Friday night we received the devastating news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or as she had come to be known, “The Notorious RBG”, had died.  A young 87, she had overcome sexual discrimination, religious bigotry, and numerous bouts of cancer with persistence, strength, and intelligence.  Despite having graduated at the top of her class, she couldn’t get a job after graduating until she finally broke through, rising to become not just a legal giant but an icon.  She will be terribly missed.

Of course this means that Trump and McConnell, not even waiting until her body is cold, have announced that they will fill the seat this year.  The obvious hypocrisy after refusing to hold a vote on Merrick Garland, President Obama’s appointee in 2016, despite this being 45 days before an election rather than 9 months, apparently means nothing to the Republicans.
We have plenty of reasons to vote this year; the list includes having a leader who will appropriately handle the deadliest pandemic in a century, breaking deadlock in Congress, making sure we have local leaders who will be actual conduits to their communities and so on.  We now have one more, and perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to date.
Trump took advantage of McConnell’s gambit in 2016 and chose Gorsuch.  Then he took Kennedy’s resignation and gave us Kavanaugh.  If the Democrats and reasonable Republicans can delay McConnell’s intentions, do we really want to give Trump the chance to put a third Supreme Court judge on the bench?  If he does get another justice appointed do we want to have a lop-sided conservatice Supreme Court AND the White House?
One of the most over-used phrases in politics is that the upcoming election is the most critical in our lifetimes.  This is one of those moments when the words match the hype.  Our lives are literally in the balance here.  Race relations, reproductive rights, children in cages or separated from their parents perhaps forever, LGBTQ rights, self-indulgent trade wars, and a man who has been proven to play politics with a deadly virus that has already claimed over 200,000 American lives.
Biden was not everyone’s first choice, but in this race he is our best choice.  It isn’t even close.  When it comes to swinging the pendulum it takes steps, more slowly than many of us would like, but steps in the right direction that end with a journey arriving at the intended destination.  We are living the nightmare now, in Trump’s America.  It is time for us all to get past the remaining hinderances we have put between ourselves and what we know we need to do and act, if nothing else, in our collective self-interest.
As of Saturday we have 45 days.  That’s it.  What happens in these 45 days will determine the course of the country for decades to come.  A few days ago, when Justice Ginsburg knew the end was near, spoke to her granddaughter Clara saying “It is my most fervent wish that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”  While we hope stalwart senators in Washington will try to honor her wishes and maintain the precedent Republicans themselves set just four years ago, we must do our part in rebuilding our country, our state, and our communities by doing what is in our power to do in these 46 days.

Volunteering with the DFL is About Building Local Power – A Proposal for the Precinct Organizing Model

Is it too much to say being a Democrat in 2020 is to bear a cross of mixed emotions, anxiety, and perhaps, a loss of purpose? I think any of us who join, follow, or volunteer with the DFL or the Fighting 41st, are striving to build a just, equitable society. But we see that work eroded by adverse forces seemingly beyond our control. It’s time to wrest back control.

When I began coming to the senate district meetings I was searching for effective, worthwhile ways to help my community. Voting was unfulfilling. It had never been enough. Now, after two years of being involved, I still feel unfulfilled. This is not to say I have wasted my time. I have met many passionate, caring, hardworking people. I have shared my story and I spent many nights in 2018 knocking on doors, which I believed was the “gold standard” for organizing and building power. But, the nagging in my head tells me I am still not satisfied. How effective have I really been? How can I maximize my impact here at the Fighting 41st? And don’t the problems I see in society demand that I work harder, or more effectively to build the power necessary for our leaders to seriously tackle society’s problems?

Before I discovered how the DFL organizes on a senate district level, my interactions with politics were almost entirely focused on national politics. As a young person I was not very politically involved. I was, however, politically aware, and I consumed plenty of news. I had campaigned for Barack Obama, helping to raise money for the campaign throughout the summer of 2008. But that relationship never led me into the deeper and more important insight about political involvement. I was yearning to apply the history I learned about society in a useful, positive way, but my initial campaign work never placed me on the pipeline to my local DFL unit. I spent many years without an outlet for my activism. After the 2018 caucus I discovered the Fighting 41st, the cornerstone for democratic power near me.

I imagine this story is similar for many young people. We all travel along our own intellectual journey, continually searching for our place in society. Democrats all have a story of why we feel passionate about Democratic values, and we all seek to improve the society we live in.

Perhaps I was naïve in my younger years, but the dirty secret I have discovered about politics is that it is only partially about ideals, but more importantly about power. This insight has been burning in my brain since I started my involvement with the Fighting 41st, but it has only recently crystallized. In hindsight, I have witnessed a clear example. I went canvassing with Connie Bernardy before the midterms in 2018. I watched as she knocked on a door of a couple who supported Jeff Johnson (Tim Walz’s Republican opponent), who she knew would still split the ticket and vote for her. She knocks on their door every cycle and she knew what they cared about. She was building power one person at a time and she was willing to listen to anyone.

And here the rubber meets the road, so to speak. I feel that I need to search for more effective and meaningful ways for our senate district to organize.

At first, I thought maybe I needed to find a different group to volunteer with, maybe Indivisible, or a local climate group. But, to me, SD41 seems uniquely situated to build long-term power on the local level. Of course, the pandemic will not allow us to canvass this year. But even in normal years, our canvassing through the VAN system only haphazardly reaches those who have already voted. Phone banking is another option, but it is becoming increasingly tough to reach people. There is also social media engagement. But the shallow nature of social media rewards someone for a post or a hot take on an article, rather than for a concrete action. We can create daily action items that focus on calling legislators. Yet, they are only effective for certain types of offices. Most often daily action items are nationally focused, which means they will not engage voters in meaningful organizational objectives. Driving turnout in local and state elections, as many of our members know intimately, is the road to change that we can effect.

