Rappers pitching caucuses on video, hundreds of people showing up to learn the basics, and social media laced with invitations to training and pre-caucus parties — never in recent memory has the arcane Minneapolis DFL process gotten so much attention.
Minneapolis elections historically attract only a third of eligible voters, and the caucuses that set DFL endorsements in motion draw but a sliver of that group — about 4,000 people in 2013. But there’s a groundswell this spring to boost participation — especially from young people — in the precinct caucuses that will be held Tuesday night at 61 schools, churches and community centers across the city.
Newly energized groups, many of them suspicious of traditional power brokers in the Minneapolis DFL, have produced and organized a raft of videos and caucus 101 sessions at coffeehouses and beer halls. In one video, Atmosphere frontman Slug urges people to carve out time on Tuesday night — the first step toward electing a mayor, City Council and Park Board in the fall.
“In November, we’re all going to go out and we’re going to vote for people who were selected for us to vote for,” Slug says in the video. “What if we helped pick the people who we get to vote for? Does that make sense? We can be part of the picking of the people.”
Then he beatboxed for a second.
The renewed interest in the DFL’s procedural details is driven by outrage among Democrats over the results of the November presidential election and a concerted effort by young DFLers to demystify a process they see as overly complex and unwelcoming to newcomers. A new online preregistration form rolled out by the Minneapolis DFL is also helping.
“There’s way more organizing at every level than I’ve ever seen in 20 years of doing this,” said Roann Cramer, a longtime DFL insider. “I’m just seeing a way different effort.”
Our Revolution Twin Cities, a spinoff from the Bernie Sanders campaign, has held trainings since December at the Soap Factory in Northeast, drawing hundreds. Take Action Minnesota and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change have worked to drum up turnout. An event called “Get Involved 101,” organized by a group called Give a S***: Mpls, drew 250 people at Bauhaus Brew Labs — with only three days’ notice.
“We’ve got to get people to know about this caucus process because it’s so strange. It’s not ideal for first-time participants, but it’s also so important,” said Matt Barthelemy, one of the organizers of the event at Bauhaus and a newly elected member of the Minneapolis DFL executive committee. “I just think it’s really cryptic and doesn’t need to be like that.”
Caucus attendees on Tuesday will elect delegates who will then make endorsements at City Council ward conventions across the city in late April and early May.
The citywide convention, where delegates will try to endorse candidates for mayor and the Park Board, will be July 8. Since all but a handful of the people running are DFLers, the endorsements are crucial, though the Minneapolis DFL hasn’t managed a mayoral endorsement in a contested race for more than a decade.
Dan McConnell, chairman of the Minneapolis DFL, said the national political climate has created unease in the DFL-dominated city, and people are looking for ways to get involved.
“Donald Trump does more in one tweet to drive that than all the hours of work by volunteers to increase turnout,” he said. “People are worked up.”
DFLers hope for a noticeably larger turnout Tuesday, and so far the numbers are promising. About 2,000 people had preregistered by Friday, about half of the total caucus attendees in 2013.
Ashley Fairbanks, one of the organizers of Give a S***: Mpls, said she and others were motivated by the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by a Minneapolis police officer and the Fourth Precinct occupation.
“A lot of us who were at City Hall frequently during and after that were feeling pretty distant and not represented by our City Council members,” Fairbanks said. “In the past, the experience has been that people didn’t organize well enough until after caucuses or people didn’t feel like they knew how the DFL system worked.”
They resolved to not make those mistakes again, and the election of Trump in November gave them a greater sense of urgency. Some of that frustration has been focused on longtime council members, and Tuesday’s caucuses will signal whether the slate of new council candidates can mount serious challenges to incumbents.
“There’s this kind of perfect storm of a lot of grass-roots organizing that happened a year ago and the current political climate that I think will help people turn out,” Fairbanks said. “Right now, this is the only place where progressive people have any power, or the ability to make real change. We can’t do much at the federal level, we can’t do much at the state level, but here we can make an impact.”