Better field alone won’t be enough

I recently came across a printout from about three years ago. After the 2018 election, in which Ohio Democrats’ paltry success seemed unacceptable when even Kansas was electing a Democratic governor, I spent several months trying to organize some kind of response. Ultimately I got about 15 Cleveland-area activist leaders to co-sign a letter demanding answers from the state party, and finally badgered the executive director into a meeting with us.

Views were exchanged and not much resulted beyond that, which doesn’t at all surprise me, now. I have accepted that Americans and our culture take the very ordinary human tendency, to maintain the same approach come what may, to an extreme of hypernormalization. I’m still glad that I tried to do something more; I think it’s one thing to dismiss the system as garbage and to drop out, and another thing to step up first and engage others in an organized effort to test the system’s responsiveness.

Meanwhile, this seems worth entering into the record, here, not because the Ohio Democratic Party is singularly deserving of a kicking but, to the contrary, because so much of this seems applicable to the entire project of American liberal democracy.

Generally, here’s what I think we need from the party, minimum:

  • A strategy for where to find 200,000+ more Dem votes in Ohio
  • A plan for getting those votes
  • Be more engaging with currently (i.e. not unconditionally) supportive grassroots
    • If the party’s complaint is that it needs more resources, it has to prove that resources won’t just vanish into a hole. (Or a closet.) It has to explain credibly what those resources will achieve.
    • Giving directly to down-ballot candidates is arguably wasteful now—but there is a reason why people prefer that, and why those candidates prefer to spend on their own, not pool the money.
    • Right now the state party feels remote, like a broadcaster not a partner.
    • The Cordray campaign was not good in this regard but the state party seems not to have helped them to be better.
    • Allegedly each of us has two representatives on the party’s governing body. Do you feel represented?
    • “One key difference between PA and OH is we have strong movement building organizations like @OnePennsylvania/@MakeTheRoadPa/@PAWorkFamilies. In Ohio, these activists get their future employment threatened by party insiders.” [source]
  • Credibility
    • We don’t need people telling us ODP is one of the best-run state parties in the US.
    • We don’t need a chair who hopes GOP will nominate Trump because obviously that will destroy them, or who then spins around to say it’s great he won because that sets us up for midterm success.
    • We don’t need spin. Level with us.
    • Credibility probably means a housecleaning and maybe an audit.

Absent these things, what’s the point? The failure isn’t new, temporary, or improving incrementally. Landing enough votes to win past elections yet being leapfrogged by your opponents doesn’t mean you’re winning—it means they are.

Trying to make a system this broken work, through effort alone, is a colossal waste of people’s contributions which deserve and need to be better spent.

Working around the party might be possible, with the right candidates, but it will be difficult at best. Perhaps we should focus on other efforts (local, ballot measures, etc.)

But we should not give any support to an unreformed system that says only “try harder, progress is right around the corner this time, trust us.”

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