Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Civic Engagement, Part Deux: Meet-Ups

I'm going to try and do a little blog series about Civic Engagement, continuing on from my previous post. Several years ago, Harvard public policy professor Robert Putnam wrote a now famous book called Bowling Alone about the increasing civic disintegration of American society. I have not read the book but have seen it cited and discussed often. It seems that Putnam's research is very thorough, but a thesis so broad must always be subject to scrutiny.

In light of the popularity of meetups, utilized frequently by progressive organizations like and Democracy for America, I wonder whether we need worry so much about civic disengagement in this country. As John Edwards said a couple of weeks ago when I saw him, Americans want to get involved, we want to be called on. With all that's going wrong in our country, people want to feel empowered enough to know that there is something they can do.

The most recent meetup occurred last night through the Democratic National Committee, and if people start criticizing the Democrats for doing nothing, I want them to do some research on former Governor Howard Dean's time as DNC Chairman and report back to me. Dean has brought his "netroots" populism approach to his role as party chair, reaching out to people through the net, as well as launching a "50-State Strategy." Though I was unable to go to a meetup last night, it appears that they were well attended. I have to say that just looking at the photos of all of the people of different ages who attended the events in all parts of the country makes me happier about politics than I've been in a long time. As one attendee said:
When Howard Dean became Chairman of the DNC, he came with the promise of empowering Democrats at the local level in all fifty states to win elections from the top of the ticket, to the bottom, and all manner of races in between. The change in culture has been an enormous undertaking and is already beginning to bear fruit.

The most exciting part of the DNC's new 50 state strategy is the foundation is built by grassroots participation and investment. Over the past several months Democrats have invested in the party by purchasing Democracy Bonds; these bonds have allowed for the hiring of three local organizers in 38 individual states across the country so far. Last night Democrats invested in their time and effort as over 1000 individuals in all fifty states (and 20 countries abroad) held "organizational kick-off events" in their own homes and local establishments.

George W. Bush and the rest of the modern Republican party has always wanted us to believe that people who are against their policies are a fringe, but they have been coasting for too long on Nixon's "silent majority" strategy. The continued success and popularity of meetups, several of which I have attended and enjoyed, should be an encouraging sign to all of us who have been discouraged about politics and the civic involvement of our fellow Americans.

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