the executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party in Texas. Its only February, but typically after an election, this is the day when people are apathetic.
Savage, who runs the Washtenaw County Democratic Party in Michigan, said hes been making a phase of reaching out not only to his new members, but to many of the people in the outside activist groups, to let them know that the party has resources that can help them organize.
Were going to be here whether theyre here or not, he said. But if it is possible to activate them, help them have some success youve got to have a success now and then, otherwise it becomes too demoralizing.
Next year is key for Michigan as well; every state legislative seat and every single statewide office is up for election.
Even without a to-do listing from local party leaders, Trump is managing to be liberals greatest organizer, with one extraordinary move after another drawing public outrage. With his Muslim ban on hold, his popularity plummeting, national security adviser Mike Flynn fired, Obamacare repeal appearing less and less likely and Labor Department nominee Andy Puzder defeated, Democrats can start to point to wins that maintain newly engaged activists fighting.
And theyre hoping to pick up one more in Delaware this week. Even if they dont, Republican John Marino, making a bid for the seat, appears to have his finger on the new public pulse. Theresa Kudlick, a district voter, said Marino came by her neighbors house and she was left with the impression he was the Democrat in the race. None of his material mentioned what is becoming an inconvenient fact: Hes a Republican.
Want more updates from Amanda Terkel? Sign up for her newsletter, Piping Hot Truth, here .