Hey Dems! Follow Beto’s Example. Hold More Rallies

Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

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.


Beto Takes on the Texas GOP, Becomes Democratic Role Model

Houston Chronicle

On Tuesday around 11:30am, 18 year old Salvador Ramos invaded Robb Elementary School in the South Texas town of Uvalde, locked a classroom door behind him, and killed 19 students and 2 teachers before Border Patrol ran down a key, opened the classroom door, and shot him to death. Ramos purchased two AR-15’s and 375 rounds of ammunition for his 18th birthday and had apparently begun adopting an identity as a mass murderer when he put “Kids be scared irl [in real life]” into his twitter bio. Ramos began his spree by shooting the grandmother with whom he was living, crashing a car into a ditch, and invading the school after exchanging shots with law enforcement at the school.

Evidently, local law enforcement not only stood around outside during the 40 minutes Ramos was inside shooting but was preventing parents and relatives from trying to rescue their children themselves.

Personally, I’m numb with grief and disbelief and have trouble sleeping. The Uvalde massacre is almost as traumatic for me as the May 14 Buffalo massacre where the shooter was from my home region in Upstate NY.

But I want to discuss Beto O’Rourke and the politics of the Democratic Party in relation to the Uvalde Massacre, the Buffalo Massacre, and other mass shootings. Yesterday (May 25), Greg Abbott and Texas Republican officials were holding a news conference about the Uvalde Massacre in the town itself when Beto O’Rourke interrupted. Here’s a still picture:


In some ways, it was Beto O’Rourke standing up as a lone citizen against the corrupt Republican establishment of Texas with Gov. Greg Abbott seated in blue, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick sitting on Abbott’s right, and Sen. Rafael (Ted) Cruz standing above Abbott. In some ways, it was a Jimmy Stewart kind of moment.


Good for Beto!

I want to explain what is particularly effective about Beto’s appearance at the Abbott press conference in Uvalde. The Democratic leadership in Washington has been aggressive, determined, and disciplined about Covid, the Build Back Better proposal, and Ukraine. Even though his down in the polls and events haven’t gone his way, Joe Biden has been a much more effective president than I anticipated. At the same time, the Biden administration has done a poor job of promoting itself and I could say the same thing for the Democratic Congressional leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Same with Jaime Harrison and the Democratic National Committee. They’re all strong in the trenches but find themselves in weak political positions despite having super-majorities of public opinion on their side. They should have done a lot better in taking the battle to Republicans on Covid, critical race theory, the homophobic campaign against public schools, and voting rights. They need to do better when Roe v Wade is overturned this summer.

So what is Beto doing that the Democrats need to do? He

  1. MADE NEWS. Beto got in front of Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas GOP Establishment at a sensitive time and let him have it. Beto’s interference with Abbott made the press conference into an event that centered around Beto and it was reported in the Washington Post, New York Times, the New York Times Again, CNN, a CNN op ed by Chris Cilliza, CBS News, and so on. In other words, Beto O’Rourke criticized Texas Republicans in a way that was amplified by the mainstream media. That should be an objective for Biden White House communications–make news that is amplified by the mainstream media.
  2. MADE REPUBLICANS DEFEND THEMSELVES. Beto’s appearance at the press conference forced an immediate defense from Greg Abbott himself. According to Abbott, “every Texan, every American has a responsibility where we need to focus not on ourselves and our agendas, but we need to focus on the healing . . .” It was a weak response that did address anything O’Rourke said while Beto himself expanded on his condemnation of Abbott after being forced outside. In other words, Beto kept dominating the moment. Still feeling the need to defend Texas Republicans and conservatism, Fox News had Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick appear on Laura Ingraham’s show last night to attack O’Rourke. By forcing Republicans to respond, O’Rourke kept amplifying the story and further pushing the Republicans to defend their inhuman positions on gun possession and gun violence. Some of these defenses are foolish and open the GOP to further criticism and ridicule. For instance, the twitterati reminded Trump apparatchik Andrea Kremer about Rafael Cruz when she attacked Beto by using his birth name “Robert Francis.” Speaking of Sen. Cruz, he got upset when a reporter asked him why school shootings only happened in the U.S. That question might not have been asked if O’Rourke hadn’t inflamed the “controversy.”
  3. CREATED MORE OPENINGS. O’Rourke’s criticism of Abbott will most likely keep the Uvalde Massacre in the media beyond the three days allotted for the murder of 10 black shoppers in Buffalo. Beto’s critique of Abbott both for “doing nothing” and enacting new gun laws which made the situation worse a theme that could apply to the Republicans on Covid, infrastructure, Ukraine, and other issues. However, Beto can’t do this himself. He needs President Biden, VP Harris, the White House Communication Office, and the DNC to keep coming back to “doing nothing” and “making things worse” as the main imperatives of Republican politics.