If you’re not already reading Beth Spotswood’s column at the Chronicle, or at the Appeal, or now at the Huffington Post (with Melissa Griffin on video!), you’re missing out on some great observations about San Francisco. Her column today, on the San Francisco Young Democrats meeting was rather entertaining, and reminded me of an incident years ago in Seattle.
Young Democrats (known popularly as YDs) can have some intense meetings, and not about who to endorse for US Senate or something, but on internal matters. It’s easy to belittle, but it’s really no different than a condo association, a bowling club or whatever, because in the end, if you’re a devoted member of any group,and you want to be a leader in said group, you’re going to take this seriously. So I have no doubt that Beth’s account is rather accurate in its description of the events. More importantly it wasn’t all about the internal workings of the YDs – it’s also about the race for Mayor.
That’s because the YDs are one of many endorsements a politican can put on his or her junk mail. If the group’s leadership favors one candidate over the others, it can make a difference. In this case, it would seem that a pro-Yee slate seems to have won, so if you hear about a YDs endorsement later on, well you can figure that one out.
This reminded me of one of the all time death match meetings I’d ever attended in my life – the Washington State Young Democrats in 1996. The YDs up there were smart – they timed their annual election to an early endorsement for the Governor’s race, which featured four major candidates. Playing off the “first endorsement of the year” meme, campaigns went into a panic and started having their supporters sign up to buy a membership by the deadline to be eligible to vote. Needless to say this meant the YDs had one heck of a party fund afterwards.
However, on the day of voting for their officers and the endorsement, all Hell broke loose. First off was the fight for the YD offices, which had an unforseen wrinkle – so many people had joined in the months previous who weren’t acquainted with the candidates, the votes started to shift back and forth and the speechifying and whatnot was out of control. In the end, the “new” members began voting for people based on which school they went to (UW vs WSU, and believe me, that is a Big Fucking Deal in Washington State) and to the shock of the “regulars” they suddenly had people in office they hadn’t expected to win. That thing Beth said about people losing limbs in these fights almost came true that day.
The biggest bloodbath was the run up to the endorsement. Four major Democratic candidates (a former congressman – who is likely to become Governor in 2012 ironically after being Congressman from Elsewhere- a state senator,a King County Executive, and a Mayor of Seattle) had their minions out there scrounging for votes. I’d shown up mostly to hang out with my friends and go to the after parties, but since I was a member, suddenly people were barking at me about who to vote for. I remember one partisan literally screaming at me, face red, veins pulsating merely because I cracked a joke or two about how silly the whole thing was.
I can’t remember who won the endorsement, and in the end it really didn’t matter, but the fact the press bought into this as much as it did made me realize how easily they are to manipulate. I was more impressed at how the YDs figured out a way to make themselves relevant, and make a few bucks, just like those silly straw polls in Iowa before the caucuses.
I put most of this out of my mind until I read “Zioncheck for President,” an account of my friend Grant’s run for Seattle City Council in 2001 and Beth’s piece, because I always tended to regard party functions of any sort (Democrat, Republican, Whatever) as things to be aware of but not invest too much time or energy into, because in the end, once you leave the multi-purpose room these things are held in, no one really cares.
Because, really, when did you, the average voter, give a damn about the internal workings of political parties who are about as concerned about you as, say, Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner?