By STEVEN NALLEY
After the 2011 election, Gallup named Mississippi the most conservative state in America, so Patti Drapala knows her position is not popular.
She remembers a time, she said, when Oktibbeha County was one of the few counties Barack Obama won in the state. She said she wants to reach out to her fellow area Democrats, to let them know they are not as alone as they may feel.
“Of course, it’s not popular to call yourself a Democrat these days in the South,” Drapala said. “I am a proud Democrat. You don’t get too many people admitting it around here. We’re all kind of renewing our commitment by once again having Beans and Greens. It’s a way of telling people, ‘Yes, we’re here... we’re re-energized and we’re ready for the fall election.”
The Beans and Greens fundraising dinner Monday at the Starkville Sportsplex revived an annual tradition after several years of hiatus, bringing area Democrats together to hear from political candidates and incumbents and dine on potluck offerings.
Jeanne Marszalek, one of the event’s lead organizers, said the Oktibbeha County Federation of Democratic Women first brought forward the idea of bringing Beans and Greens back, and the Oktibbeha County Democratic Executive Committee has now joined OCFDW in sponsoring the event. Before putting Beans and Greens on hiatus in the mid-2000s, Marszalek said, OCDEC had held the event each year since the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“We had our first Beans and Greens at the Bost Extension Center out at Mississippi State,” Marszalek said. “It was being sponsored by College Democrats with our aid. We began to have the Beans and Greens in the Junction with the College Democrats. We ended up having it on campus for many years. I did it for more than 10 years, and it’s a lot of fun. We used to have very large turnouts and elected officials from all over the state come out to this. We’re hoping to build it back to this again.”
Drapala, who organized a raffle and silent auction for the event, said the titular beans and greens symbolize the Democratic Party’s grassroots movements. Other foods are on offer, but they are primarily simple, humble foods that she said reflect the party’s constituents.
“We eat these to celebrate our humble beginnings,” Drapala said. “You’re not going to get caviar at a Democratic function. It’s for the common man, the working people, people who built up the Democratic Party throughout its history. We use it as a symbol of what we stand for and where we hope to go with the party.”
Mississippi District 38 Representative Tyrone Ellis was the keynote speaker for the night, and other special guest speakers included U.S. House of Representatives candidate Brad Morris, U.S. Senate candidate Albert N. Gore, and Mississippi Democratic Party Chair Rickey Cole. Morris said Monday marked his first time at OCDEC’s Beans and Greens, although he has been to other events by the same name in the state.
“I think it’s just a good opportunity at a local level for the Democratic Party to get together, raise some money and highlight some issues we feel are important to families,” Morris said.
Cole said he has been to several OCDEC Beans and Greens functions in the past, as far back as the 1980s. He said he is glad to see one of the state’s longest-standing Democratic fundraisers return, and he considers the county vital for a plan to galvanize the party called “Project 1876.”
“There are 1,876 precincts (in Mississippi),” Cole said. “We believe the best way to counter the Republicans is to be organized in every precinct. Oktibbeha County is a vitally important county to the success of Democrats in this state. Over the next few years, we’re going to spend a lot of time with local Democrats to try to strengthen the party in the local region.”
Chris Taylor, OCDEC president, said he felt the attendance at Beans and Greens was good. More rallies at the Sportsplex and other venues are coming in September, he said, and he hopes to hold future Beans and Greens events earlier in subsequent years.
“It’s typically in winter (or) spring; it’s not usually in the summer,” Taylor said. “This is like a homecoming. We need to get people back out so we can win Oktibbeha County. The Democrats can carry every county if they get out the vote.”