It was billed as “Farewell to the Obama Administration,” but the outgoing president’s name was barely mentioned during the discussion hosted by members of the New Paltz Democratic Committee at village hall on December 8. Those in attendance were largely focused on Donald J. Trump, his election and the fact that both houses of Congress will have Republican majorities when he takes office. In addition to locals, Democrats from Rosendale, Gardiner and Lloyd also showed up to express solidarity, as well as students from both high school and college.
While the group discussion was a bit disorganized at first, committee member Alexandria Wojcik stepped in to facilitate, demonstrating skill as she gave opportunity to everyone to share their views. Wojcik opted to divide the talk into “the good, the bad and the ugly,” which she defined as reasons for optimism, problems that can be fixed and issues that are beyond addressing.
Among the sources of optimism were areas of particularly high voter turnout. According to Dan Torres, turnout in election district 9 — the SUNY campus — was actually higher than in 2008, when Obama was elected in part due to the youth vote. Gardiner resident Irwin Sperber didn’t believe that, claiming that a large number of students did not vote, and claiming anyone who thought differently was “out of touch.”
Tom Rocco noted that 2.5 million more people cast their votes for Clinton than Trump, which is a larger popular margin than some candidates have had when securing the highest office in the land.
“We must not think of red states as only redneck states,” Rocco observed. That’s in part because Clinton won the under-30 vote, suggesting to him that the Democrats are “the party of the future.”
Sue Stegen expressed frustration with the local committee. “I don’t even know when they meet,” she said. It’s true that newpaltzdemocrats.com does not appear to have been updated since 2012, and the only way to even ascertain committee membership is to inquire at the office of the Ulster County Board of Elections. Committee chairman Josh Honig prevaricated on making more information available publicly, but advised that a number of documents with data of interest to local Democrats was being shared privately.
Some in attendance advocated for obstruction, such as blocking legislation in much the way that Republicans did with Obama throughout his time in office. Honig suggested a different strategy: pressuring members of the Electoral College to select a “rational Republican” rather than Trump to become president. Among the 40 or more people in attendance, it did not appear that anyone supported that particular notion.
Torres, at one point, cautioned against labeling Trump an “idiot.” Those controversial tweets the president-elect sends out are quite effective in distracting people from more serious issues as he puts together his cabinet, and Torres believes that this is done by design.
Another philosophy represented was to make changes locally. Prevailing wisdom is that winning local offices leads to winning higher offices for that same party; therefore encouraging Democrats to participate in the local elections that occur between now and 2020 is critical.
Ben Ambrosini, a high school student who voted for the first time this year, said he was excited to do so and found the process easy despite being nervous. While he was disappointed in the outcome, he said it won’t prevent him from voting again in the future. However, he anticipates that he will join the ranks of Democrats who only vote every four years.
One source of frustration was summarized in a question raised by Orna Gorosh: “Why are we letting Republicans lead the dialog?” As she explained, Democratic positions have often been formed in reaction to their opponents, rather than to articulate their own vision. “The more right Democrats become, the more insane Republicans become,” she said.
Honig agreed, saying, “We don’t stand for anything anymore.”
Many in New Paltz supported Bernie Sanders, and by extension congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout, and felt that the lack of party identity that led to Clinton’s nomination had disastrous consequences. Not only has Trump secured the Oval Office, Democratic leaders in congress appear to be out of touch with why. Gorosh singled out Nancy Pelosi for incorrectly believing that the problem isn’t about values, but marketing.
The Teachout campaign was a bone of contention. While Rocco solemnly declared that John Faso “should not be a two-term representative,” Stegen said that she felt “harassed” by the amount of mailings, calls and visits she got encouraging her to vote for Teachout during the campaign.
Where the local meets the national may be in how Democrats organize. While a student protest in reaction to hate speech did occur soon after the election, it’s not clear if local committee members intend on organizing buses to send protestors down to the capitol for the inauguration. The number of people there in opposition could send a message, just as it did when George W. Bush took office.
The most effective message, however, could well be how many people Democrats get out to vote in future elections, especially the local races. That answer won’t be evident for a year at least.
Once the group took a break to enjoy snacks, the discussion largely dissolved, presumably to be taken up again another day.