Between a sluggish economy (for the 98%, at least) and President Obama’s falling approval ratings, the Democratic Party is in trouble. Even though nearly half of all Americans identify themselves as Democrats as opposed to the fewer than 40% who consider themselves Republicans, the GOP controls Congress and has captured the governor’s mansion in many states. At the same time, Republicans have tightened their hold on state legislatures and local offices. Democrats are worried that GOP momentum may continue for years, strengthening the GOP’s grip on power.

They could be right.

Both failure and success tend to feed on themselves. Politicians who cannot succeed at the local and state levels are unlikely to be “electable” when it comes to running for national office. This is one reason why the GOP presidential field is crowded (albeit with idiots and hacks), while there are few viable Democratic candidates other than Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Thom Hartmann has written extensively on this issue, and talks about it regularly on his broadcasts. What he says about it can be summed up in one old, time-honored expression: “All politics is local.”

The right wing takeover of America did not happen overnight. The process has been playing out gradually over the past five decades. Republicans started out in the 1960s by running candidates for low-level, local offices such as positions on boards of education and city councils. Building on those successes, they went on to run for mayoral office, county seats and local legislatures. From there, they targeted state legislatures, attorney general’s offices and governor’s seats. It was a carefully-planned, widespread strategy requiring coordination and organization – and it has paid off in spades for the Republican Party.  Once in control of state legislatures, it enabled them to redraw electoral districts in order to favor their own base (in other words, “gerrymander”).

This is why the Green Party, for all its popular Progressive platforms, is ineffective. Once every four years, the Greens bring out their Presidential candidate as well as a few further down on the ticket – but do you ever hear anything from them between those national elections?

Virtually everything that has gone wrong with our democracy – gerrymandering, election rigging, the flood of corporate money and the dysfunctional media – can be traced to the success of the Republican strategy as well as the Democratic Party’s failure to put more energy and focus into local and state races, especially during mid-term and off-year elections.

There are rays of hope. The traditional, corporate “mainstream media” is losing its power. In its place, the new web-based, digital “People’s Media” that helped propel Barack Obama to the White House is making Bernie Sanders a force to be reckoned with. At the same time, redistricting is being challenged in courts across the country. Recent court decisions indicate that the gerrymander’s days are numbered.

Nonetheless, we cannot afford to slack off. Bernie Sanders reminded us of this when he stated unequivocally that electing him as president was not enough. While the Sanders Campaign is well on its way to the same kind of massive, grass-roots movement that led to the election of  President Obama in 2008 and 2012, it’s important to remember that “all politics is local.” Get involved: call your local Dems today and find out how you can help turn back the Conservative tide. Numbers and history are on our side – it’s now time for local community-based action.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues.