Local Dems, galvanized by Trump, looking long-term

Locals gather at a protest, organized by several local democratic groups, outside College of the Canyon's University Center on Feb. 9, 2017. Dan Watson/Signal

Patti Sulpizio, president of a Democratic Party club in Santa Clarita called the Democratic Alliance for Action, says membership has exploded in recent months.

Diana Shaw, also a member of the DAA, says that, in January, she formed a local chapter of “Indivisible,” a progressive-leaning group that has published an organizing and protest manual – “and 130 immediately signed up.”

Phillip Germain, a College of the Canyons political science major and founder of a new progressive group called Santa Clarita Valley United for Progress (SCVUP), says his organization’s Facebook page now has about 500 members and continues to grow.

As Donald Trump’s election and policies continue to roil thousands to protests nationwide, Santa Clarita-area Democratic activists in recent days told The Signal there has been an energizing on the local level as well — triggered by Trump, but bigger than just the hard-core left, and with much of it driven on social media, they say.

And while local protests have been held at the SCV offices of Republican Rep. Steve Knight — each of the leaders interviewed said their goals extend beyond the demonstration du jour … and toward a longer-range aim of flipping local Republican seats, as well as battling Trump’s policies on matters such as health care, immigration and the environment.

“That’s what we aim to change – voter registration, connecting Democrats with each other and just rallying the troops,’’ Sulpizio said.

“The troops” are growing, with registered Democrats now outnumbering Republicans 126,426 to 108,690 in the once firmly red 25th Congressional District, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office.

But those troops were distinctly scattered on Election Day 2016: Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the Santa Clarita area by Congressional district, Assembly district, state Senate district and within the city of Santa Clarita over Trump — but, with the exception of Democrat Henry Stern winning one of the city’s two state Senate seats, the GOP prevailed on the local level in all those sectors.

To local Democrats, that split is both a sign that potential change is within reach — and a call to arms that more focus on voter turnout is needed.

Some fertile ground they are surely looking to till: 73,392 people in the 25th Congressional District are registered as “No Party Preference.”

“The secret of winning, or the failure, has been voter turnout — Democratic voter turnout,’’ Sulpizio said. “Right now we have a 2.5 percent edge over Republican registration, which is the first in a long time. But we weren’t able to capitalize on that. We failed in the Assembly, the state Senate and the Congress in this area.

“The conception here is, this is a red area. There’s a kind of apathy — people think, why bother?’’

Phil Gussin, a political science professor at College of the Canyons, said he’s seen signs that Trump’s election has begun to turn the tide of that apathy. He said he has also seen the local manifestations of that – most recently at a protest at COC when Knight was on the campus, when about 150 demonstrators turned out to push for a Town Hall meeting with the Congressman.

“If I was going to compare this to anything, I’d compare this to the rise of the Tea Party after Obama’s election – very spontaneous, with the outgrowth of protests, things like that,’’ Gussin said.

But he said the newfound activism is wider than just traditional Democrats and progressives.

“The left has clearly been galvanized in response to Donald Trump’s election, but it also seems to have drawn in people who aren’t necessarily on the left – some people who are otherwise apolitical have been mobilized,’’ he said.

Germain, of SCVUP, says his group is evidence of that.

He said that the 500-or-so people who have joined SCVUP’s Facebook page are “young and old, students, people with jobs, progressives, Democrats, moderate Democrats, independents — we are trying to bring together people.’’

And, like the DAA, Germain said the goal of his group is long range.

“It’s just making sure that, because Democrats have been so underrepresented in this area for so long, it’s a place for Democrats to congregate and keep informed on the issues,’’ he said.

“This (SCVUP) is a long-term thing, that’s how I see it at least. It’s going to take a united Democratic front, to face the issues on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, and moving toward the (2018) election — that whoever runs for the Assembly, or Congress, or even down to the City Council, has a team behind them, ready to go.’’

One goal of SCVUP has been to organize a large town hall-style meeting with Knight.

“Rep. Knight is committed to listening to members of the community about their concerns, experiences, and beliefs,’’ said Daniel Outlaw, a Knight spokesman. “He is not opposed to holding a town hall meeting, though we do not currently have one on the books due to the time limitations imposed by this year’s heavy legislative schedule.

“In the meantime,’’ Outlaw added, “Rep. Knight is meeting with members of the community in small groups and hosting regular tele-town halls to answer questions, address concerns, and take suggestions.’’

Shaw, a longtime member of the DAA, said that after Trump’s election, “I was anxious and looking for a constructive way to channel my energy’’ – so she latched on to “Indivisible,” a group formed by some ex-Congressional staffers that has published an on-line “Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.”

The manual is a how-to of organizing, advocacy and tactics, modeled after Tea Party strategies, only in reverse – relying heavily on Indivisible’s social-media presence to spread the word and hone the strategies.

“It’s mainly about channeling information, alerting people to what’s going on, what they can do,’’ Shaw said.

Indivisible’s main tactic, she said, is to focus the message and the means employed by Democrats.

“I synthesize it down to a short sentence and say, ‘This is the issue, this is what to say, this is what to do,” Shaw said.

Logan Smith is another Santa Clarita-area Democrat looking to effect change — his means being as the local organizer of “Our Revolution,” a largely social-media-driven outgrowth of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

“We at the moment do not hold meetings here in Santa Clarita (but) … we have a social-media presence, and it exists to connect to existing grassroots groups, to connect to the national organization, allowing them access to emails lists, lobbyist training, candidate training,’’ Smith said.

Among the tools at Our Revolution’s disposal, he said, was the vast Sanders mailing list – and potential for fund-raising.

“The Sanders campaign galvanized a lot of people who were not previously engaged,’’ Smith said. “It built up volunteer teams on the local level. In the next four years, if we want to effect change, we have to start from the ground up.’’

All this increase in activism and networking is showing promise, according to Sulpizio.

“Two hundred people showed up at the Jan. 26 (DAA) meeting … and we didn’t promote it any more than we usually do,’’ she said.

It was at that meeting, she said, that plans were first formed to protest at Knight’s office in Santa Clarita, in support of the Affordable Care Act, which Trump has vowed to end.

About 200 people descended on Knight’s office on Feb. 1, according to media reports.

“When 200 people show up, that’s evidence of energy for sure,’’ Sulpizio said.

“I think you can say there’s anger … and determination to no longer be complacent Democrats,’’ she added. “In my opinion … a lot of us called ourselves ‘couch Democrats.’ We watched the State of the Union, we voted, and that was the extent of our activity.

“But now a lot of us are fired up.’’

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