I am an activist at heart. I have no desire to be a career politician, with backroom deals or smoke-filled rooms, and the status quo needs to be slapped around every so often. In my activism over the past twelve years, I have chaired, co-chaired, or was an active member of a local offshoot of Progressive Democrats of America, MoveOn, Represent US, Occupy Wall Street – and represented my fellow brothers and sisters as secretary and vice-president for my local union in Illinois. I have protested with Black Lives Matter over police brutality, rallied in support of the USPS, Social Security, animal rights, and have authored several articles speaking to many of those very same social issues over the years that have been published in local papers as well as here at Real Progressives.
Sometime around start of the OWS movement, I learned my then-current county board district’s incumbent had run unopposed twice before and was set to run unopposed once again in 2012. I had become an appointed precinct committee member (PC) for my county’s Democratic Party just a couple of months earlier, after being encouraged by nationally syndicated radio host Thom Hartmann to do so. I became an elected PC in the Spring of 2014
I did not hear about this specific possibility at any of the prior monthly meetings, despite the leadership knowing full well I lived in that district. It was not until I decided to volunteer my time to help a particular candidate in his own primary against three other Democratic wannabe candidates for state representative of my district. At his campaign office, I overheard a conversation between the newly minted chair of the county Democratic Party and the person he replaced, who was one of those candidates running for state rep. They were speaking about the various Republicans running for local offices – who they thought was beatable, and whether they should actively recruit candidates to take on those Republican incumbents in what are often called “blue” or “red” districts. Let us just say these guys did not bother to recruit any candidates to run in districts they believed were “too red to win,” a practice still in effect today.
I had heard the name of the current Republican before but never thought much of it. This Republican had been a fixture of local politics for more than twenty years at that point, and was hilariously called a “numbers” guy, even by local Democrats. A numbers guy is someone assumed to know how to crunch the numbers about finances.
As soon as I heard he was running unopposed, and not bothering to “ask” permission, I jumped at the chance and announced my intent to run without delay. Both guys said it would be a tough race, which goes without saying. At the time, only 28% of the district were registered Democrats. Still, I did what many other activists during the OWS movement did; I ran for local office. Remember, this was 2012, three years before Bernie Sanders became a household name. You could easily say I was the Bernie Sanders of my county as I was unafraid to knock on anybody’s door, regardless of their voting record, and allowed my locally focused platform do the talking for me.
For a local candidate, my platform was very progressive; public banking was the main plank, along with expanded recycling and the use of solar power, a publicly owned internet, and turning the county animal shelter into a no-kill shelter. Over the next year I knocked on doors with several volunteers helping. We were, in two words, rocking it! I made sure to drop a column per month into the local newspaper to counter my opponent, who had his own weekly column there.
Around May or June of 2012, I was told by the editor of the paper they would no longer be printing my opponent’s or my columns until after the election. While it is tempting to claim the paper did so because my work made sense and was factual, while my opponent was, and still is known as a numbers guy whose “numbers” come straight out of Fox News. Or my columns were read more than his and got more likes and comments? I do not know. I never bothered to do a deep dive, so I left it alone.
At the February 2012 central committee meeting, I gave an update about all the door knocking, responses, fundraising, and about my proudly embracing the social democratic label. In hindsight, I was naïve to have done that, but I figured I had nothing to lose. Anyway, one of the more conservative Democrats approached me after the meeting and told me I was crazy for telling people I was a communist. I corrected him: I was a social democrat. He retorted “is there a difference”? Yeah, you know the type. But this guy was not done. He added that by embracing such a label I would be lucky to get 20% of the vote. Despite having lost my bid, I finished with 44% of the vote. Not bad for a first time run in a heavy GOP district.
Looking back, I am grateful for the financial help I got from the local unions and even a handful of local Democrats. However, what I really needed from them, not to mention the local Democratic Party members was boots on the ground. This handing out of funds without any actual leg work seems to be a reoccurring theme among Democrats and unions.
Now, I am as pro-union as the next guy. Hell, I helped create a union at my last workplace a decade prior. I give credit when it is due – and will criticize as needed. There is an enormous difference between union leadership and its dues-paying members, so my criticism is aimed at leadership which many times lose perspective. In part two I will outline two very personal, if anecdotal, pieces of evidence that I think back up that assertion.