Wednesday, August 4, 2010

White Flight and Memphis Democrats

Posted By on Wed, Aug 4, 2010 at 2:52 PM

The Democratic Party in Memphis is worried about white flight reaching a tipping point.

In the short term, it could cost their man, Joe Ford, the Shelby County mayor's job if whites vote for Steve Cohen for Congress and Republican Mark Luttrell for mayor. Plus a half dozen down-ballot offices that Republicans won by a whisker last time around in county-wide races.

In the not-so long run, it could isolate Memphis from the rest of Tennessee if the Democratic Party in Memphis and Shelby County is perceived to be the black party in a heavily black city with a nearly all-black public school system in a majority black county.

In the 1970s, Memphis saw massive white flight from public schools, which now have only about 7,000 white students. After that came white flight from neighborhoods and the relocation of churches and businesses and professional offices to the suburbs. Could the Democratic Party be next?

That's not the case yet, as a small gathering of white Democrats demonstrated Wednesday at a press conference in Forrest Park downtown. The group included political strategist David Upton, former assessor Rita Clark, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, Central Gardens neighborhood leader Patty Marsh, activist Scott Banbury, and former Sierra Club of Tennessee president Don Richardson.

They were all there to say nice things about Ford. He is progressive. He is a friend of the environment. He listens. He is a gentleman. He helped put The Med on sound(er) footing. He had a few financial problems but who hasn't? He lives outside of Memphis in Shelby County but won't promote suburban sprawl.

The broader message was this: If you are a white person and thinking of fleeing the Democratic Party because there aren't going to be any white people in it, don't. There are still white Democrats in Memphis and they can align with black Democrats to win elections and advance Democratic principles.

Which raises the question, what are Democratic principles? Bring home the troops? National health care? Support unions? Support Obama? Oppose the Tea Party? Mock Palin? Tax the rich? Read The New York Times? Watch Olbermann and not Fox?

I don't know. I think it is easier for college-educated people to find more in common with each other, regardless of political affiliation, than for the Democrats to unite people who went to Rhodes College or the University of Tennessee and people who dropped out of Booker T. Washington High School and grew up in the projects or in Mexico.

In Memphis, I think there are principles that defy the labels Democrat or Republican. Call it the Middle Party. These are some of them.

Behave yourself. Remember Woodrow Call ("Lonesome Dove") kicking the crap out of that cavalry bully for "rude behavior in a man" and Sam the Lion ("The Last Picture Show") giving it to the young Jeff Bridges for "trashy behavior."

You might be wrong and the other side might sometimes be right.

Be your own man or your own woman. Don't be a slave or a wuss.

Speak truth to power and do it to face to face or sign your name.

Listen. Shut up.

Admit that John Edwards was a joke, and Sarah Palin is a joke.

Watch Michael Moore and read P. J. O'Rourke.

Read The Times and The Journal. And a library book once in a while.

Take care of your yard. Scoop.

Turn down your music.

Take a joke.

Say good morning.

Be responsible for your children.

If you do most of that then nobody really cares what political party you are.

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