30 June 2008

Disagreement, Anyone?

Saturday evening Jenna and I went to a Unite for Change party in our neighborhood. Our hostess, Linda, opened her home at 36th and Wolff to about 30 assorted friends, acquaintances, and strangers. I learned of the event by entering our zip code at my.barackobama.com, an official website of the Obama campaign. For those who haven't been there, the concept appears effective, if a little creepy (my Barack Obama?). Log in and learn about events being hosted in your neighborhood, from house parties to voter registration drives to parades and speeches. If you don't see an event in your area, you can sign up to host one, on your terms, at your pleasure.

Saturday being the 28th of June and the so called "Unite for Change" day across the nation, Jenna and I were curious to go see what the hype amounted to. Our hostess provided soft drinks, beer, and wine, and the guests brought snacks. Food items ranged from chips and salsa to capresse salad appetizers to sun-dried tomato and pesto spread on whole grain crackers. A couple of the Obama Fellows were in attendance to co-host and facilitate the event. According to Obama's website on Sunday, some 25,000 people attended over 4,000 Unite for Change events nationwide.

We showed up at Linda's house, filled out our name tags and the appropriate forms to get on all the mailing lists (it's all about the lists, these campaigns), and introduced ourselves to the hostess, the handful of guests already present, and the food and drink table.

While we mingled and made chit-chat ("What do you do?" "How long have you been for Obama?" "Are you volunteering for the campaign?" "Can you get me on the floor at the Convention?"), more guests arrived, and soon the house was crowded with 30-some guests. We engaged the Fellows in conversation, both young men, one a recent graduate from Washington D.C. by way of West Virginia, the other an Indiana boy from firm, Republican steel magnate roots, exploring the great wide wilderness of Colorado and pursuing an education in economics and public policy at the University of Denver.

Eventually the Fellows cut the coffee talk short to show a video about the grassroots nature of the campaign and the philosophy behind Unite for Change and the various, volunteer-hosted events taking place across the country. The video is available on the Obama site, halfway down the screen on the right hand side of the Unite for Change page. No telling if it will still be there as you read this.

If there's one really good point that stood out from the whole video, it came early on when the candidate, in a casual, man-on-the-street type of talk with the camera, pointed out that the American people, if they are organized, can have a great impact on the way Washington works. But the people aren't organized right now. In their stead, big, corporate lobbying outfits, which are fastidiously well organized, set the tone for how business gets done in D.C. The rest of the video emphasized the importance of hosting more house parties and getting organized. There followed a catalog of personal testimonials and heart touching, "Ever since my son was born my heart has been ripped open to the way politics and the world work and I just need to be involved for my child's sake" type stuff. Of course it's good, but it's calculated to be good.

After the video, one of the Fellows told how he came to drink the Kool-Aid. Afterward, he invited us all to go around, introduce ourselves, and tell our version of why or how we came to the Unite for Change event that day. Though you may detect a jot of cynicism in my tone, I'll say that some of the stories were really exciting. For Democrats under 40 (and perhaps for broader demographics, as well) this is arguably the most exciting political season on record. What I found most stimulating in the collective narrative, however, came from those over 40, and more specifically the baby boomers, well represented at the event, who invariably testified that they haven't been this excited, nor this hopeful for our country, since 1968.

The personal accounts devolved into a lovefest, of course, but that's alright. It's a starting point. The question was finally raised as to how we turn this interest and this agreement into action, and also how we reach out to people who aren't infatuated with Obama, and encourage them to vote Democratic this year.

Two important points came from the discussion, I think. The first is to approach a potential voter with empathy. "What are the issues you care about most? What makes you worry? What is your greatest hope for the future?" Let the undecided voter talk and think, and then ask "Which candidate do you think cares more about those same things, and which will work harder to help realize them in our country?" It may be that the undecided voter picks the other guy in the course of answering the question, but that's okay. Seeds will be planted.

