Sunday, October 12, 2008

Birthplace of a Political Career

I've been pondering Sarah Palin's words... (paraphrased) "Obama launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist and we're expected to believe he didn't know it? He had sat on a committee with the guy!"

The reason I've pondered this is because of the first person who offered to hold a fundraising coffee in her own living room, for my first bid for office in 2006. I'd known who she was since I was in Jr. High, because she was a teacher and she coached the pom squad at the high school. Everybody knew her. She was never one of my own teachers, so I never officially met her back then. But, it was a small town and a small school district, so I knew who she was and later learned that she remembered vaguely knowing who I was.

My first encounter with her, in a political sense, was, coincidentally enough, at a Barack the Vote event hosted in her living room.

I had attended that event for two reasons -- the first being the most obvious -- I was a supporter of Barack's Senate campaign. But I attended with an ulterior motive. The local party chair and much of the committee was to be there and I wanted to observe them in their natural habitat, without the committee/gallery split making my observation so obvious.

I'd been in e-mail contact with the chair of the local party for a few weeks, I'd spoken at length with a couple of precinct committee members in the party and I was in the process of determining whether I was ready to join my efforts with the party in a more "official" way and I was also trying to decide whether getting involved with the local party was the right path for me to take in that regard.

Prior to that event, I'd been "lone wolfing" it as an underground grass roots pro-labor liberal/dem for many years... writing and releasing anonymous political and labor humor pieces into the wild and letting them take on lives of their own, keeping up with current events, learning how the government functions and how it doesn't, talking with people, learning about mine and other parties, choosing carefully which "letter to the editor" local battles to take-on so as to not be a regular in the paper (becoming a regular contributer is the fast track to being read ONLY by the choir you're preaching to, which is a pointless exercise for an unpaid contributer.) Etc.

I liked what I saw and I started my time with them in the gallery as a volunteer "activist" in the local party. At first, I attended only when their meetings didn't conflict with my schedule. Over the next year or so, their importance in my scheduling priorities increased such that I rarely miss a meeting and shortly into my regular attendance, I accepted an appointed position as committeman of the precinct I'd grown up in, which had been vacant for some years.

It was upon accepting the committeeman appointment that I began sitting on committee with the aforementioned woman who'd hosted the Barack event. As an officer in the party and as one of the four precinct committeemen in the district I reside in, she later became a strong supporter of and offered to host a similar fundraising event for my own campaign. These events are known, at least in my little nook of the prairie, as "coffee"s.

She's still an officer and committeeman, I'm still a committeeman, thus I still sit on committee with her. But, what do I know about her? What have I learned about her in my time working with her on the committee? Not a whole lot. Almost nothing, really. Our personal lives really have nothing to do with the agenda points we cover between gavels. Pleasantries exchanged on either side of the gavels are just that -- pleasantries... "how was your weekend," "how do the (kids/grandkids) like school this year" "did you hear so-and-so passed away?"

The committee of the local Democrat Party is not the only committee I sit on or that I have ever attended, with regularity. Most of the people who've sat on committee with me or who've sat on committees I attended regularly in-gallery couldn't tell you how many kids I have, much less tell you the names of my husband and each of my children. Many of them, on the two committees I sit on right now, call me "Michelle" -- which is not my name -- I can only assume that I must look like a Michelle. My present is almost entirely unknown to most of them. My past is definitely a complete unknown to them. I could be anyone. The same is true in reverse, except that I know their first names... and that is only because I suck with names and thus intentionally worked hard at memorizing their names from the roll calls of meeting minutes.

But, back to the topic at hand...

I know the woman who offered to host that coffee for me had been an active Dem for a long time and I know that she worked, locally, for the JFK campaign. I don't know if she was active before that. I assume because she's a strong partisan Democrat, but I don't know conclusively, that she's been active in every Democratic campaign to appear on her ballot since then.

Was she an anti-war activist? Was she anti-war at all? I have no idea.

To be fair, neither did/does she know that I was against the Vietnam a VERY small child, (note: I'm younger than both Palin and Obama,)who was in the process of being informed and shaped by the world going on around me -- a world I haven't been able to take my eyes or mind away from, since I first opened my eyes to it.

Could my strong supporter have been part of some subversive politically motivated underground group at some time in her past? I strongly doubt it, but the fact is... I have no clue. I'm just assuming. She seems very nice and she's never discussed bomb making techniques in my presence, but the news has taught us that it's almost always the ones the neighbors would have least suspected, right? So, who knows?

The fact is, I didn't run a background check on her... or on anyone else I've sat around a committee table with or on any of the people who supported my campaign -- nor will I. ...And, to my knowledge, none of them has ever run a background check on me. It's just not a common practice... and frankly, volunteers are too hard to come by for a new face and name on the ballot, to look that gift horse in the mouth with that kind of paranoia and suspicion. I doubt Ms. Palin demonstrated that level of suspicion in regards to her own early supporters.

I declined this woman's offer to host a coffee for me because of the small size of my campaign and the short time remaining before the election. But, I accepted her equally generous offer to host a strategy meeting of the Precinct committeeman in my district. Together, the five of us worked around her kitchen table for the better part of an evening, working the phones to get sign locations, signing up volunteers to work phone lists for me, etc. The local Chair also stopped in to check on our progress and help for a short time. I showed them the mailers I was about to send out and the fliers for the second knocking/littering of my district and they gave some valuable input, some of which I incorporated, some of which I did not. It was, far and away, the singlemost productive evening in my campaign.

I didn't win my election. I did, however, get 40% in a district where 16% would have been great for any Democrat, but particularly for a previously unknown Dem. I'm very proud of that accomplishment and I also know it was due only in part to my own hard work -- I didn't do it and absolutely could not have done it alone. I owe a lot to those who volunteered to help me -- particularly that one woman who first offered to host a fundraiser coffee for me and later helped to organize my campaign and secure the help I needed. As an unknown and an upstart, I was lucky to have any volunteers at all... and I have to say, I had the best.

But, in the event I later learn that she's not the wonderful, law abiding person she appears to be, I have to ask myself... what time and what place is to be credited with the launch of my political "career" - did I launch it in her home? I cannot answer this question without acknowledging my keen awareness that, even if I never run for office, again, my political "career" is not nearly over.

Did I launch it around the kitchen table of this woman whose political history I know almost nothing about on that night we strategised for my campaign with a group of people I know even less about?

Did I launch it when I became an official member of the local party committee, of which she is not only a fellow member, but an officer?

Did I launch it in her living room at a Barack the Vote event she hosted in 2004?

Did I launch it long before I met her, with my first letter to the editor or the first humor piece I wrote and sent circulating in the wild?

Or was it longer ago?

Did I launch it in the arms of my mother and father, before my earliest memories kick in... observing, asking about and figuring out the world going on around me and finding my own place in it?

Did I launch it watching the news I begged my parents to let me watch even as a toddler and caring deeply about what I saw and heard?

Did I launch it in Kindergarten when so many of my classmates show-n-tell was a military photo of a dad they'd never met who was about to return from 'Nam or did I launch it a week later on the reading rug as my classmates and I comforted them and dried their tears, when the dad they couldn't wait to meet only a week before turned out to be a funny smelling awkward stranger who was probably even more confused and afraid of them as they were of him?

Did I launch it when I began to speak or when I began to read or when I began to write?

The answer is so easy and obvious to me and I would bet my last dollar the same answer is true for both major party candidates for the Presidency...

I launched my political "career," dangling upside down from my ankles as I drew my first breath to cry out in protest of the stinging slap to my ass. ...And I'll likely end it when I draw my last breath.

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