Guest Post by Derek Eadon, Candidate for Iowa Democratic Party Chair
I have recently announced that I am seeking the position of Iowa Democratic Party Chair. The past few weeks have been filled with hundreds of conversations on what went wrong in 2016 and what we need to do moving forward. I think it is a good thing that we are having these conversations. The problems we saw this cycle were not unique to this election, many of them were years in the making. I have felt the same frustrations that many people are sharing about how our party has operated the last two cycles. And even though sometimes the conversations that have been had since November 8 are uncomfortable, and although we know more conversations will be coming that force us to self-reflect, it is important we have this discussion. We can do better.
Tactics, message, candidates, and operations can always be improved. There are great ideas being discussed and some past best practices we have chosen to ignore. There is one factor that will be harder to change, and it is one that we cannot lump in with the others: our party is not accessible enough to the people that we need the most.
I have heard stories about people not feeling welcome in the Democratic Party too many times in the past few years. I have heard it from students on campuses. I have heard it from young people in rural communities who just moved back home. I have heard it from grandparents who are getting involved for the first time because a caucus candidate inspired them. I have heard it from my African-American former precinct captains who went to their first convention. I have heard it from people who were referred to as “Obama,” “Sanders,” or “Bradley” people. I have heard it from county party members that feel campaigns don’t respect their opinion or contribution. I have heard it from counties who feel ignored. I have heard it from candidates who feel the party didn’t give them the time of day. I have consoled crying staffers who have been on the receiving end of vicious insults. We can move past this to begin rebuilding. We need to.
As a party, we need to be more accessible and more respectful at all levels. Since the election of Donald Trump, and with upcoming GOP overreach on women, voting, immigrant, and worker’s rights coming up, we will have more people than ever who need the Democratic Party. We have so much to accomplish, we cannot afford to leave any potential volunteers out of the process. I believe the Iowa Democratic Party has failed at creating a culture that embraces the grassroots.
This isn’t about getting more people to show up to meetings or join county parties. This isn’t about platform planks or committees. We have thousands of Iowans who feel like they need to act, and they don’t feel like the Democratic Party is an outlet for them to act. People are not skipping our events because they are apathetic. They are skipping our events and not participating because they see no reason to go.
Our party needs to expand our efforts to bring people in. We need to have smaller, social events where people can learn about politics, candidates, and most of all learn about the other great Democrats that live in their area. We need to introduce and educate about policies that will directly benefit people and their families. We need to ask potential volunteers to take immediate, direct action so they feel their time is well spent and not ask them to sit at a meeting. We need to ask them what ideas they have, and keep asking them to come back. This cannot just be an effort by out of state staff months before an election. The party needs to be in communities and engaging on a regular basis. Organizing builds relationships, and if our party does not have relationships with enough people, our party is not doing it correctly.
This is not just some optimistic view of organizing; I have seen this done in Iowa. I became an IDP organizer in Cedar Rapids, and the local party went out of their way to make me feel like I belonged. They fed me, answered all of my questions, took me out for drinks, asked my opinions, and did the work with me. That is where I learned how to do a GOTV properly. That is where I learned the value of building relationships.
I viewed these people as family, just as I view the staff I have worked with on campaigns as family. It is common sense that if you make someone feel valued and respect their time, they will continue to come back to your organization. The best organizers I have seen in Iowa have been organizers that have embraced the role and tried to bring in as many new people as they can. It starts with connecting on a social or informal level, and can soon turn into a working relationship. It just takes effort on the front end, it takes asking multiple times, and it takes respect.
We can embrace our differences, we can tailor our tactics to the community we are in, and we can develop the next generation of volunteer organizers and Democratic leaders. It just takes an investment in potential, hard work, and a change in approach. Campaigns can be an intimidating thing, and we need to do what we can to make them seem more approachable. This means trainings for people looking to run for office. This means creating a mentor system in the state for people who would like to take new leaders under their wing. This means creating a culture that values everyone that walks through our doors. How we approach this difficult time is one of the only things we can control. If we can’t treat each other with respect as Democrats, how does that make us different than folks we are working against.
I am a Democrat because not only do we welcome those who feel they have no opportunity and no one looking out for them, but also we stand and fight for those people when they cannot fight for themselves. I am running for Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party to make sure those people fighting have a better chance to win. We can do better.
While he was a student at the University of Iowa, Derek Eadon started his career in politics as a driver for Art Small’s long shot campaign against Chuck Grassley. In 2006, he was a canvasser and organizer for the Iowa Democratic Party in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. He worked for all three of President Obama’s successful Iowa campaigns, including serving as Iowa General Election Director in 2012. Derek also served as State Director for Organizing for America in Iowa and as the 2010 Iowa Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign Director. Derek currently works on some of the most important causes in the progressive community through his company, Bluprint Strategies. The company focuses on issue campaign management and digital outreach. Some of the issues he has worked on include: climate change, clean energy, gun control, child poverty, early childhood education, paid leave, pay equity, organized labor, campaign finance reform, fair courts, anti-fraud, and anti-smoking efforts.
Eadon plans to travel the state over the next few weeks to hear more from activists and central committee members. The election for Iowa Democratic Party Chair will be held in January and State Central Committee voting members will participate in the election. The campaign’s Facebook page can be found here:https://www.facebook.com/DerekForIDP/