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.