At Democracy: a Journal of Ideas editor Michael Tomasky interviews Theda Skocpol, co-author with Vanessa Williamson of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism and many other works on social policy. Some excerpts from Skocpol’s comments on the best focus and organizational strategy to empower Democrats to win elections going forward:
…I think these women’s marches were a promising start but people have to realize that this is a marathon not a sprint, and they really do need to organize where they are. And I’ve been thinking a lot—people wrote to me after I published my piece in Vox about the Democratic Party and they said well, what can I do, I live in a blue state, I live in a blue district. And there, I think there needs to be some creativity. People need to sit themselves down and think: Well, who do I know who lives somewhere else? We all do—we have relatives, we have friends, we have coworkers—and establish an ongoing dialogue with them in which you’re providing them some kind of perspective on what may be unfolding on health care, or do you know people in your community with green cards who are frightened?
Get the stories out lots of places and maybe encourage and help people you know elsewhere to do their thing with their representatives, their local community. And the other thing is I think liberal cities, instead of forming a tie to some place in Latin America, should form a partnership, if you’ve got a local Democratic Party committee, form a partnership with a Democratic Party committee somewhere else. Have a partnership, get to know them, help them with resources, listen to what they say about the issues playing out in their area, because I think there is a liberal bubble and I am very worried, I am quite certain that Steve Bannon knows this and he’s going to try to get the left to go crazy…In other words, Cambridge, Mass’s Democratic Committee should be working with one in Iowa or one in Georgia. Or, for that matter, in western Massachusetts. You know, in a lot of these states like Pennsylvania, the Trump people are all over the place.
…The meetings were usually organized around some speaker that came in to talk. There wasn’t as much kind of honest discussion as you’re going to see in any center-left setting. Just because of the nature of the people, etc. But they kind of tried to familiarize themselves with certain kinds of issues and then they disseminated to their networks very specific and very powerful information about whose on what committees, when you would want to contact people in your state legislature or in Congress.
We were just bowled over, we said this in the Tea Party book, about how much these people knew, not about the content of politics—they were watching Fox News, and they had completely false ideas about what government was doing, etc. But they had really rich and specific information about the local Republican Party rules and how you could go and change that or which committees their state representatives as well as their Congress people were on and when you needed to contact them. They knew the nuts and bolts of local and state politics, as well as congressional politics. They were not simply focused on sending messages to presidents or presidential candidates, which is what Democrats tend to be. Democrats are obsessed with Washington, D.C. and presidential politics
…The Women’s March was very hopeful, and it was hopeful precisely because it was spread out. I have some faith that women, probably not just Democrats or progressives, self-stylized, but women just who are upset at various things are going to be good at networking and forming some kind of oppositional groups and, you know, some of the things that are happening…There are certain issues that I think need to be front and center. Understanding exactly the implications of the huge transformations in health insurance that these people are proposing is a great one because it cuts across many kinds of districts and will involve many kinds of people. The immigration one is good in the sense that you can tell stories about affected families everywhere given the bungling focus. And I think that’s where the focus should be; the focus should be on telling the stories of actual people. Women may be good at that…
I don’t want to hear anything more about electoral college reform, getting money out of politics. All these procedural fixes that the wealthy on the left are fixated on…The horse has left the barn; it’s too late. Unless there’s electoral turn-around starting in 2017 and ’18, in which Democrats are winning, this thing could lock in.
So the number one thing has to be signing up people to vote and getting them out to vote. Assuming that the courts are going to fix the voting system: Forget it. I mean they’re not, not on the timescale that’s needed…I’m talking to wealthy progressives and trying to convince them to stop giving all their money to this or that procedural fix…I was disappointed that Barack Obama framed it as gerrymandering reform. I hope you’re aware that the best studies show that only half of the problem of the mismatch between Democratic numbers and Democratic legislative results would be solved by gerrymandering reform if it happened universally and perfectly. Half of the problem is the concentration of Democratic constituencies in big cities.
There’s quite a lot for Democrats to debate about here. But Skocpol is surely right that what Democrats must immediately agree to act on is mobilizing voter registration and turnout.
For some new data which shows which states excelled in voter turnout in 2016 and which ones failed, click here.
Some form of Party List Proportional Representation at the state level, although difficult to accomplish, could deal with eliminating gerrymandering and resolve the problem of concentrated constituencies well. It would also shift Democrat/Progressive focus, both in seeking it and in its implementation, to the state and local level where it needs to be.