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Rethinking What it Means to Be a Democrat

The Rev. C. Joshua Villines
Atlanta, GA
November 5, 2004

After browsing a bushel of e-mails from my fellow liberal Democrats, I came to an obvious conclusion:  we’re livid.  Any liberal in Georgia is used to losing an election or two; but I think many of us were caught off guard by the loss of the state House, the state Senate’s further slide to the right, the overwhelming opposition to gay marriage, and the continuation of a presidential administration that we all considered to be obviously ruinous.  The rhetoric (at least amongst ourselves) reflects our shock and horror.

There is also a sense of irony.  The Republican domination of the election was apparently due to “moral” issues; but the Republican platform seems actually hostile to the values many of us consider essential to our morality.  Our values include: protecting the poor from exploitation by the wealthy; healing and preserving the environment; protecting minorities (including sexual minorities) from the power and prejudices of the majority; working for peace; providing for the needs of those among us who cannot provide for themselves; and creating work environments that are family-friendly.

It is not unreasonable to expect that these moral values will get little attention, and less funding, over the next few years.  As Democrats, our natural response to that prediction is to think, “How will we respond politically?”  After all, we are a political party; and planning future coalitions and preparing for future elections is a reasonable reaction to a political loss.

I propose that we should also think outside the political process and broaden the expectation of what it means to be a Democrat.  Instead of just being committed to electing people who will act on our values, we need to spend the time between elections finding ways outside the government to act on those values ourselves.  Many of us are already doing just that, but the results of the last election mean that we will have to increase those efforts – perhaps exponentially.

The most obvious way to do this is by being careful about where we spend our money.  We should actively support companies that impose the kinds of regulations and obligations on themselves that a Republican administration will never impose on them legislatively.  Companies that minimize their environmental impact, provide generous benefits to all of their workers and their partners, compete fairly, and pay a fair wage in the communities where they are located deserve our support. 

As we seek to counter the blank checks some corporations will get, we will also need to remember that many of our most needy will probably see much smaller checks, if they get anything at all.  Someone has to pay for the tax cuts and wars that comprise much of our new deficit; and much of that price will be paid by the poorest among us.  Part of our commitment as Democrats should be to help take that cost upon ourselves. 

My modest proposal is that each of us should commit to giving eight hours a month back to our communities in either a formal or informal way.  Take an elderly neighbor shopping or give them a ride to the hospital.  Teach in a literacy program or volunteer at a school.  Help build a Habitat house, or simply help your neighbor paint their shutters.

Along the way, look for ways to minimize our impact on the environment.  Even if the government will not impose tougher environmental standards, act as if they did.  Walk, bicycle, or carpool when you can; and use a low-emission vehicle when you cannot.  Take advantage of your local park, and clean it up a little bit while you’re there.

When people ask why you’re so dedicated to making the world a better place and taking care of those around you, tell them “Because I’m a Democrat, it’s what we do.”