This week’s program falls between the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and the 60 th anniversary of the killing of JFK. There’s a genre of songs about presidential assassination, especially about JFK’s and we’ll hear many of these including those written by Phil Ochs, Lou reed and the Byrds, plus a sampling of tracks from a new album released this week in Dallas called Tragic Songs from the Grassy Knoll. Along the way, a classic folk song about Lincoln’s assassination and a surprising recital of the Gettysburg Address. I learned a lot putting this program together—and so might you!
Culture of protest 11/21/13 6 pm pt kcsb 91.9fm ww.kcsb.org
Tags: jfk assassinaion, gettysburg address, songs about these
Talking and thinking about last week’s Santa Barbara city election, hearing many conflicting notions about how to evaluate the results—I thought I’d share my own reflections.
On one level, the outcome couldn’t have been more predictable. The mayor had token opposition and won handily. The two incumbent councilmembers were re-elected (Bendy White and Frank Hotchkiss) and the third victor, Gregg Hart, was returning to the council where he had served not so long ago. Voter turnout was only 37%--a completely predictable figure given the extremely ‘off year’ character of the election (with not even an interesting ballot measure to draw voters).
All predictable, but not at all the whole story.
First, turnout. This was an all-mail ballot, a process advocated as a way to increase voter participation. And that looks to have been the case. The turnout in Santa Barbara was much higher than in many widely reported local races across the country – and the highest of any city in California. In New York City, less than a quarter of the voters turned out, for example. Our turnout here was the same as in the widely reported New Jersey governor’s race. The turnout numbers here are nothing to be proud of, but they suggest that voter participation improves with access to and convenience of voting. All-mail balloting is a good step in that direction.
Another predictable election pattern: all things being equal, the most likely voters are older, propertied, white… and relatively conservative. In the recent election here, about 6% of registered voters under 30 went to the polls. About 3/4 of the participating voters were over 56. Of the 8000 registered Latino voters in the city, 15% voted. These disproportions are typical in off-year elections.
Despite these disproportions, the election results at first glance don’t suggest a particularly polarized town. Both Bendy and Gregg were backed by a broad spectrum of progressive organizations, but ran first and second in every precinct, from the most to least affluent. Even the upper income precincts tend to be Democratic.
But Frank Hotchkiss, a staunch Republican whose public positions put him at odds with the city’s environmentally conscious consensus and who sometimes wants to afflict the poor and comfort the comfortable, ran a strong third in the upper income precincts that ring the central city. Megan Diaz Alley, with no prior visible public recognition, ran a strong third in all the central city precincts, where young and minority and renter voters live. Hotchkiss carried the election overall in part because the turnout in the precincts he won was 10 -15% higher than in the Alley precincts. Alley came in fifth, 150 votes behind David Landecker, who has an exemplary record of service to progressive organizations and causes, and was endorsed by Helene Schneider, Das Williams and the Sierra club, among others. Landecker and Alley split 11,000 votes so it’s hard to avoid the assumption that Hotchkiss would not have been elected had that vote not been split.
In the post election conversation, some are angry that Megan, so inexperienced and young and untried, ran, undermining the opportunity to elect David Landecker, whose knowledge and leadership would have served the community well—and forcing us to live with another term for Frank Hotchkiss. But there were important reasons why Megan was encouraged to run (starting before David decided to enter), and why she got a wider range of endorsements than he did. If we are to have city government that represents the needs and values of the city as a whole, it’s important to have council members who are in fact representative. Megan on the council would help make it more representative. The fact that her experience bridges environmental and equity concerns , coupled with her energy and quick intelligence, made her attractive.,
The turnout in this election would likely have been quite a bit lower if Megan had not run. Consider this: Megan Alley got virtually the same number of votes as David Landecker. She spent $8 a vote, while he spent almost $16. And she ran third in five precincts, while David never reached third in any precinct. Her candidacy helped mobilize a grassroots ground campaign, organized by groups like CAUSE and the Democratic Party. We might imagine that the chance to elect a young, promising Latina inspired the enthusiasm needed for such an effort. At her election night party, there was a lot of buzz about her potential as a community leader going forward.
Some of us veterans of local progressive politics have long wanted to be able to create a viable and diverse slate that can help spark voter turnout, and that can avoid being undermined by split voting. The Democratic Party County Central Committee, whose members are largely elected by popular vote, has taken the lead in recent years in creating a framework for candidate development and endorsement that has helped us get to that goal. Still, as in this election, some in elective office feel empowered to compete with that process for reasons not always evident. The result in this case was lost opportunity and, worse, ill feeling, anger, division in the ranks.
I’m hoping that some of that ill feeling can get resolved. And given the healthy ambition of many talented people in the community for continuing careers in elective office, it would be wonderful—maybe even really important—that a process be devised that can promote coalition and cooperation rather than fracturing and faction.
Dick Flacks here...sociology professor emeritus at UCSB. Budget cuts mean that I can't continue my annual course on political sociology. Maybe a blog will be a space for me to continue to ruminate and pontificate. And maybe (as a veteran teacher on these matters) I can offer some ways of thinking about what's happening nationally and locally that will be useful, as we struggle to make sense of the tortured complexities of these times.
I've been a leftwing activist for more than 50 years. What we've been struggling for all these years is full democracy--to increase the opportunities for people to have real voice in the decisions that affect them. Step by step over these years we've made some gain...but it is a long march, and one that never ends. The big barrier to democracy in our society is the concentrated power of corporations. At the same time, democracy is undermined by the felt powerlessness of people in their daily lives--the persistent belief that our problems are only our own personal concern. It's a strong cultural theme--such individualism--constantlly reinforced by mass media and everyday circumstance. But the current big crisis of the economy maybe makes it more possible for more people to understand that we've got to have social reform and economic reform. So my writing here is aimed at helping us figure out what to think and act on that so that we can hope for new democratic possibilities. WE'll be talking about the local and the national.
The blog name comes from an old labor union hymn:
Step by step the longest march can be won. Many stones can form an arch...singly none. And by union what we will can be accomplished still. Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.
For 27 years I've had a weekly radio show on KCSB (91.9 fm. www.kcsb.org) It's called the Culture of Protest. It's comes from my fascination with music and social movements. I collect 'political' and 'protest' music and that's what we play each week (Thursdays 6-7 pm). So sometimes here we'll share and talk about that.
I'm worried about one thing about the blogosphere. And that's the way that some people use the blog comment space for anonymous nastiness. I'm sick of the kind of political blather that assaults the motives of others, and sees dark conspiracy behind every thing one doesn't like. This kind of stuff is helping to poison the political atmosphere. So I'm going to strive for a civil tone to whatever interaction may happen on this blogsite.