Saturday, October 4, 2014
Populism in Delaware Frightens our Elites
Over the past 2-3 years something very new, and, for our political elites, very frightening has been happening in the Delaware: the rise of actual populist (or popular) politics on both the right and left.
Marriage equality advocates gathered signatures and lobbied for years before even the Democrats would touch their cause publicly.
The Occupy Wilmington movement held out for months in the face of every official pressure that could be brought against a handful of committed activists.
The Campaign for Liberty used grassroots organizing defeat gun-control measure HB 88 in 2012 when the supposedly essential NRA had given up.
On the other side of the spectrum, Residents Against the Power Plant turned back the University of Delaware and assorted political elites (corporate and union combined) in the fight over the so-called "data center."
Organizers for women's right to have home births attended by Certified Professional Midwives came within a hair of passing new legislation during the last General Assembly session, and will be back, stronger than ever, this year.
Parents and teachers in the Red Clay Consolidated School District organized themselves to engage their school board on a special education inclusion plan, and changed the district's choice.
A handful of activists, employing the Freedom of Information Act, got a Governor's working group on charter school reform declared to have met illegally (even though the Attorney General then declined to act).
Parental critics of Common Core and high-stakes testing have become so vocal and so numerous that even the usually-very-pro-"reform" Delaware PTA found itself forced to take a survey on parental opt-outs.
When Governor Markell and Secretary Murphy announced their "Priority" schools initiative, both the RCCSD and CSD boards, supported by massive outcry from parents and teachers alike, refused to sign DOE's "take it or leave it by September 30" MOU.
And it's starting to show in the polls: even the University of Delaware has had to admit that, on the left, Green Party candidate Bernie August is polling four times as strongly as he did two years ago, and on the right, Libertarian Party candidate Scott Gesty is polling seven times stronger than in 2012.
But, of course, neither August nor Gesty nor Andy Groff (Green; polling at 6% for US Senate) will be invited by UD to its major televised debate.
From the Tea Party to the Green Party, the Libertarians to the Progressives, what's happening in Delaware is a sea change in the political landscape. It's called "populism," the radical notion that citizens themselves can organize, protest, campaign, and effect direct political change without having to defer to the existing political elites.
It's unlovely, raucous, and quite scary for the people who insist that everything has to be filtered through the appropriately sanctioned organizations, to find out that rest of us are no longer willing to accept their decisions about who gets to be at the table.
For a long time the small size of Delaware contributed to the illusion that we could all have a voice in what goes on, but lately our political leaders have become so smugly satisfied that they dropped all pretense at subtlety, and that gave away the game.
Consider: when the new IEP Task Force was formed, the "parent representative" from New Castle County was the wife of a State Senator, and one of the House appointees was the spouse of a State Board of Education member, while the other was an incumbent campaigning for his political life against (you guessed it) a special needs parent. Several individuals with considerable experience were turned down as "parent advocate representatives" because that slot was reserved for somebody from the Federally funded Parent Information Center. I like Matt Denn, and he works hard for special needs children, but the political debts being paid here by somebody were pretty obvious.
Or consider that when the Wilmington City Council meets this week to discuss Secretary Murphy's "Priority" schools plan, no public comment will be allowed. Unrestricted time for the appointed bureaucrats of the entrenched politicians--no time for response or rebuttal from parents, teachers, or district officials.
They're scared that we're coming, and they're falling back on what has always worked for them before: plowing millions into political campaigns to keep you voting for more of the same.
But if we don't lose our determination, and if populists on the right and populists on the left learn how to work together on some issues and always advocate for broader inclusion (even of their opponents), then guess what? We'll make inroads. We'll get there. Maybe not this year, and maybe not in 2016. But they are learning that it is not safe to ignore us.
(The next thing they'll try is to buy us off. Be careful.)
Be the change you want to see.