Discover more from Showing Up
May Day Gathering
A Party Party
A century ago, Frederick Stanley Mackford, a radio officer at a London airport, drew the assignment of creating a simple, easily understood distress signal. In 1923, he coined the term “mayday,” the phonetic equivalent of French m'aidez (“help me”). In an emergency, the word is to be said three times.
Late January, metaphoric shouts of “mayday, mayday, mayday” persuaded Rita Hart to become Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. Shortly thereafter, friend Jim Davis and I proposed to host an event in Charles City, a combination “congratulations / welcome back” reception for Rita, now living in Clinton County but originally from Floyd County. Jim had served as long-time party chair of the Floyd County Democrats and I once held the same position in Mitchell County. People at Democratic headquarters in Des Moines quickly agreed.
This event took place on Monday, May 1, May Day, an appropriate date. In the Gaelic tradition, May 1 is “Beltane,” a springtime festival of optimism, midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Indeed, there was ample optimism among the forty attendees… tempered by realism, knowing the Party has much work to do. May 1 is also May Basket Day, a custom that involves placing a basket of flowers at your sweetheart’s door. Although this gathering was NOT a fundraiser, a contribution basket was placed prominently and people responded generously.
In some cultures, May 1st maypole dancing marks the transition from a barren, dreary season to one more verdant. While there was no maypole, Chair Hart danced a bit around plans for the Party’s 2024 precinct caucuses, which include a significant mail-in feature, details still forthcoming. May 1 is also International Workers’ Day, commemorating an 1886 nationwide strike in support of an eight-hour workday with more than 300,000 workers participating. In Chicago, strikers fought with police, an event sometimes called the Haymarket Affair (also Haymarket Riot or Haymarket Massacre… words matter.) The eight-hour workday, 40-hour workweek wasn’t standard in the US until 1940. Obviously, the long view was required here.
At its peak, approximately one in three US workers were union members; today, this number is one in ten. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, 6.5% of Iowa workers were union members. Organized labor has long been a key constituency for Iowa Democrats; union support has been essential to the Party. The long-term prognosis here is not particularly robust.
Despite Iowa Democrats challenges, upbeat, upbound “shoots” poked through at the reception, including the new chair herself. Rita Hart was (re)introduced as an exceptional leader and an exceptional choice to rebuild the Party, accepting the reality that significant improvement requires a major investment of money, energy, and time. Anticipating a “how long?” question, I foresee swift progress once Iowans recognize the state is headed in the wrong direction and realize we can do better — much better.
In her comments, Rita outlined key elements of her plans, which include greater empowerment, outreach, and coordination with local county parties. Recalling her Floyd County years on the farm, “There were challenges that seemed insurmountable to us as children. But at Dad’s insistence, we all worked together. For example, picking up rocks in the field. After walking through the row, we could look back and see we’d made a real difference. Raised on a farm, I’m familiar with work hard… and you are, too. Nothing good comes about without effort and teamwork.”
As for early results, Rita reported the Party received more funds in March than any previous March on record, while admitting, “In some instances, the Party has lost trust with voters, which must be addressed.” She emphasized the importance of informal conversations with neighbors about what’s happening in Iowa, even before talking about politics or sharing Democrats’ values. She urged volunteers to seek out assignments that match their abilities, noting that politics can be both hard work AND fun.
Rita Hart’s talents, example, and encouragement resonated throughout the room.