Tuesday, November 15, 2022

How Small Incremental Steps Lead to a Thunderbolt of Justice

There is a lot of speculation about how Twitter is going to implode now that Elon Musk has taken over. I don't know if that's true, but there are a lot of reasons why I have appreciated that platform. As just one example, it introduced me to a young Democratic woman who ran for a state house seat in Missouri - Jessica Piper

I first started noticing Piper's tweets because she talked so intelligently about the issues around K-12 education. That makes sense, given that she is a teacher. But her take was all about how Republican efforts to "defund education" in her state were affecting rural families. 

Piper's district is in the upper northwest corner of Missouri and it's as rural red as they come. The largest city is Maryville, population 10,000. So Piper refers to herself as a #DirtRoadDemocrat. 

The sad news is that Piper overwhelmingly lost to her Republican opponent. But in a lengthy Twitter thread, she provided us with some hard truths by recapping what she faced.

I'd love to give y'all some examples of what I heard at doors in rural Missouri to help you understand what folks out here say when confronted with a progressive message. I will say that we knocked over 5k doors and made as many calls. Also, we had near zero data to go on.

I knocked a door in a town of 200 people. The woman asked if I was a D or R. She immediately handed back my lit and said she was a Christian and couldn't vote for Democrats. She then said she'd heard I was a teacher (her kid's schools just went 4-day). She said there's something you can do about our schools and I was hopeful that she would talk about getting her schools funding so they could stay open 5 days. She wasn't. She said legislators should be working to mandate prayer in classrooms.

I talked to a man who said that if a woman dies of an ectopic pregnancy, it's God's will. Another man told me that a child who has been raped and impregnated should have to deliver the pregnancy because "a baby shouldn't suffer for another person's crime."

I had an elderly woman send my postcards back to me with "Biden's Demonrat" scrawled across my face. A man who I knew (I had his kids in class) sent me an email hoping "my soul would forever rest in hell for murdering babies."

I talked to a woman at her door who said she had heard that Democrats are releasing murderers onto our streets. I asked for an example and she cited a Fox News story. She also thought Biden was in control of gas prices and setting high grocery prices to starve the elderly.

There is a massive amount of misinformation out here and folks not only hear it on Fox, but also in church. They share it on Facebook and it came up at so many doors. Our papers lean conservative and elected Republicans are given space every week to preach their message in papers.

That last bit reminded me of an article written back in 2018 by Andrew Levinson on the challenges Democrats face in these deeply red rural areas. Levinson didn't limit the so-called “information bubble"  to right wing media like Fox News. He pointed out that national messaging is reinforced by local sources in many of these red-state areas, including “Sinclair TV stations, regional talk radio, and local hometown editorial pages.” But he also wrote about the third tier of this information bubble that is perhaps the most significant and least commented upon.

Finally, and most importantly, it is the network of personal relationships between neighbors and friends that works to validate and confirm the broader messages. Casual conversations with friends, Facebook messages and e-mails from relatives, and jokes passed among co-workers all reinforce the sense that Democrats are the “other” and lead people who once supported Democrats to mute their views, creating what sociologists call a “spiral of silence.” The result makes support for the Republican Party seem not just dominant but unanimous.

Levinson didn't specifically mention churches, but as Piper suggested, they are a major contributor to the "spiral of silence" in rural areas.

So should people like Piper just give up? She says "absolutely not!"

Every ounce of me and my energy went into a campaign that swayed 4% of non-Democratic voters. Hundreds of thousands of dollars went into 4%. Grassroots is HARD work and it takes more than just me knocking doors. It's very long game. Folks can walk away and say it wasn't worth it.

I can't walk away...I live here. So, I am now organizing those that put in the work with me. My campaign brought out a silent minority who has decided to be silent no longer--we found each other and we will continue the work. Every. Day.

I don't know what the future holds, but I will keep working in my community while our roads continue to crumble and our teachers flee and healthcare gets more scarce. The Dirt Road Democrat didn't start with me and it won't end in my failed run. I am rural. These are my people.

Even in a red state like Missouri, there are tiny glimmers of hope. 

Missouri House Democrats had their best election night in years Tuesday, adding three [suburban] seats to increase their caucus to its highest total in a decade.

The party also successfully defended a St. Louis County state Senate seat that saw massive spending by Republicans.

The New York Times is tracking county-level swings from the 2020 election. They haven't included all states yet, but what stood out to me was what happened in Missouri. 

All of this reminds me of something President Obama said on the day the Supreme Court upheld marriage equality.

Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.

Jessica Piper is one of those citizens Obama was referring to when he talked about progress coming in small incremental steps. I'm sure there are thousands like her all over the country. A thunderbolt of justice isn't likely to arrive without their courageous, tireless efforts.


1 comment:

  1. I found this post enormously helpful and encouraging, since I didn't know of her, perhaps because of her obvious lack of success. She is eloquent and hard working, focused on what she believes, and a model in what she believes as well. Still, she did fail, and I'm still despairing of a country not showing much in the ways of steps forward, divided rock solid between two beliefs, one as toxic and irrational as it sounds in her quotes.

    I wish I knew a way forward. As always, Kevin Drum angered me with his insistence on moving the Democrats to the right, where, at least on average, he argues, the votes lie. But that ignores so much. It ignores questions of what votes are at play and the importance, agreed upon by pundits across the spectrum, of turnout. It ignores the same core values that motivate turnout: why bother if you don't have a message? It ignores that the Democrats already, in fact, did wonderfully this election among the swing votes Kevin wants and how the Democrats run on a specific platform with which the vast majority of the election agrees, so it would be awful to run away from it. It ignores how all the bullet points that he thinks need to be abandoned are actually lies about the Democrats creates by the right-wing media to sway votes. Even in an ultimate blue city, New York, not a single candidate across the party's competing stances now or in the primaries recently for mayor supported defunding the police. And it ignores that the last way to win swing voters is to get down on one's knees and plead that while the party is, sure, extremist unlike those Republicans truly concerned for you, we're not so bad.

    Of course, the left, too, is guilty of claiming its views as politically sound as well. The Nation can be as naive as Bernie-bots everywhere. I'd have said that instead the way to go is to insist that we're the party out for YOUR interests again and again, whereas the supposed party of the working man or woman is just out for itself. But alas, that's just what this fine candidate did, and it ran into a wall of hate. With the rise of the right in democracy after democracy, I no longer know what to hope for.


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