Carpooling liberally: how to soften the blow of gas prices, build community, and win at the polls

(I originally thought this up in the aftermath of Katrina, and posted about it at the time.  I've tinkered with it a little bit since then, and I think it's worth a second shot, with high gas prices again in the news.)

The gas price crisis we are now facing is not likely to go away soon, and it is a burning and deep problem for millions of people.

As Democrats, I think we can turn this crisis into an opportunity - to lead, to build community, to "be the change we seek", and to improve our own electoral chances.

We can become a party of carpoolers.

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The Democratic Party should take steps to set up carpools among registered Democrats, in as many places as is practical and useful.  At the simplest level, this could take the form of a county Democratic party calling through the registered Democrats in the county and asking them if they'd like to participate in a carpool to save money.  Figuring out the logistics will no doubt be an issue, but the heart of the matter is that we can use our political tactics (phonebanking, voterfile management) to solve this immediate, tangible problem for potentially millions of people.

At a broader level, such an effort could be led by the Democratic National Committee, working through its network of paid organizers throughout all fifty states.  The DNC could hold a special fundraising effort to fund this effort, by selling, let's say, "DNC Carpooling Bonds", or something like that, for $20 / month.  The DNC could also ask participants in the carpool program to chip in a little bit of money as well, to help pay for the operation.

What are the potential benefits?

  • each carpooler will be pulled in closer to the Democratic party, and will feel more allegiance to it.
  • we will be making a statement that Demcorats are socially responsible, that they work for a living, and that they're not rich elites.
  • we will build social ties among Democrats
  • we will incentivize being a Democrat: left-leaning independents and moderate Republicans will be encouraged to jump ship, if for no other reason than the purely material benefit of lower cost of living
  • this action doubles as a protest against irresponsible Republican policies.  the press release writes itself.
  • friends who carpool together, vote together.  if we have the email/address/phone number of each carpool group, their local GOTV organizers can call the carpoolers a few days before election day, and say, "don't forget to vote on your way home from work!" heck, we could even imagine GOTV captains within each carpool, or something like that.  i can't possibly imagine a car full of registered Democrats, now a bit richer thanks to the hard work of their party, forgetting to vote on Election Day as they drive home from work.

What are the costs?

  • obviously, this could be a huge resource drain
  • politically, if we don't get the message quite right, we could look kind of impotent (i.e. we can't win in Congress, so we have to go outside the system)
  • if we really put a dent in the number of commuters in the country, we might actually contribute to lowering gas prices, which would of course help bush's approval ratings

It's possible that the Democratic Party might not be the best vehicle for this kind of effort.  For example, in many ways labor unions or an extra-union outfit like Working America could be better suited to the job, especially since in many cases the locals have ready access to a large number of people who are all commuting to the same place every day.  Or it's possible that some sort of partnership would work best.

Another point is that we need not go about this effort in the low-tech way I described above: it's entirely possible to put together a pretty decent carpooling web site and to open it up to registered Democrats.  The problem with that is, I'd imagine, there are more safety concerns, and a better chance of the system going awry somehow (electronic mapping technology is unfortunately far from perfect.)

There's no reason to shoot the moon the first time out of course: it's possible to get such a program off the ground with a relatively small-scale effort, based in a single city where carpooling is likely to be a success.  But I think it's an idea worth trying out.

(Cross-posted at Planting Liberally)

Tags: community, Democratic Party, gas prices (all tags)


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