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Guest Commentary: Where are you, Philly Democrats?

A longtime political activist wonders why the local Democratic party was nowhere to be seen during the midterms—and urges it to step up before 2020

A longtime political activist wonders why the local Democratic party was nowhere to be seen during the midterms—and urges it to step up before 2020

In this fall’s elections, there were dozens of ways for political newbies to get involved. Almost none of them were with the Philadelphia Democratic Party.

If you live in one of the surrounding counties, you could go online and find a Democratic Party web page or a Facebook page inviting you to volunteer. In Philly, it was much more difficult. At a time when voter engagement is essential, the City’s Democratic Party needs to step up its game.

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In Montgomery County, the Democratic Party Facebook page was being refreshed several times a day with videos and events. In Philly, on the weekend before Election Day, the Democratic Party’s Facebook page had not been updated in a month.

The Delaware County web page took you directly to an invitation to volunteer. Their Facebook page invited you to an election night watch party. In Philly, the only events on Philly’s webpage was a sad invitation to the Democratic Party dinner on October 22, a fundraiser for Ward 66A and two events for a City Councilperson. In Montco, 600 people paid to attend the Democratic Party dinner, where the guest of honor was former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In Philly, the guest at the party dinner was, well—nobody.

In this fall’s elections, there were dozens of ways for political newbies to get involved. Almost none of them were with the Philadelphia Democratic Party.

It’s not that Philly didn’t have any relevant races. One of the nationally watched swing Congressional districts, where Mary Gay Scanlon was running as the Democrat, includes part of South Philly. There were also competitive state rep races, like Joe Hohenstein in Northeast Philly. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the Philly City Dems’ Facebook page. Neither race was mentioned.

Fortunately, other organizations made it easier for Philly voters to get involved. Turn Pa Blue did a masterful job of sending Philly volunteers to competitive races, especially in the suburbs. More significant, a growing number of Democratic wards engaged in sophisticated GOTV efforts. A number of wards, including the 9th (Chestnut Hill) and the 30th (Graduate Hospital) organized volunteers who wanted to work on suburban races.

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Even more of them, including the 8th (Center City) created their own turf lists that allowed committee people to call or knock on doors of voters, using the latest data. The 2nd Ward’s (Queen Village) Facebook page offered easy ways for volunteers to sign up to canvass or to attend a fundraiser. The 1st Ward (South Philly) invited volunteers to work on vacant election boards at polling places—jobs that are always difficult to fill.

It’s time for the Philadelphia Democratic Party to engage in this level of outreach. People who want to get involved in politics go online and search for the Democratic Party, often via Facebook and increasingly to other apps like Instagram. They are getting a message that they are not welcome in the Democratic Party. We need all hands on deck in 2020. It’s way past time for the Democratic Party to open its arms and make it easy for voters and volunteers to get involved.

Terry Gillen is a long-time political activist and a former Democratic ward leader.

Photo via Flickr

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