Jo Freeman's Convention Diary: Class and Culture at the Republican and Democratic Conventions
Walking around the conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia one could see that there have been many changes in class and culture both inside and outside of the parties in the last fifty years.
In Cleveland I was able to tour the Quicken Loans Arena while it was still being turned from a sports arena into a convention center. There were some women among the workers, doing jobs they they would not have done 50 years ago. What struck me was how many of the guys had beards and long ponytails. When I went to the counter-conventions that weekend, I saw few of either on the leftie guys in attendance. Many of you remember back in the '60s when those of us who marched for civil rights and against the war in Viet Nam were dismissed as bearded beatniks and hairy hippies by working class men. Now they've become what they said we were.
I asked the workers I saw how many were union members; 80 percent was the common consensus. I didn't ask their party preference, but surveys show that union members are less likely to be Democrats than fifty years ago. (The usual question is are you a member of a union family, not are you a union member). The range for the last ten years is between 60 and 67 percent, but drifting to the lower end.
While the AFL-CIO is still an 800-pound gorilla in the Democratic Party, it had a lesser presence in this convention than in past ones. That may be due to money. Union membership continues to go down, and the Republican Party continues to try to put unions out of business. The AFL knows it is anathema to the Republican Party but the working class is no longer sure where its interests lie.
A lot of that indecision comes from cultural differences, usually called social issues. The white working class thinks that it has been a net loser in the culture wars. Over the course of American history the parties have often fought over social issues, so cultural divides are not new. Only the issues change. One can see these differences by comparing the party platforms, but you can also see them at the conventions.
Let’s start with race. That was the issue which realigned the parties in the mid 20th Century. When the Democrats wrote what was considered to be a strong civil rights plank at its 1948 convention, the South responded by running South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond for President and keeping President Harry Truman off of the ballot in four states. Because of his support for civil rights, Lyndon Johnson was not on the Alabama ballot in1964. As the 1965 Voting Rights Act enfranchised blacks, they joined the Democratic Party and Southern whites departed for the Republican Party.
At the 2016 Democratic Convention black women in particular were visible as leaders. Rev. Leah Daughtry was the convention CEO, as she had been in 2008. After Florida Cong. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign as chair of the DNC, her interim replacement was long-time Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge took over as convention chair. Many other black faces were seen in leadership positions in the various meetings that took place during the day, and as speakers and entertainers during the convention proceedings.
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