Sunday, June 26, 2005

Pride Parade in Chicago and the growth of the Democratic Party

Today was Pride Parade, a third-of-a-million strong Mardi Gras parade in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. I marched with John Fritchey's campaign, and they were smart enough to hand out beads. Lots of beads. Tens of thousands of beads. It was a freakin' madhouse. It was as close to Mardi Gras as Chicago gets: drinking, fun, nudity, ridiculousness and a good feeling. It's essentially a street party about tolerance and acceptance.

Near the end, about six or seven people (protected by just as many Chicago Police Officers) were yelling about how homesexuals were going to hell. I quipped to someone standing next to me "looks like the Republican base has come out." And he replied: "you mean the majority" To which I replied "not in this state"

And that got me thinking quite a bit.

First, it presents the dilemna the Illinois Republican Party is in. Judy Baar Topinka was in the parade, and as the former ILGOP Chair, she helped to define the party as inclusive and tolerant. The base of the GOP (at least, one of the bases), finds Judy Baar Topinka and the Pride Parade morally and politicall repugnant, and blames (in part) that tolerance on the state's Republican Party status as the minority party. The Tribune editorial board best represents the voice of tolerance (as corporate America is largely tolerant of homosexuality), while the Illinois Leader represents those who are intolerant, along with those yelling at the parade.

The intolerant wing of the GOP has essentially won the national debate, while so far, the tolerant wing of the GOP has won the state debate.

But, that's their problem. They can figure that one out.

The interesting thing to me is how this burst of tolerance and, really, happiness about tolerance, strengthens the Democratic Party.

Just about every north side elected had their own contingent in the parade, as did some of the countywides. But interestingly, there was no Democratic Party float. There were the Jan Fans (and it was cool to see Jan Schakowsky dancing in the streets). Sara Feigenholtz had a contingent. So did John Fritchey. And Mike Quigley. And Forrest Claypool. Rod Blagojevich. And Debra Shore (running for Water Rec as the first GLBT Commissioner, by the way). You get the idea. And few of them had "Democrat"by their name.

Since the difference between the two parties are so stark on tolerance issues, that strikes me as sort of a loss opportunity to build up self-identification with the Democratic Party of those third-of-a-million shiny, happy people watching (and really, participating in) the parade.

It's a continuing challenge to build up that self-identification. I remember my days with the Green Party only a few years ago, when it seemed easier to build self-identification with the political party which had a very progressive platform. It was easy for me to react against a particular Democrat (I found President Clinton to be too corporate, especially on trade) and not appreciate the progressives in the Democratic Party and identify with them. It's trickier to build self-identification with a majority party that, by definition, represents a majority of the people who have different points of view.

I mean, the tolerance base of the Democratic Party is only one base. Another base, at least in Cook County, was probably best represented by the ridiculously efficient Streets and Sanitation Department that had the streets cleaned up and back to normal by 5 pm. Government services done well is a hallmark of the Cook County Democratic Party and is perhaps what Mayor Daley symbolizes (ignoring, for a moment, the recent hits on that front).

So one of our jobs as progressives and as Democrats is to ensure that government works well. If voters see that their taxes get them good services, then they'll be happy to buy more of them. Most people are happy to spend money on buying better futures for poor children, if they believe that the government will deliver. It's our job to make government deliver and not tolerate inefficiencies or wasteful spending.

Another one of our jobs is to convince more people who are culturally tolerant (those that might go to the Pride Parade, for example) to self-identify with the Democratic Party. I don't know how many of those third-million are registered, or vote, or send in a small check or wear a button, but I would guess it isn't as high as we would like it to be. Maybe we need to be more proactive about branding the Democratic Party, and not just Rod Blagojevich or Pat Quinn or Jesse White or John Fritchey, to the tolerant. Because (to try to tie it all together), the Democratic Party delivers cultural tolerance.


DownLeft said...

The failure to build party ID is something I noticed on college campuses in a big way. Until the 2004 election the Democratic Party was essentially ignoring young voters. When I tried to engage college students I noticed that most of the politically active and aware students on the left identified themselves as Greens, not Democrats. The College Democrat groups only consisted of students who wanted a career in politics.

The reason is that the Greens were making an effort to reach college students as a party while the Democrats were not. The Dems only stepped foot on campus during the election if a particular candidate felt like appealing to the student vote, but usually they don't bother because students don't vote.

This is a very dangerous strategy for Democrats. Voting patterns are established when a person is young, so ignoring students and other young voters will kill the party in the long term.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

That's a great point. I had a similar situation at my college. The Dem message was more about 'the evil Republicans' than it was about securing liberty and justice for all. So not a lot of students self-identified with them. I'm not sure the GOP did much better, but we should do a much better job of securing student ID with the Democratic Party, especially in Illinois when we have so many success stories.

MDS said...

I think at next year's parade I might march next to the Judy Baar Topinka float carrying a sign that says, "Topinka Supports Bush." I think it's important to make sure people realize that while many Illinois Republicans like to put a nice, moderate face on their politics, they still do all they can to get extreme right-wingers elected.

Michael said...

I have to wonder whether the lack of "Democrat" or Democratic symbology wasn't more about inoculating themselves against the inevitable smear ads (leaflets, websites, etc.)? At least now if the wingnuts want to make the point, they're going to have to PhotoShop the pictures. Why make it easier on them?

Because you just know that the "intolerant wing" of the Republican Party is going to be doing everything it can to spread the meme that the Democrats are the party of the queers--and they aren't going to be focusing on the couples with kids, they're going to be looking for the most outrageous drag queens, the leather guys, the bare-breasted lesbians. All of that is red meat for their base.

MDS said...

By the way, I didn't see any of this nudity you refer to. Where was it?

Levois said...

I just have to agree with your statement on government services. If the government is doing its job with out money, then the people should be happy. If they are wasteful then there should be problems. It's true though

Bill Baar said...

It would help if Dems would stop calling Gay Republicans "self loathing".

The appeal of the neo-cons, and the greens is they're people with ideas. The Dems gave up ideas long ago.

A conservative Gay is an interesting person. Contradictions make people interesting. They've thought something out, and thinking on a deeper level beyond conventional, received truisms about what people ought to think.

A green is passionate about something. That makes them interesting.

Look at the leading Dems today and they seem like tired dealers.

Clinton a guy I voted for twice. A guy with an opportunity to have accomplished a few things but who instead squandered it all because of huge character flaws.

MDS said...

If you don't think Clinton "accomplished a few things," you and I have very different memories of his presidency.

I remember a great president who struggled against the opposing party's (and the media's) obsession with his sex life. A huge majority of Americans supported him throughout the struggle. Clinton was one of the most popular presidents in history because he accomplished a great deal, especially for those who needed government help most.

Bill Baar said...

The media and the Republicans were obsessed with Clinton's sex life, but the key failure and tragedy was that Clinton was obsessed with his sex life too.

Clinton failed by his own standard. Reforming our healthcare system. He accomplished nothing. History may not dwell on that though, and I think his key failure will have been leaving American vulnerable to Al Queda's attack. A particual failure because he know and understood the threat posed and didn't know how to deal with it.

The Military told Clinton nothing could be down in Afganistan other then launch a few cruise missles. Bush and Rumsfeld saw the place could be liberated.

MDS said...

Yes, Bush and Rumsfeld saw the place could be liberated...after 3,000 Americans were killed. Are you honestly saying Clinton wouldn't have done anything about al Qaeda after 9/11? That's absurd. Clinton was roundly criticized by Republicans when he blew up bin Laden's training center in Sudan.