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Sunday, July 10, 2016


More to it than platforms and candidates

by Tom Sullivan

The Twitter thread yesterday from the DNC's platform committee meeting in Orlando was pretty entertaining. There was a lot of passion from the Bernie Sanders delegation. The debate on fracking was particularly heated. Filmmaker Josh Fox (Gasland) spoke in favor of language to ban the practice:

The Orlando Sentinel reports:

Instead, the committee passed another compromise, calling to close a “loophole” preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating fracking, and stating that the practice should not be used in communities which object to it.

Sanders supporters booed as the compromise passed.

However, they did get something on their environmental wish list: an amendment stating that carbon dioxide emissions "should be priced to reflect their negative externalities," and which also rejected the Keystone XL pipeline.

It passed unanimously, to applause and chants of "Bernie! Bernie!"
And that's how it went. The Sanders delegates won one and they cheered. They lost one and people shouted "WHORES!" or "Sell-outs!"

Overall, a Sanders campaign advisor told CNN, "We got 80% of what we wanted in this platform." For some who got up and turned their backs or walked out, less than 100% is a glass half empty. Eighty percent is betrayal.

But while these ideological battles tend to be mostly symbolic — few voters know what's in the party platform, and candidates and elected officials will ignore it — they point to a shift that is not at all insignificant. Dave Weigel of the Washington Post watched the committee do its work and concluded:

"We still have to have an inside-outside strategy," Sanders committee member Cornell West told supporters yesterday. Winning party platform fights is heady, but insufficient. Most of this work is not in your head. It's on the street.

Many people wrapped up in election-year drama, platform fights, and campaign issues are unaware that the parties do much more than elect candidates and fight over ideology and policy. At the grassroots level, more goes on behind the scenes between elections than most voters ever see or appreciate. It's work — mostly grunt work — that makes democracy possible. My experience below is from North Carolina, so forgive me if your state works differently.

There is a massive logistical effort behind putting on elections, a lot of it volunteers and party-organized. Most voters are accustomed only to seeing the 4 or 5 retirees who work the polling station in their neighborhood on Election Day. Three election judges (a Republican Judge, a Democratic Judge, and a Chief Judge) plus an assistant or two. These people get paid (poorly) for the day, but that's not why they do it. They are putting in a 14-hour day because they believe what they are doing matters, that their community matters, and that democracy is important.

The handful of people you see every Election Day don't appear out of thin air. Precinct leaders from each party recruit them (plus multiple backups) in the odd-numbered years here and provide a list of their names to the county Board of Elections. I spend six weekends every other summer compiling the list for local Democrats. It's a chore and a half. Four or 5 people per precinct, plus backups. In my county there are 80 precincts. In North Carolina alone there are 2,709 precincts.

That's over 11,000 people to mobilize for Election Day, just inside the polls. Add to that the three county Board members in each of 100 counties, the Board of Elections staffs in 100 counties, plus the party and precinct officers (volunteers, of both parties) in each of 100 counties, plus the state Board of Elections staff in the capitol, and the Election Protection attorneys on standby, and the thousands of party volunteers with literature who answer questions and greet voters outside the polls.

Combined, we're talking something like an army division mobilized on Election Day so democracy can happen. And that's just one of the larger states in the country. The U.S. Elections Assistance Commission counted roughly 185,994 polling places and "at least 845,962 poll workers that worked at polling places on Election Day." In 2004.

Please thank them this fall.