New College students have always been disproportionately politically mobilized and involved. Luckily, this might not stay the case as a local Sarasota organization starts to take grassroots mobilization to the unexpected—the baby boomers. The Catalyst sat down with founder of Choose Democracy Now Dale Anderson, a local Sarasota organization dedicated to educating would-be voters on the current political climate and the perceived dangers to American democracy the country faces.
Q: Could you tell me about yourself?
Anderson: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been down here about 10 years with my wife, we moved from Ohio. I practiced internal medicine and then got a business degree to work with hospital systems, with health systems implementing Obamacare.
In 2016, I read an article in Foreign Affairs magazine by Steve Levitsky—“Is America Safe for Democracy?” That was in 2017, just after Trump’s election. See, it looked at all of these nations, and very few nations where there was going to be a major demographic shift were capable of moving in that direction, with projections of white majority becoming a minority, that becomes a stress on the nation.
I did a lot of deep research and reading on democracy, fascism and authoritarianism, put together a presentation I showed at the church, and got a bunch of invitations to present it elsewhere. I ended up doing a six-month series of presentations on fascism along the coast, 32 presentations or so; talking to people who were already concerned with authoritarianism.
Q: Alright, that’s fascinating. So, you’ve got all of these speeches, all of these articles on the website, what’s next? Are you planning on starting other branches or anything outside of Sarasota?
A: Well, once you get a website, you can be national, you don’t know where your boundaries are. A lot of national groups are lawyers and lobbyists, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). But there was no national organization with local chapters intended to protect democracy.
So eventually, we want to try and get pods in other cities in Florida, all up and down the coast. If we want to do more work beyond what we’re doing, it has to be on the streets, on the ground. We can’t get organized yet, most of the political mobilization is focused on the election, and that’s great, but after the election, maybe we’ll be able to do more. We’ve only been doing this for a few months. I mean, this is a long-term effort, we’re not ready like other countries for totalitarianism. Americans have never thought of democracy as being at risk.
The next step is to expand the speakers. Florida Veterans for Common Sense is even more aggressive than we are; we’re reaching out, trying to cross-pollinate. I gave a talk to the Rotary Club, which is mostly 60s, it’s really all about pushing forward.
Q: Do you think there’s a pressing threat to democracy?
A: The Atlantic magazine published an article called “The Bad Guys are Winning.” See, the new authoritarians—Putin, Erdogan, Trump—are all working off the same political playbook. They win elections by being a populist, an outsider, an opponent to globalization, but they can’t be outsiders once they’re elected. They go through what Erica Franz calls “incumbent takeover”; Most of them don’t have an ideology, it’s just power and taking advantage of the state to benefit your friends. I said [the word] fascism in a conversation in a library a few years ago, and I got shushed. It was a bad word, but now it’s all over the place. So I think people are becoming very aware of these concerns, that Republicans are a threat to democracy.
Q: What are your particular concerns locally, with the Republicans?
A: The school board is a concern. The book banning, controlling the curriculum, outing LGBT students. DeSantis is a huge threat. Unfortunately, I think the pro-democracy candidates are basically Democratic candidates; if you’re a Republican and you’re outspoken against it, you’re out of power. [Politicians like] Liz Cheney get defeated at the poll; as much as we don’t want to be partisan, we’re strongly partisan for democracy.
Q: Do you think your content might come off as skewed? How do you expect to reach out to Republican voters?
A: It’s not about teaching Republicans, it’s about mobilizing Democrats and independents. If you’ve bought into MAGA Republicanism, there’s probably no change, so it’s about organizing the opposition. It’s surprising how ignorant Democrats are about this whole issue. No plan to respond to it locally; you go out and nobody is even talking about it, they’re fearful of those conversations. We need Democrats and Independents to step out of the shadows and take a stand, but they’re afraid to lose friends or condo neighbors over having conversations about the Trump flags and the DeSantis yard signs.
Q: Thanks so much. Any final words?
A: You know, we’re making all of these efforts to talk to older voters, but it’ll be your generation that’s going to make these huge changes. In the long run, it’s college campuses and youth organizations that are going to make all the difference.