The Democratic View: Building a Coalition and Defining Our Values

By Kathy Zahler

Kathy Zahler

The energy that started with the Women’s March and the Indivisible Handbook did not dissipate, and soon it was clear to us on the Democratic Committee that groups were springing up all around the region with a common goal of fighting the Trump agenda. Emails flooded our inboxes, and social media became a maze of competing events and actions. It was both exhilarating and exhausting.

The Political Action Team of the Democratic Committee decided that it might be a useful public service to develop a list of these new like-minded organizations, add in several progressive organizations from years past, and create a giant shared list. So that’s one of the things that we have been doing in the month of April.

The list is a living document; organizations may be added or subtracted as time goes on. Right now it is a spreadsheet of progressive organizations with their websites, Facebook pages, and contact information for their leadership.

On April 18, we launched the Like-Minded Organization list (L-MO, pronounced “Elmo”) into the world by sharing the list with every organization on the list. We suggested a few ways to use L-MO: To keep from duplicating efforts or dates for events, to share ideas for actions, to educate one another on issues facing the region, and to supply volunteers to assist each other.

Not one organization has opted out, and L-MO is starting to feel like a community. We know that we do not agree on everything, but we also understand that we are stronger together.

Sometimes it is easier to know what you are against than to explain what you are for. This has been an unfortunate quality of both the Democratic and Republican parties over the past two decades. To counter that, the Political Action Team is working on a definition of what it means to be a Democrat. It has been a fascinating process with a lot of twists and turns. As you might expect if you know Democrats, no two members have exactly the same definition. At a later event, we will be recording other people’s answers to the question “Why are you a Democrat?”

This may seem like a useless exercise in semantics, but I promise you, it is not. We all come to our political leanings in ways that are complex and that reach back into our pasts. For example, I am a Democrat because my grandparents were Democrats, but it is not simply a knee-jerk response due to my upbringing.

I had one grandfather who was an immigrant union housepainter in Chicago and another who was a first-generation Jewish doctor on the Lower East Side of New York. The Democratic Party invited both of them in, as different as they were, and held their loyalty by standing for principles that both of them cared about – a good education for their children, fairness, belief in a more perfect union and the right of everyone to participate in it. I may not be an immigrant, a union member, or a doctor in a free clinic, but I am their descendant not only in genes but also in values.

Why are YOU a Democrat, a Republican, or whatever you have decided to be? Thinking about that question can be a good way to isolate what’s important to you.
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Wow, do we have candidates – some names you know, many new faces, lots of enthusiasm and energy. By the end of May, we should have a good sense of who’s running for what in 2017. The Committee will endorse candidates for certain offices at our meeting on May 25, and local committees will begin circulating petitions or scheduling caucuses after June 6. If you would like to help with a local 2017 campaign, please fill out our volunteer form at Volunteer Coordinator Katy Nicholson will be in touch.
Happy May Day!
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Kathy Zahler is Director of Communications for the Tompkins County Democratic Committee.