Like elsewhere, Shenandoah Valley political activists seem to be turning to extra-party groups and interest groups as the best way to impact government, policy, their community, and the parties. For example, the SWAC Conservative Roundtable Breakfast attracts right wingers that find much of the Republican Party establishment too liberal for their tastes. Some of the breakfast leaders were booted during intra-party battles over the past several years. Perhaps the breakfast is a first step mounting a coup of the local GOP or maybe they'll nurture potential conservative candidates to run as independents. Time will tell.
On the progressive side there are a couple of groups that get together on a regular basis to talk politics, issues, and books. Progress Augusta attracts folks from Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro. A local chapter of the national organization, Drinking Liberally, this informal progressive social group is passionate about politics, building friendships, and having fun in the political process. Most meetings attract 15 to 20 people who enjoy the fellowship and good food while tipping a glass. Progress Augusta meets the first Tuesday of each month from 6:00 to 9:00 PM at Irish Alley Pub in Staunton. A related group, Reading Liberally - Staunton, is a progressive book group that held its first meeting on April 15. They meet next on May 27 at 6:30 PM at Darjeeling Cafe, for a discussion on Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization.
It is premature to assess the exact impact these groups will have on campaigns, elections, and the parties themselves. Once thing seems sure... political parties will be shaped by these informal groups. How the parties react - pushing these groups out, welcoming them in, absorbing the group, or being taken over by it - will likely chart the future of the local Republican and Democratic committees themselves.