I don’t usually write about myself, and I don’t plan on doing it often, but I hope you’ll join me on this little journey before I get where I’m going.
Long before I drove cross-country to California, I lived a downright lovely couple dozen years in Cleveland, Ohio. We Clevelanders fancy ourselves the bluest part of an embarrassingly unreliable swing state. My elder liberals back home cling tightly to a history that includes electing both the nation’s first black mayor, Carl Stokes, and a certain boy mayor named Dennis Kucinich. But just as the well-loved Kucinich is far more problematic than my hometown tends to recall or acknowledge, Ohio is inconsistent; even my beloved blue county has little pockets where, by age 10, I knew people of color were particularly unwelcome.
I suppose those little pockets of hate exist everywhere; I haven’t been everywhere, so I’m hesitant to make such a bold assertion. Yet as many places, including my beloved Buckeye State, turn redder with each election, it’s no longer appropriate to call those scary places “little pockets” anymore.
I call ‘em hate zones. The media calls them “red states” and “Trump country.”
But as the dust settled from the 2018 midterms, I kept finding these little blue pockets in these red states. And they make me happy. They make me hopeful.
In May 2018, I stumbled upon a remarkable piece by Nicholas Riccardi for the Associated Press, outlining how Oklahoma Democrats were finding each other and organizing—some in secret—and not just because of the teacher strikes, though those certainly hurt the GOP.
“It’s been a revelation,” Vicki Toombs said of joining a group of more than 300 Democratic women in Edmond, a place she believed housed only a couple of other members of her political tribe. “We’re excited and also apprehensive thinking of what the fall’s going to be like. I hold my breath, hoping we created enough energy.”
In states like Oklahoma, activists often say they came “out of the closet” when they started wearing their political affiliations on their sleeves after years of hiding them to avoid conflict. Still, they blanch at the term “The Resistance” and try to avoid mentioning Trump, knowing the key to swaying their neighbors is finding common ground on local issues rather than rehashing divisive national debates.
But closeted as they are — and dispersed as they are — would-be activists sometimes find it hard to connect.
Their “Don’t Talk About Trump” strategy was fascinating, and I was struck by the fact that their state party chair was just 24 years old.
These folks were fighting so hard to find each other, and to help others find them. It was remarkable to me, both coming from the liberal part of Ohio, and living in California for the last decade, to comprehend these folks having to hide what they believe in.
Sherry Wallis [...] could barely handle the political isolation in 2016. “I was feeling very alone,” she said. “A lot of childhood friends I had and new colleagues I met, I don’t talk to anymore.”
Then she heard about a bus that would travel for 24 hours from Oklahoma to Washington DC for the initial Women’s March and she leapt at the chance. “It’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world,” Wallis said of the trip, which connected her with a new array of activist friends across the state. She thinks little of driving four hours to go to a meeting of activists.
Those connections are a lifeline for people like Wallis, who live in the most conservative parts of the state, where Trump/Pence campaign signs still adorn lawns.
On a recent evening, members of the group gathered at a popular pizzeria. They talked about how they used to keep their political views under wraps, and about the halting progress they’ve made. Even now, they sometimes find it hard to believe that they can be so public in their liberalism...
Blown away, I started working feverishly on a story about Oklahoma’s little blue pockets. Along the way, I even discovered there were some budding blue pockets popping up (or refusing to die) in my beloved, yet ever-reddening Ohio!
Liberals, for the most part, are hard to find here. And some folks in this small group say they often wonder how so many in their community could support Trump.
"There's an absolute divide between the regular people -- the Republicans and the Democrats. We can't even talk," said Deb Depinet, 63, a member of the county Democratic Party executive committee.
So this small group of like-minded people, called Seneca County Rising, gathers regularly to discuss politics. To be with people who understand their point of view, and their frustrations. They may not always have their family and friends, but they have each other.
"That's the only good thing that Trump did for us, you guys," Sheila Graham, 61, said to the group, gathered on a recent Friday afternoon. "He got us together."
I decided to figure out a way that Daily Kos could help identify, connect, and grow similar pockets across the nation—that is, if they needed and wanted the sort of wrangling that our unique platform provides. A rather ambitious goal for a (then) six-month noob just getting the lay of the orange land, but my colleagues humored me.
“Go for it,” they said. “Sounds cool.”
But less than a week later, I was in the hospital, and my summer of fun, and dreams of little blue pockets, were replaced with a groggy seven weeks that I don’t really remember. By the time I was back to my overeager self, it was time for Netroots and then it was crunch time for the midterms.
On election night, I, like most of you, had returns blaring until late in the night—in particular, I couldn’t go to sleep until Scott Walker conceded. As I worked on a story about about one of this election’s many hard-won and historic firsts, the CNN commentators got REALLY excited about a House race in Oklahoma—Kendra Horn flipped her Oklahoma City seat blue in a stunning upset against incumbent Republican Steve Russell. While the panel members screamed over each other on my TV, I stopped what I was doing and smiled.
“They did it,” I said to my dog. “They fucking did it.”
The next day, I saw Oklahoma’s gubernatorial results. The Republican, Kevin Stitt, trounced Democrat Drew Edmondson by 12 points, but still, there they were: Little. Blue. Pockets.
Then: A glimpse at The New York Times’ interactive map of the newly elected House showed little blue pockets popping up all over the place. I grabbed a quick screenshot, cropped it down so it just showed OK-05, and reached out to my boss.
“Remember that story I loved about the rebel Dems in Oklahoma? Look what they did! LOOK WHAT THEY DID!”
It’s been nearly a year since I first read about those Okie rebels. I’ve been here long enough to feel like I understand this wild Daily Kos world more than ever, though I’ve still got much to learn. But I know that at least a few times a week, I hear from commenters who are trapped in Trump country.
This site was launched before I got my first computer, but I know it was created, essentially, to help like-minded folks find each other during the hellscape that was the Dubya administration. It can and should still be used that way—so with your assistance, and your cooperation, I think we can help those little blue pockets grow before 2020, if they’ll have us.
I also think we can learn from them. They’re coming together on their own, and some are getting help from the great folks at Indivisible. Surely we can support these efforts. Surely we can help grow them. It’s just what we do ‘round these parts.
As far as Oklahoma goes, I noticed that at least one of the state’s left-leaning grassroots sites, Blue Oklahoma, already is aware of Daily Kos and its gang of Okies. We’re even at the top of their Recommended Reading list!
But what about everyone else? Where are the state organizers here?
My hope is that we find a way to work with you, dear Community, as we strive to connect with (and even create!) those little blue pockets, and help those feeling alone find a home here as we work toward victory in 2020. I can’t tell you what that will look like just yet. After all, you’re the ones living in those little blue pockets, and you’re the ones living in those red states.
And we’re the ones listening. And it is “we.” My obsession with those little blue pockets is now an interdepartmental initiative among the Daily Kos staff, ever since I rambled on about it nonstop at our corporate retreat in March. Nearly two dozen of us are here to help.
Are you, or someone you know, living in a little blue pocket? We want to hear from you! Tell us all about it, whether in a comment or a Kosmail, or even a diary of your own—tag it with #LittleBluePockets! Let’s learn from each other, unite, engage voters, and oust that disaster man who’s determined to destroy the nation we love.
Let’s do this.
First up in Little Blue Pockets: As a crucial special election looms, we’ll hear from the fine folks from Four Directions, who are fighting to get out the Native American vote in North Carolina’s 9th District.