On March 12, the Missoula County Democrats voted to adopt one of the most progressive platforms in the state. The country democratic committee called for universal, single payer health care as a right for all citizens, a living wage, and accepted several Montana-specific facets of the Green New Deal.
The platform change did not happen overnight. Since the beginning of the year, a group of folks from Missoula and around the state formed an organic collective effort we titled Big Sky Big Future and we pushed the Missoula Democrats to adopt these changes because we were tired of getting the usual inertia from Montana political leaders. (Full disclosure: I wrote–well stole from the Sunrise Movement–the Green New Deal points.) Rather than push us away, members and leaders of the Missoula Democratic Central Committee listened and asked for the best pitch we could make. Well, now that pitch is now the official platform of the county, a pretty large and important one too:
Other counties and the state party will all find reasons not to do what Missoula did. They will be wrong to make those excuses. Their fears will be the usual ones: we don’t want to upset some interest group like the chamber or unions, the Republicans will vilify us and call us socialists, or why adopt something hatched in New York City that kills cows and airplanes.
We do not want to sideline those groups that are key to the part and, note, the GND encourages more good-paying union jobs and also business growth. And you know what’s killing cows and crops? Climate change. You know who knows that and has seen it evolving and getting worse the last decade? Montana ranchers and farmers. So let’s stop running from the GOP talking points meant to do exactly what they want: to scare us into passivity. Instead, let’s lean into their tactics. You don’t think they are going to label even the most conservative democrat a Socialist?
We don’t have to say we are socialists, in fact candidates saying they are not is fine, but at the same time we need to talk about what the GOP is calling socialist–the popular government programs that have been around since the 1950s. They want to gut all of them and will use whatever radioactive terms they can to ensure we stay away as they sharpen the knives and siphon money to their wealthy industry backers. We have to diffuse these messaging bombs. Not by deflecting to some other subject or ignoring it outright but by actually getting into it with them.
Yes, I know what work in Missoula, won’t necessarily translate on the High Line. But the folks who live in the High Line can tailor the message to what they know will work. You can either run from the discussion and let the GOP dominate it or you can have actual conversations that pivot from “Green New Deal” to discussions about waning crop yields or massive wildfires and how there is a plan to create a new booming economy from a more sustainable framework. An economy that does not abandon our farmers and ranchers like the corporate takeover of agriculture has, but a New Deal type economy that values their work and does not want to leave them behind. You know, like Trump’s trade policies.
Over Mansfield-Metcalf weekend, my good friend John Heenan (who needs to run for governor) talked about the Montana Democrats being used to losing. It was a loaded phrase and it cut. I know what he meant but it isn’t about “losing.” It’s about being frightened and scared to be who we are and really explain why we want to force the change we so urgently need. Every politician and staffer and consultant sees this as attack ads and mailers then slithers away. That’s where we lose because what the hell are we standing for if we back away from every attack ad? They are ALL attack ads. Maybe, just maybe, we can put the other side on their back feet by being aggressive, unapologetic, and fearless that something might finally change.
So for 2020 what I am looking for are those fearless, unapologetic, aggressive advocates and organizers. If people want to play it safe and glossy, I am not interested because we keep losing those races. The national mood does not escape Montana and those of us who have been organizing around this state to combat rising white nationalism, corruption at the highest levels, and polarizing weather changes are watching, verrrrrrrryyyyyyy closely, to see who will best represent us.
We are angry. We are weary. We are overburdened. But we are also waiting for the candidates and people who best represent the blood, sweat, and tears we have dropped onto Montana streets and parks to keep us going.
If Missoula Rises to the moment, so can the rest of the state.