You have to understand, I've pretty much only been to Republican rallies this year. Between the parties in Iowa and all the rallies in Seattle before the Washington caucuses (Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney) as well as all the live-streamed victory and concession speeches I've seen this year, I've had a lot of experience with Republican rallies and my Democratic-rally-going experience has totally withered. So this morning was a big shock for me. Somewhere over two hundred people gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Baptist Church in Renton this morning for an Organizing for America kickoff rally, and compared to all the Republican events, it was an alien experience.
The first surprising thing was the diversity: There were more people of color sitting in a single pew than I saw at all the Republican rallies combined. Second was the warmth: People wanted to talk to each other, and not just about politics. (Especially at the Romney rallies, I found that if you tried to talk to someone you didn't already know, you were treated like a crazy person.) Third was the music: Instead of the dumb jingoism of Kid Rock or Toby Keith played over tinny speakers on repeat, a woman sang a beautiful, slowed-down gospel version of "How Great Thou Art."
Also unlike most of the Republican rallies, the Organizing for America event opened with a prayer, thanking God for "your abundance, the light of day, the beauty of Mount Rainier," for the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and for the "new light dawning on the horizon of the United States of America."
Reverend Herbert Carey reminded the audience that "Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Baptist Church does not endorse any political party or candidate." After everyone was done laughing, he added, "I've got to say that. However, we are appreciative and honored that the Washington State Democratic Party has chosen" his church to kick off their organizing campaign.
After Carey's rousing introduction and the good music, the Organizing for America talk and video was a bit of a necessary drag in comparison: It was a PowerPoint presentation explaining the organization of OfA—much as it was in 2008, the DNC is shaping their campaign not as a top-down structure, but as more of a snowflake, in which OfA provides volunteers in each neighborhood the with resources to do the work themselves. Volunteers from Capitol Hill and Factoria spoke a little bit about their experiences and their goals (organization building, voter registration, voter outreach, and voter turnout). Next Saturday is a national voter registration day of action for the organization, and a big reason for the rally was to sign up more volunteers for that first big push.
The best praise I can offer the OfA PowerPoint presentation is pretty much the best praise you could offer any PowerPoint presentation: It was, at least, brief. An extremely invigorated Ron Sims praised Governor Christine Gregoire for "Look[ing] into the abyss of issues," and then he recited the lyrics to "Can't Give Up Now," which much of the room recited along with him:
I've come too far from where I started Nobody told me the road would be easy And I don't believe He brought me this far to leave me.
"This is going to be an incredibly challenging year, but we have a president to reelect. We have come too far," Sims said, "And nobody is going to turn us around." Governor Gregoire picked up Sims's enthusiasm and ran with it. (This Gregoire is so much better than the Gregoire who gave a speech endorsing Barack Obama at Key Arena in 2008; it's been pointed out by myself and others that she's become a much better politician now that she isn't running for anything.) "I got the privilege of becoming governor by a margin of 133 votes," Gregoire began. That tiny margin, and the resulting recounts and the Republicans who turned their back to her at her swearing-in ceremony, taught her "a big fat lesson" about electoral politics. She was haunted by the votes she didn't earn, staying awake at night, wondering, "couldn't I have shaken one more hand, couldn't I have gone to one more" campaign event. The problem, she says, is that "we didn't have a ground game," and that's why volunteer events like this one are so important. "Remember the lesson of 133 votes," Gregoire said, "Remember the recount. Remember the lawsuit. We will not let that happen again in Washington state. Double digits! Reelect Barack Obama!"
But as good as Gregoire was—and she was very good, making a strong case for President Obama's achievements in office, especially regarding women's issues—Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is playing at a whole other level. Patrick was ostensibly at this event because his 2006 gubernatorial campaign was reportedly a model for the Obama 2008 campaign. But it felt more like the groundwork for a 2016 presidential run. "Good morning, church," he began. "Let's have a little church this morning." Patrick said that everyone in the room had probably talked to someone who was a little more "squishy" about voting for Obama than they were in 2008. "I don't blame them" for being squishy, he said. "All you hear about in the news is the conflict, and what the other side has done." So then he let loose:
I ask you just to reflect on a couple of facts. This is the president who delivered health care to every American in every corner of the country, after ninety years of trying. This is the president who found, and brought to justice, Osama Bin Laden. Who ended the war in Iraq, who's ending the war in Afghanistan. This is the president who saved the American auto industry from extinction, the American financial industry from self-destruction, and the American encomy from depression. The record is long, impressive, and barely told....I am here to tell you, I am unwilling to let him be bullied out of office.
Patrick reminded the room that he was the governor to take office in Massachusetts directly after Mitt Romney. He avoided personally attacking Romney—"he's always been a gentleman to me," Patrick insisted—but he said when he became governor, "young people and jobs were leaving the state," which was suffering from "crumbling infrastructure" and a deficit "of over a billion dollars." He then ticked off a list of accomplishments Massachusetts has achieved since Romney left, including climbing from 47th in job creation in the union to the top ten. "Massachusetts is on the mend and on the move," Patrick said, "not just because of changes in leadership, but changes in vision." Patrick said the election this year is about a battle of philosophies. Growing up as a kid in Chicago, he said, the entire neighborhood helped raise kids. Kids were the future and the future was everyone's business, so the message to kids like him was clear: "Pull your pants up. Stand up straight. Understand we come from a legacy of achievement." Patrick set up clearly that Mitt Romney's America is an every-man-for-himself America, and that is a drastically different America than the one in which we live.
"I wanna first and foremost thank you for the victory we are claiming today. We are going to win if you make it your campaign," Patrick said. He told the volunteers to talk to "your friends, your family members, that grumpy uncle. Talk to someone who doesn't agree with us. Engage!" Patrick concluded, "if we do that, not only will we win, but we will deserve to win." It was the standard sort of speech politicians offer to volunteers, but the delivery was something exceptional. Patrick is intelligent, warm, and a hell of a speaker. One of the first questions he got from the audience was "Do you have aspirations for 2016?" (The question was greeted with knowing laughter and warm applause. All during Patrick's speech, people around me were whispering to each other about how they wanted to vote for him the next time around.) His response was note-perfect: "I have aspirations for every year," he said, but he didn't have any aspirations to run for president in 2016, "if that's what you're asking." I don't think anybody in the room believed him, and we were all very happy about that.