Once Covid started in 2020, Democratic presidential candidates stopped holding full-scale rallies and did most of their campaigns through media appearances, television advertising, radio spots, and fund-raising messages. That continued after the election of Joe Biden as president and there were reasons. The Covid pandemic peaked again in Fall 2021 and Jan. 2022, Pres. Biden prefers insider politics, and (outside the Sanders movement) Democratic audiences got out of the rally-going habit, preferring less stagy events like protest marches.
But Democrats should re-integrate mass rallies into their mix for the 2022 election and beyond. Large scale rallies of 5,000, 10,000 and more are good ways to focus attention on Democratic office holders and policies, get media attention, and keep up voter optimism for the hard times of the post-Roe era. Pro-abortion, voting rights, and gun violence rallies would give Democratic office holders a big stage, provide exposure to activists on various issues, and be doubly popular because famous singers and musicians would be eager to perform. Large rallies might also be safer than the street protests which are increasingly subject to police violence and right-wing incitement.
The virtues of large-scale rallies can be seen in a Beto O’Rourke rally held at the Pan American Neighborhood Park in Austin, Texas last Saturday. Thousands were in attendance, Beto increased his profile in the Texas governor’s race, and he was able to tie the overturning of Roe v Wade to the Uvalde Massacre.
Gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke called for a restoration of the right to abortion in Texas, along with other state and local Democratic candidates and leaders from abortion advocacy organizations, at a rally in East Austin on Sunday evening. “If this were about life, then those 19 children in Uvalde, Texas would still be alive, enjoying their summer break right now,” O’Rourke said at the rally. “This is about controlling the lives and the bodies of the women of Texas.”
Willie Nelson and other country musicians performed and speakers included activists like “Aimee Arrambide, the executive director for the abortion advocacy group Avow Texas” as well as more nationally known pro-choice Texas advocates like Wendy Davis.
One advantage of rallies is that they allow organizers to combine national political personalities and agendas with local diversity, activism, and flair. I went to a Barack Obama rally in Lexington, KY where a University of Kentucky voice student did a remarkable rendition of the national anthem. People (like me) in the audience were so overwhelmed that Obama had won the crowd even before he stepped out on the stage.
Democrats have super-majority advantages in public opinion on most issues in American politics. One way to focus, encourage, and shape that opinion in politically effective ways is to hold mass political rallies.