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                                       politics + culture

Monday, August 22, 2005

letter from an urban democrat: a vote for dennis

When I walked into the ballot booth on Alcatraz Avenue on March 2nd, 2004 to cast my vote in the Democratic Presidential Primary, a vote that was, at the point, pretty moot, I stood as one vote among the 198,312 voters who cast ballots in the Democratic Presidential Primary that day.

Home to Berkeley, Oakland and many other equally urban, but less well known cities, Alameda County is one of the most Democratic counties in the nation. When we do GOTV in Oakland, the percentage goals on the wall hover around 80%. In this, we are similar to the majority of ethnically diverse, urban locales in the United States. We vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

I voted for Dennis Kucinich.

It was an "anti-war, pro-Labor, don't-forget-the-little guy" vote on principle. And I was proud to share that vote with a good friend and cafe buddy of mine with whom I had at times bitterly disagreed over Ralph Nader in the past. We smiled over coffee that day at our newfound alliance, and the message we sent.

However, we were but two votes, among....18,443 Kucinich voters...in Alameda County (pdf). That's 9.2% of the total. (For reference: Kerry had 63%, Edwards 17%, Howard Dean got 4.3%...Al Sharpton 3%.)

I draw two lessons from this.

First, I'd like to argue that, even though this was what some people would call a "meaningless" primary, since the larger outcome was already clear. (We all know that there would have been more votes for Dean and Edwards if the contest had still been "live.") The votes for Kucinich were real. They describe something that I've seen in previous elections here.

Highly motivated, left "message" voters...people who will vote for a left candidate that they know is going to lose...are about 10-20% of the voters even here one of the most progressive counties in the country.

I think that's significant. Not simply because I seem to have spent half my personal political life debating and arguing with exactly those voters....damn, what a motivated, opinionated bunch we are! But also because it gives some perspective as to the real nature of what it means to be an urban Democrat.

You see, just because one might "think" that the urban constituency shares the exact same liberal values that would lead one to vote for....Dennis Kucinich...or Al Sharpton...or cast a 'spirit vote' for Howard Dean or Carol Mosely Braun (she got 1%) even after they had pulled out. Truth is, most urban Democrats...are Democrats. Old school. Plain and simple. Tried and true. Pragmatic and common sense.

That's something to consider when we think about the city. And when we blog. The cities are not so stereotypically "hard core" liberal, read "Birkenstock blogger", as most people think. I'd love to share with you what it's like to do GOTV in Oakland...the preponderance of "regular folks"..folks with gospel singing on their answering machines...or with religious phone messages...or with gruff "old guy" voices...is quite high, overwhelmingly so.

And that brings me to my second point. We "urban democrats" represent the most highly concentrated voters in the country. Both literally, in that we live in the highest population density areas. But also in the fact that our urban districts represent the most concentrated doses of voters for either party anywhere. The GOP tends to win by smaller margins, in more, and more geographically spread out places. And that, in a nutshell, describes one of the core challenges facing the Democratic party today.

If you could, let's say, sprinkle our "over supply" of Democrats from urban districts over the rest of the nation, or redistrict us into shared urban/suburban districts, you might see a drastic change in election outcomes, especially in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Why do I mention this? I think the 'standard notion,' the 'working stereotype' of urban Democrats needs to be rethought and retooled. We need to break out of the boxes we tend to think in...be it race, ethnicity, class or any "easy concept" really. We as a party need to do a lot harder work 'rebranding' and integrating urban Demcratic consituencies into the rest of the nation and into the rest of our party. In sum, we need tor break down the walls that keep our voters locked in the cities...literally, politically and ideologically. We need to, as a party, redistrict our soul...so that we end up, finally, sitting in the same room because, at the end of the day, we belong there

In my view, we need to take a hard look at cities and realize that these voters...our core voters...share SO MANY concerns with our neighbors in the suburbs and small towns. What would it take for us to make this much more clear...as a party, and in how we communicate with the nation as a whole? If you ask me, that is exactly the message that Senator Barack Obama has brought to our party. Are we ready for it?

And finally, yes, the notion of the 'urban liberal' needs to be rethought.

You see, it's important to me that while I voted for Dennis Kucinich in the primaries....my neighbors, overwhelmingly voted for John Kerry and John Edwards....just like Democrats everywhere in the country. That means something to me, both in how I should talk about the values that led me to vote for Kucinich...but, more importantly, in how I should think about the politics of my neighbors. How I should seek to understand...just like I wanted them to understand the meaning of my vote....what the message of their vote was to me.

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2 Comments:

  • I didn't vote in the primary. But I would have voted for Kucinich. I truly wish we could have had a Kucinich/Sharpton vote. Both make a great deal more sense than given credit for.

    By Blogger Ratprick, at 10:19 PM  

  • thanks for the comment rp...

    I was hoping that "redistrict our soul" line was gonna ignite something...

    I'll just have to keep using it. lol.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 3:42 PM  

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