Last week, a dear friend introduced me to a young activist who happens to be running to be an Obama delegate to the National Democratic Convention. My friend had spoken fondly of the young activist on several occasions, telling me of the many progressive causes she had volunteered to support. When the activist and I met, she asked if I had any tips on how she might achieve the coveted honor of being a delegate at the convention. I told her I was the wrong person to ask. But after she pressed me, I thought for a moment and recollected a personal experience I had had just two years ago.
In 2006, the Northeast Democratic Club of Los Angeles had an endorsement meeting for a seat on the Los Angeles Unified School Board left vacant when Jose Huizar became a Los Angeles City Council Member. There were several candidates vying to fill that seat. Two were Northeast Democratic Club members. Both were good speakers. After hearing all of the candidates, the club voted but did not endorse because no candidate received enough votes.
Later that same week, on NPR, it was reported that one of those candidates—let’s call him Joe—had misrepresented his credentials. In his presentation to our Dem Club, Joe claimed to have earned two masters degrees from USC. But not long after touting these credentials, NPR reported that the claims could not be substantiated by USC. I sat in my car listening to the report with my mouth agape as more was revealed. Over time, more damaging stories surfaced and were reported in the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly. Joe ultimately withdrew from the LAUSD Board race.
Two months after these events, Dick and I decided to run for membership to the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee. If you aren’t familiar with the county central committees, they promote Democratic Party activities at the grassroots level. To become an elected member, obviously, you must be elected. To run for the seat and have your name appear on the ballot, you must get a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 40 valid signatures from Democrats in your district. You then submit your signed petitions to the Registrar of Voters. County Central Committee Membership elections are held in June in primary elections in even numbered years.
The caucus for petition signing was held at the same venue where our local Democratic Club met. Dick and I expected to see many familiar faces at the “caucus” where we’d have an opportunity to state why we’d make good candidates and why they should sign our petitions. We arrived at the venue and something very interesting happened.
The room was filled to overflowing with people who generally do not attend our Democratic club meetings. Then Joe arrived. Turns out he was running too. The signing of the petitions took place and Joe won more signatures than Dick and I combined. Joe was on the ballot in June 2006 as a candidate for the Los Angeles County Central Committee. And, yes, he won in that primary election as well. And this win was accomplished after the NPR, LA Times, LA Weekly, and other reports of untruths in Joe’s LAUSD campaign.
For me, this story illustrates the need for a more engaged populace and media that informs. It’s been a couple of years since the county central committee election. Although Dick and I are very active in the community, I know nothing about Joe’s contributions as a member of the committee. I had nothing against him or his candidacy. In fact, I believe that democracy requires participation from the masses to be successful. This includes participation from people who may have checkered pasts. But I know I’m not alone when I complain about how hard it is to know who to elect in these races. Judicial campaigns present the same problem. How are average people informed about these candidates?
Studies have shown that name recognition is the single most important factor in political campaigns. My advice to my activist friend, who wants to be a delegate, is to crowd the room with friends. It doesn’t seem to matter much what she says in her stump speech. They’ve just got to be familiar with her name.
In this, one of the most hotly contested races, the pledged delegates will once again be chosen by the regular group that usually shows up at these caucuses. Although it’s likely this year the turnout will be larger than previous years, our country’s overall voter turnout still falls short when compared to other Western democracies. But in light of the recent delegate purge and the subsequent decision to reverse the purge, we are reminded that progressives are making a difference. Marcy Winograd’s piece and others like it apparently had an impact.
Even if you don’t know anyone who is listed as a potential delegate attend a caucus this Sunday and vote. Progressives must get out in masse. Let’s make April 13th a date that goes down in California Political History. The locations are listed here.