Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What It Means To Be A Democrat

 (This is a speech delivered at the Lafayette Parish Democratic Executive Committee's fourth annual Lifetime Achievement Awards Banquet which was held on October 6, 2011. I got to deliver the speech by virtue of the fact I was the Democratic candidate for Lafayette City-Parish President.)

There are a lot of people thinking about this these days, particularly in our state and in our parish. Our state party was not able to field a single well-funded candidate for statewide office this year. The so-called smart money has abandoned us. Republicans have achieved the kind of dominance on the state level that some in this room have come to accept to here in Lafayette.

While conventional wisdom has it that these are bad times to be a Democrat, I believe we are exactly where we need to be in order to put our party in working order. There is no recognizable advantage to being a Democrat, so the opportunists have left us for greener pastures.

Clearly, for our party, the time has come to get back to basics. With most of the deadwood out of the way, we can now get down to the work of rebuilding our party.

In preparing for this speech, I went back to the very basics, starting with the root word “demos” in an effort to understand literally what it means to be a democrat.

The dictionary defines “demos” as being the common people of an ancient Greek state.

But, in the centuries since it originated, Demos has come to mean “the common people” in any political unit.

That form of government based on the notion of power flowing from the consent of the governed is called Democracy. Again, based on demos.

Democracy is defined as government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

The United States and Canada are democracies, although there are some in our own country who are working hard to restrict the right to participate in our elections. They are anti-democratic in both the little “D” and big “D” meanings of the word.

Democracy is also defined as a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges. That is, there is only one set of rules that we all agree to play by and that those rules produce a level playing field where your chances for success rest at least as much on what you know as  who you know.

There can be no privileged class in a democracy. We are all equal in terms of rights, duties and privileges.

So, demos is the common people. Democracy is rule by the common people, in a place having free elections, and where people have equality based on rights and privileges.

A democrat is an advocate of democracy.

That is, a Democrat is a person who believes in the political or social equality of all people.

We know this is an accurate definition, because for the past five decades in the South, our friends in the other party have used our commitment to equality as a wedge to turn some people away from our party. It worked so well on race, that our friends in the other party have tried to turn our support for equality for women, gays and others into wedges that they can use not just here but across the country.

In Louisiana, a state where we have 32% African American population and 37% total minority population, this tactic has worked to some extent, but has no long term chances for success here, so long as we remain true to our roots.

Our party, you might have read, no longer constitutes more than 50% of all registered voters in the state. We’ve known for a long time that not all people who are registered as Democrats actually support or event vote for Democrats.

The key to rebuilding our party is to embrace who we are and to run with it.

That is, to return to our great Democratic tradition of standing up for equality for all people. We stand for equality for women, for African Americans, for Asians, for Hispanics. We stand for equality of gays. We stand up for those who cannot defend themselves. The poor. The elderly. The infirm.

But also for the people who are the foundation upon which the wealth of this nation was built and continues to be produced. The people who build our roads; who clean our schools and offices; the people who wash those fancy cars; who mow those beautiful lawns; who work two or three jobs to ensure that the lives of their kids will be better than their own; those who teach our children; who work in the oil patch; those people who work countless hours trying to turn their small businesses into a bigger one.

Standing up for those people is the work that once defined us as a party. And that history shows the way up off the canvass and back into the fight.

Our friends in the other party like to defend the people they call “the job creators.” Fair enough — although they don't seem to be doing it very well now. But, let’s call the hard working people that we defend by their true name — They are the wealth creators. Nothing more and damned sure nothing less. These are our people — The people Democrats need to stand up for, to defend, to protect and to champion.

It is the work that we were called into being to do. It is the work upon which our future depends. If this is work that you are not willing to do, then you’re in the wrong party.

This is the work that makes calling ourselves Democrats meaningful. I'm Mike Stagg and this is what being a Democrat means to me — and I hope to you, as well.

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