The other key point, for me, is that canvassing door to door is great, but how much better would it be to speak with undecided voters on their own terms? Instead of surprising a person at a bad time, how do we reach out and invite the undecided voters to come talk when they are ready? This, most definitely, is the conversation I want to encourage. As I sign up to volunteer for campaigns this season, door-to-door canvassing is definitely something I am willing to do. More exciting, however, is the party Jenna and I want to host in the coming weeks (once we move into our house and unpack, that is) with the specific goal of attracting undecided voters to our living room to talk about their questions, concerns, and hopes, and perhaps to talk about both candidates, even, and the positions that matter to American voters.

Here's the thing: If there's one lesson the last two presidential elections should have taught Democratic voters, is that it's no longer enough to simply show up and vote. We don't get to take it for granted that the right candidate, the one who combines thoughtfulness and leadership, is the one who will next inhabit the Oval Office. For this election year to turn out as America desperately needs, we've all got to get out and go work for it. Register some voters, talk to some people with whom we may not see eye to eye, and keep thinking forward about what comes next.

We'll send an invite for our party when the time is right, and everyone will be welcome. You'll understand, though, that you may not be the person we most want to talk to. This campaign season, the single most important work we do might actually be to get to know those with whom we initially disagree.

28 June 2008

Democrats' Town Hall, June 23

Jenna and I went to a town hall meeting last Monday, featuring Rep. Joel Judd, Democrat of the Colorado House (District 5), and Rep. Andrew Romanoff, the outgoing Speaker of the Colorado House (District 6). It was a predictably tame event, though a few folks did press the congressmen for answers about the Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on health care, and also on how much money funds treatment and studies for Colorado children with autism.

Romanoff, as the well-practiced speaker and ardent advocate of revamping the health care system, handled the first batch of questions pretty well. One thing he enjoys about being term-limited, and therefore not having a reelection campaign to consider, is that he can tell the truth without fearing the consequences that often accompany it. The system is broken, he said, and a complete overhaul is in order. He favors a single-payer system, and pointed to that as the only plan of the five proposals evaluated by the Governor's Blue Ribbon panel and examined by independent auditors that can offer coverage to all Coloradans without increasing prices (see here for the 208 Commission's final report).

Rep. Judd handled a question about autism with a little less savoir faire. Of course, Judd's own website reads "Not the noisiest guy at the Capital," so it's only fitting that he proved a bit less garrulous than the Speaker. Judd is the Chair of the Finance Committee and sits on the Appropriations Committee, so it may have been a little surprising, when the question came up about funding for autism research and treatment in Colorado, that he couldn't put a figure into play to try and answer the question. At the same time, Judd's easygoing lack of concern about not knowing came off, I think, rather well. Better a politician who will simply say those deceptively simple words "I don't know," than one who postures and blusters through a long answer amounting to about the same thing.

Also present at the meeting was Rep. Judd's Republican opponent.

Man Gets Bear?

This is a couple days old, but noteworthy all the same. A Boulder cyclist going 45 mph collided with a bear last Tuesday and came out alright. What's most interesting, perhaps? This isn't the first time it's happened in Boulder. Seriously.

Picking Up In Denver

It's been quite the layoff between posts, but I'm finally ready to poke my toes back in at blogwater's edge.

You'll notice, though the layout of this page hasn't changed, that I'm not in Oaxaca anymore. Jenna and I returned to Denver at the beginning of June, and after some time getting hired and getting settled--which we're still working on--I'm still very much looking at Denver with an outsider's eye. Which is fun, actually, because Denver's changed some in our absence, and excitement in the city feels pretty high.

I'll be posting on items of interest in Denver, especially those that involve community hot buttons, local and state politics, the Democratic convention in August, the election season, and any overlap between all those issues and our neighborhood, the Highlands, or just Highland, depending on who you ask.

I'm sure there'll be a whole lot of figuring things out as I get a sense for the local flavor of things, and that's half the fun. Of course I'd like to hear from you if you like what you read at plavwriter. At the same time, if you see something I get wrong, or you just don't agree with me, make a comment or send a note. Blogging's sort of an independent activity, but it's a lot more fun with company.

As always, thanks for reading.