Mon Oct 2nd, 2006 at 10:18:44 AM EST
So far this year, I abstained from blogging most of the time. I did something better: I got myself elected to my first public office. And I still can't believe it...
I had been quite active on blogs after I watched Howard Dean's speech before the Democratic National Committee Winter meeting in February 2003 out of curiosity. Even though his words came out of a completely different political context, they shook me. It was the 5th year of red-green and Gerhard Schröder in Germany and I was a frustrated Social Democrat with a ten year membership record on all levels of the youth organization Jusos and on local to state-wide levels of the SPD.
I think following Dean's campaign closely was an act of political escapism and a good lesson. After he was brought down in a concerted attack of the other candidates and mainstream American media, I felt, I had to move on and had to do something new.
In June 2004, after Schröder's decision to make deep cuts into the social system, I left the SPD - together with 180.000 other social democrats that year - and joined the PDS, then a left party out of parliament, because a lot of friends from my university were already in it. In Hannover, the largest regional organization outside former East Germany, the PDS was an interesting mix of former Greens, Social Democrats and West German communists.
After Schröder's decision in 2005 to ask for an early election, things shifted into a higher gear. The WASG and PDS under the guidance and pressure of Oskar Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi decided to make a joint run. Because of my training in the SPD as an election campaigner, I was asked by the PDS to run the campaign for the Bundestag election in the Hannover region. It was a fascinating experience and it cost a lot of work. Even though Hannover was and is social democratic stronghold and Schröder's hometown, we managed to get 5.1 percent of the vote in the city of Hannover and around 4 percent in the Hannover regional area.
Then came an even more difficult task: local elections were scheduled for September 10, 2006 and everyone who has ever been active in politics knows that first it is way harder to run a local election because you don't get a national coverage that supports your mobilization efforts, and second, when you have more offices in reach, the infighting gets worse.
In February 2006, I was elected chairman of the Left Party in Hannover and thus together with my friends became directly responsible to run the campaign. It was hard. We had left splinter groups running against us and even worse: the local media ignored us completely. We got no media coverage or at best, negative one. Though I do not like conspiracy theories, it is a fact that both of Hannover's daily newspapers are owned by the Madsack media group of which 25 percent belong to the SPD's media holding.
Hannover is a special case: In 2001, the city of Hannover and the surrounding small cities and villages were merged into the "Region Hannover", the Hannover regional area. I found a map for you [here]. Altogether 1.2 Mio people live in Region Hannover (twice the size of Vermont, btw). The local authority is responsible for transport, schools, local infrastructure, health care and social security administration and many more issues. The administration of Region Hannover is larger than the EU's in Brussels.
I decided early on, I wanted to run for a seat in the "Regionsversammlung", the Regional assembly of the Region, an 84 member parliament. And so I did run in a very socially problematic district in the city. It was a fascinating thing to do. Every week we would be out on the streets, distributing 80.000 self-produced magazines. We would hang more than 2.500 posters all across the region. I have been to areas of the city I had never been to before.
We decided to concentrate ourselves on three core issues: First, we were calling for the introduction of a "Sozialticket", a social card that would allow poor and unemployed people a cheap access to the public transport system. Second, we would run an anti-privatization campaign. Hospitals, public transport and the local energy company are still in public ownership. Thirdly, we would call for the public autorities to create normal jobs instead of cheap ones under the Hartz IV legislation.
It was really difficult to get our message heard. And you'll never understand the full impact of a bad poll until you'll get one. 10 days before the election we were at 2-3 percent in the polls, even though the poll didn't say whether it represented likely voters. The impact was devastating for the morale of our members. People started infighting and a lot of trouble arose.
We were running as a new combined formation of the WASG Hannover and the Left Party, called Das Linksbündnis. Region Hannover. We had been concentrating on core districts where we knew our voter base lived and where we had enough activists for a decentralized campaign. Thus, I assumed, we were underrepresented in the poll.
September 10, 2006 though was a great day. We came home with 4.5 percent in the city of Hannover and 3.1 percent in the Region at large. This was more than we could have hoped for. We got three seats in the city assembly and 3 seats in the regional assembly, one of them being mine. We can now form groups that get founding and we are currently in the process of hiring staff - another big challenge.
In the regional assembly the SPD and the Greens are holding 42 of the 84 seats, thus having only a majority because the Region's president - equivalent to a mayor with full adminstative power - gets an extra vote and is a Social Democrat. That is a very tiny minority and the SPD has already announced they are considering further negotiations with us and the Free Democrats (FDP). So things may get even more interesting.
Currently I am working to get myself prepped for the whole bunch of committees I'll have to join. I selected all special committees on social and health care issues. Also I am on the finance committee. And, since being an openly gay member of the assembly, the special committee for equal rights.
It'll be a great experience and even an important task. I thought it was time to leave the world of virtual politics for a while and turn to the real thing. As Howard Dean once said, progressives will have to run for all levels of government to make a difference. As for the strange party in formation I am a member of, the jury is still out on whether it will become a rational progressive left party or a populist pseudo-left bunch of crap. I'll keep you posted.
All the best from Hannover from a happy, but very tired jandsm :-) You will hear more often from me from now on.