This brings me back to Senate District 41. Our SD41 has an excellent track record of informing members about local elections, including non-partisan elections. We have committed community members, who really understand what is happening locally. Since joining, the local relationships I have made motivated me to further action with the DFL.

What I want, is for every other Democrat in SD41 to develop and depend on the relationships he or she has with other Democrats in the district. I think our road this deeper form of participation in the Senate District DFL should begin with a precinct organizing system.

I came across this idea in a recent book, called Politics is for Power, but the National Democratic Training Committee also has resources dedicated to it, which you can check out here. The basic framework involves recruiting precinct organizers to reach out to each household in their area. For example, in my city of Columbia Heights, we have eight precincts, so we would find eight precinct captains who could each manage a group of organizers. Each organizer would be responsible for reaching out to a reasonable number of households in their immediate area. The benefit of a system like this, is that we would have concrete, meaningful ways to plug members into our senate district. We could establish a pipeline for local leaders to identify and activate people who might otherwise never find a way to marshal their politics toward a purpose.

Yes, it would take time and effort to grow a system like this. But that is the reason it must be the senate district that takes on a project of this scope and vision. Campaigns do not have that capability, though they can help plug in volunteers.

I would like to start this year by having precinct captains write a letter to a number of the households around them, offering to listen to their opinions and help them get involved. Not only is this a social-distancing organizational technique, workable in the time of Covid-19, it is also personal. And it is hyper-local. While this might be slightly out of my comfort zone — and maybe yours too — I believe the gains will far out-weigh the pain.

I want to hear what you think about SD41’s role in organizing and building power. Please email me at westx219@gmail.com. I would also like to follow this blog with some concrete actions, including interviewing some of the people doing sustainable organization in our district to really learn what motivates people to turn their politics into a purpose.

This is our time to build sustainable power in Senate District 41.

The Media’s Toddler Tantrum Over Iowa (and why the reality is more “meh”) – By Phillip Wynn

By Phillip Wynn, Senate District 41 Member

Personal note: I spent three Saturdays in January door-knocking for one of the candidates in Iowa. That gives me no special credentials for writing this post, but thought I’d just put it out there.

This post is in two parts. First is about the media reaction to Iowa. The second is my opinion about what we Democrats should take away from the Iowa experience.

Any of you who’ve raised children will recognize the struggle a parent faces in trying to teach their children delayed gratification. A toddler wants what it wants now now NOW! It takes a big step in maturation for a child to learn to postpone getting something it wants. It isn’t easy to do, as witnessed by the fact that many adults seem to have trouble with the concept of delayed gratification.

This seems especially the case with many members of the news media. I have to wonder: Did many of them struggle with learning delayed gratification when they were toddlers? That would explain a lot of the media reaction to the delayed results from the Iowa caucuses.

Full disclosure: I stopped watching TV news a few years ago, and that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Online news is better, and newspapers are still the best news source, in my opinion.

Still, even online I could tell that the morning after the caucuses, the big story was about what a horrendous fail the Iowa result had turned into. Run for the hills! The Democrats can’t even manage a dinky caucus! It’s a win for Trump! Dear God, we’re all going to DIE!

So as I’ve suggested, the best way to approach such stories is to regard the news media as acting like a frustrated toddler, stamping its foot and shouting, “I want it NOW!”

For you see, in its typical laziness and boneheadedness, the news media already had a narrative ready to go, the only thing missing being some blanks to fill in for the winners and losers of Iowa. Iowa was highlighted as the dramatic beginning of a dramatic horse race. Significant money had been invested in flashy graphics for the TV people, the “best” reporters had been assigned to the scene, theme music for the show had already been written and recorded. The only thing left was for the caucus-goers to do their thing, while the “reporters” zoned out into their cellphones, already knowing what they were going to say and how they were going to say it, the only mystery being who would play which role.

Instead what we got was one of the most dramatic displays of media ineptitude and cluelessness in the Trump era. The caucus-goers and the Democratic party didn’t play the role that had been assigned to them! We didn’t have results for the show that night! What are we going to do? Well, you know the one thing they wouldn’t do: look in the mirror for who to blame. So instead it’s those darned Democrats. They messed up! We were there and ready to cover it … and THEY messed up!

Sure, the app and all that. Yeah, there were problems. But if the media overreacted like a spoiled child, that doesn’t excuse Democrats buying into their bull, and overreacting themselves, taking on the narrative that the problems with the Iowa caucus constituted a dark day for the Democrats.

Baloney. Pure, unadulterated baloney. And the negativity of defeatism as well. We Democrats need to do all we can, inside ourselves and in our interaction with others, to avoid feeding this defeatism, because it will ensure defeat in November. There’s no need here to go into who the real winners and losers were in Iowa, especially because, as history tells us, the results aren’t dispositive in any case. And by that metric, the sane reaction to the Iowa situation among Democrats should be “meh”.

I’ve seen a lot of commentary about how bad the Iowa caucuses are, how Iowa shouldn’t be first, how it’s not representative, etc. etc. etc. In the here and now, I can’t see how such talk is anything other than a complete waste of time. The arguments against the role of the Iowa caucuses in the campaign are independent of the problems seen this year, and the two shouldn’t be conflated. Iowa is now behind us, no longer exists in the reality of the campaign NOW.

Let the news media continue to obsess about Iowa. They’ll move on soon enough, to cover the next thing in the campaign with the same tried-and-true and yet clueless approach.

We Democrats need to move on, too. Iowa? Meh.