Dec 11, 2007

Blue Tiger Dems kick for more civic involvement

Every November in even-numbered years, both political parties turn out thousands of volunteers to man phone banks, knock on doors and hand out campaign literature, but when the election season is over, those volunteers fade away. The Blue Tiger Democrats want to take those volunteers and put them to work making the community a better place to live.

“One of the big problems with the party, both political parties, is the start-and-stop mentality of the party,” said Frank Houston, the Civic Engagement Organizer (CEO) for the Michigan Blue Tiger Democrats.

The Blue Tiger Democrats were founded in 2005 by Bill Samuels, a longtime activist in Democratic and progressive causes, with the goal of getting the Democratic Party in touch with its original values and getting volunteers involved in civic programs and civic engagement. The Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) became the first state party in the nation to adopt the principles of the Blue Tiger Democrats organization and make it a permanent part of their state organizational structure last year, and last month they launched a Web site to find volunteers and match them with projects.

“This is a fairly new program, and Michigan is only one of three pilot programs in the nation,” Houston said. “Michigan has really become a model program.”

The Blue Tiger Democrats were launched in Michigan last year with a massive project that educated people in metro Detroit about utility costs with town hall meetings, a door-to-door campaign and other outreach activities. Volunteers helped educate people about ways to help with utility costs, as well as help them with weatherizing their homes. Houston said they knocked on 30,000 doors, and they not only helped people deal with the high cost of heating their homes, but they also helped build the Democratic Party.
Partisan bickering has turned off many people who care about voting and civic involvement, and many people have simply lost respect for the political parties. Houston said partisanship has a place in politics, but far too much effort is spent in raising money for 30-second TV attack ads rather than getting people involved in the community.

"It's easy as Democrats to say the country is screwed up because of George Bush or the '90s were so divisive because of Newt Gingrich, but the simple fact is we have to take back our basic, core values," he said. "We have a responsibility to make the world a better place to live."

One ongoing project of the Michigan Blue Tiger Democrats has been to collect necessities for Michigan's Veterans Administration hospitals.

"A lot of people hear about what's going on at Walter Reed and how bad it is, but they don't know that many VA hospitals don't have the basic necessities," Houston said. "A lot of Democrats get unfairly labeled as not supporting the troops because they oppose the war. This is a way for them to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak."

The Blue Tiger Democrats are under the umbrella of the MDP, and Houston and the two other Blue Tiger staffers have been visiting local county Democratic parties and clubs. He said they have been to about 30 groups already, and they have been very receptive.

"We ask them to support this as a concept, and to commit to at least one project to better their community," he said. "A lot of Democratic clubs have been doing service projects for years. We are just helping them brand it and get more people involved."

There are some in the Blue Tiger movement that want to see the tiger replace the donkey as the Democratic Party's symbol. Prior to 1870, the tiger was the national symbol of the Democratic Party, adopted from the symbol of the firefighters of Engine No. 6 in Lower Manhattan. The donkey was taken from an 1870 cartoon, by Republican Thomas Nast, called "A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion."

"This is about taking back both our values and our symbols," Houston said.

No comments: