Please Get Out of the New One If You Can’t Lend Your Hand
Last Sunday a town hall meeting at the Veteran’s Memorial in Davis turned out hundreds of people. A few days later, a meeting by Indivisible Yolo also packed the same facility. These events would have been extraordinary even last year, but now they have become par for the course.
It is too soon to know what this will all mean. The New York Times column this morning warns, “Liberals may feel energized by a surge in political activism, and a unified stance against a president they see as irresponsible and even dangerous. But that momentum is provoking an equal and opposite reaction on the right.”
However, it is worth noting that the pundits were dismissive of the Tea Party Movement. They did not foresee the rise of Donald Trump either.
There is an inevitable clash between the old guard and the new guard in the rise of a new wave of progressive energy. However, as Marcos Moulitsas told the New York Times, “The Tea Party didn’t really become a force until it started ousting Republicans it didn’t feel represented them.”
He said, “Democrats either need to feed, nurture and aggressively champion the resistance, or they need to get out of the way in favor of someone who will.”
We saw this at play this week. John Garamendi held a town hall meeting on Sunday. On the one hand he sympathized with the crowd demanding he fight. But on the other hand, he pointed out that the reality is the “House is controlled by Republicans” and “there is not much Democrats can do.” “That’s the reality,” he said. “And it’s 18 months to the next election.”
Roberta Millstein on Monday wrote in the Vanguard, “I have heard mixed reactions to Representative John Garamendi’s overflowing town hall event on Sunday evening. Some were pleased with his liberal approach, especially with respect to immigration, which is understandably on people’s minds.”
She added, “Others were frustrated that he seemed always to stop just short of where he needed to be. I count myself in the second camp.”
For Ms. Millstein, she wanted answers to some key questions. However, “On Sunday, I heard instead an extended explanation about the limitations you face as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Congress. Everything you say is true. We want you to fight anyway. We are there to fight with you. But we need you to be bolder. Be bolder for us, Representative Garamendi.”
Emily Hill on Tuesday wrote in the Vanguard, “I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. I had never met Rep. Garamendi before, and although I was disappointed he attended Trump’s inauguration, my general sense was that Garamendi was a good Democrat who would oppose Trump’s creeping fascism and racism. I went into the town hall interested and very much on Garamendi’s side.”
She said, “I certainly didn’t expect to leave the town hall deeply frustrated with and disappointed in the congressman.”
I’m not here to attack or defend John Garamendi. Back in 2009, I, with a whole host of other bloggers from around the state, sat down with Mr. Garamendi as he pondered running for governor again in 2010. He would ultimately decide to run for congress rather than governor – a good decision.
But we sat down in a coffee shop around the table for 90 minutes as he held court – this man knew policy like I had never seen anyone. He is a policy wonk, he knew the ins and outs and the details and could probably have talked for hours if his staff had let him.
There are probably few in Washington who understand policy better than John Garamendi, but in his early 70s and at the end of his career, he was never going to lead a revolution anyway, and he’s not now.
In a way, he represents an interesting test for the new movement – do they join common cause with him as someone who, as Ms. Hill put it, “is clearly on the right side for many of the important issues facing the nation”?
Or do they turn on him because, as she it put it: “On the most important topic of the moment, the topic that clearly is motivating so much passionate grassroots energy, Rep. Garamendi fell frustratingly short. Rep. Garamendi completely failed to pick up the vibe of a crowd that was desperate for leadership and strong public stances against Trump.”
That is going to be an interesting test.
A day after Ms. Hill’s piece, Congressman Garamendi called on a full investigation into the Trump administration’s communications with the Russian government.
“It seems that every day, the public wakes up to another bombshell about the Trump Administration’s deep ties to the Russian Government,” said Congressman Garamendi.
He added, “National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign for lying about his communications with Moscow before President Trump took office. At the same time, news broke that Trump’s senior campaign aides were caught having conversations with Russian officials. The American public deserves a full accounting of this Administration’s connections to Russia, as well as Russia’s corrosive influence on the 2016 election. Congressional leaders need to stop putting their party above country and join us to safeguard our democracy against foreign influence.”
Is that going to be enough for the new movement?
Some of that will depend on the direction and energy of groups like Indivisible Yolo. In a report from CNN, they note, “In the summer of 2009 it was the tea party, which pretty much declared war on President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and health care proposals. In the winter of 2017 it’s Indivisible, a group that’s pretty much opposed to all things Trump.”
When the group turned out 170 or so people in front of John Garamendi’s office in Davis in the middle of the day with a huge number of people new to politics, you had to start taking it seriously.
One thing that groups like Indivisible and other activists have a chance to do is transform local politics. The Vanguard has been critical of the country club/social club nature of local politics, which has tended to have the same old people who have been active for decades. That leadership has grown gray and stale.
But, as we saw in early January, a wave of activists took over organizations like the Assembly Democratic Caucuses and filled them with new and more progressive voices.
Will that carry over to local politics? One early test might be a backlash to the MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) which is being heard before the Yolo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
One thing that has been lost on the progressive movement has been a deep farm system. The Republicans had a deep field of candidates a year ago that seemed young and vibrant, to challenge for their nomination. The Democrats had Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Can the wave of progressivism transform Yolo County and also other counties to bring in a new crop of progressive candidates that can start at the local levels and move up the ranks?
These are all questions for the future but, in the meantime, it will be interesting to see how this new wave of energy is able to transform local politics which really need to have a new influx of energy.
—David M. Greenwald reporting