After having lunch this week with a local Democratic party leader and a new Memphis transplant friend, I’m convinced of some things. First, to get our city on the upswing we need progressive political candidates in office. But to succeed these candidates need the effective support of a group. The Shelby County Democratic Party is not that group. If it wasn’t clear to me from the trouncing Democratic candidates received in the last election despite the fact we live in a majority Democrat county, it’s clear to me now.
The paucity of inspiring candidates frustrates me. I wonder why so few progressive business leaders and lawyers are willing to throw their hat in the political ring. In other cities serving in public office is an honor, and many aspire to it. Here it seems despite our dire need, those who are capable and viable choose to stay out of the fray. What we’re left with is “Democrats” on the ballot who have no business serving in public office. These are people who are just looking for a job, who lack the competency and vision to lead our city forward. So of course thinking Democrats “cross over” and vote for Republican candidates. Better to have a candidate who can perform the job even if they lack vision, than to hand the keys to an imbecile.
Maybe the “fray” and our media is the big deterrent. What rational person would want to be publicly scrutinized and chastised for every controversial decision? But that’s the way it is in every city. So what is different here that deters progressive candidates? I think it’s we lack an infrastructure for them.
We need a group of progressives to discover viable candidates, encourage them to run, and get behind them when they do. The group must surround its candidates like a warm blanket against the media maelstrom. The group must be willing to knock on doors with its candidates and organize fundraisers. The group must speak with one voice to convince voters why Memphis needs progressive thinkers and how particular candidates will move the city forward.
Unfortunately the Shelby County Democratic Party is in such disarray, so bitter and frankly so underfunded that it’s not a viable option to lead the progressive revolution our city needs. Maybe the group we need is one that already exists but needs to grow. Maybe it’s an amalgam of groups that need a cohesive plan and means to communicate. The opportunity is there, and I think the people are here to make it happen. It’s going to be out with the old and in with the new.