HURON – Democrats looking to win back the White House and send more of their own to Pierre must start having meaningful conversations and work to find answers to tough questions like why so many people are abandoning the party, one of six state leadership candidates says.
“People are dying for a change right now,” Allison Renville of Sisseton said at the District 22 Democratic Forum on Thursday.
“To be a Democrat is actually like being something where you have to care about people, you have to want to help people and you want to have to secure this future that sometimes we’re just not promised anymore,” she said.
Renville, 34, is a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe. She is also a member of a Gold Star Family. One of her uncles was an Army medic when he was killed in action in the Vietnam War.
She unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for District 1 state Senate in 2018 and two years before that was a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
But Renville has been active in Democratic politics since the early 2000s and is now seeking the chairmanship of the South Dakota Democratic Party. Central Committee members will vote March 23 in Oacoma.
A social media consultant who has done political consulting work for candidates, she said the party is now gearing up for the 2020 cycle. The hope is to bring presidential candidates like Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sen. Amy Klobucher, D-Minn.; and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., to the state.
“There’s just so many candidates across the board that are going to be wanting to hear voices like ours,” Renville said.
A major challenge is to recruit young voters and retain those who are registered Democrats at a time when the party numbers lag behind Republicans and independents, third party or no party affiliation, she said.
“How do we get everybody back?” she asked. “How do we move us back to where we’re of the people and we’re talking about human decency rather than party politics and divisive topics and identity politics?”
Renville, in her presentation, asked the party faithful at the forum how they would like to create change and how the state party can help their community. People in some isolated areas of the state feel disenfranchised and left out, she said.
“Right now, the party itself has a large focus on tribal communities, but it wasn’t always like that,” Renville said.
“People like me and other organizers within the nine tribes in South Dakota, we had to beg people to pay attention to us, to help us,” she said.
She asked how the lessons that have been learned can help other vulnerable communities. Another challenge is how to recruit young, college-age voters to the party. The key is not only to attract them to Democratic philosophies, but to engage them “so it becomes the cool thing to do,” Renville said.
While the 60-day period leading up to Election Day is the major push, the process of building excitement and enthusiasm must begin months before that, she said.
It must include conversations, talking about politics, asking questions about current events, she said.
“There’s so much lack of excitement when it comes to doing these things, so the passion of the party that used to be just huge eight, nine, 10 years ago isn’t there anymore because we’ve been so disheartened by the American government over the last however many years,” Renville said.
“How do we grab those people who are still optimistic enough to be able to start networking and open up those opportunities to make it a statewide thing rather than just campus-wide, rather than just community-wide where we can start putting out what you call direct action,” she said.