Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Weekend At Bernie's




I spent some of yesterday afternoon hanging out with the same 100 older, principally White people I had the previous Saturday. Yesterday's event with State Rep. Mimi Stewart, State Sen. Cisco McSorley and headliner U.S. Rep. from Vermont Bernie Sanders was billed as a chance for folks to find out how to run for public office, but in reality it was more of a progressive's rally for sanity. It certainly helped my own mental outlook to hear inspiring words from all three folks, especially Sanders who, after warming up, becomes quite a forceful speaker in that NYU Professor explaining the Wobblies sort of way.

As for content, there wasn't much that was new. It was fun and interesting to hear Stewart and McSorley talk about their pet bills over the years, successful and unsuccessful. McSorley, in particular, mentioned, with obvious and deserved pride, his work in getting the first AIDS assistance bill in the nation passed during the 80s. Stewart noted on more than one occasion that her litmus test for someone being a progressive was "choice". She's evidently trying to put a progressive caucus together with that simple "choice" password and she said 18 of the 112 legislators could join the club at present (she actually said 18 of 80, as I recall, but regardless it's less than 25%). Maybe it's because I tend to think we need a "bigger tent" but there is something somewhat depressing about boiling progressive thought down to one issue. Don't get me wrong, abortion is an important issue, a vital one, but isolating it at the expense of those who are progressives in all other areas might not be the way to go. Remember, send your righteous indignation, death threats, and other hate mail to this address.

The most interesting nuts and bolts running for office information centered on how effective door-to-door campaigning is. Both McSorley and Stewart harped on how essential knocking on doors is, and then followed calculations of how many doors one needs to knock upon to be successful, what percentage of folks are at home, etc. Somewhere in there, McSorley noted that he needed to hit 8,000 households in his Senate district to be successful, which seemed pretty high. My knuckles hurt just thinking about it. There followed a confusing mish-mash of numbers, but to be sure door-to-door campaigning was cited as essential. I could sense the feeling of dread that overcame my more introverted colleagues in the audience at this point. I mean, couldn't we just send out an email instead of walking up to people's front doors, knocking, and facing that dreaded slow opening? How about two or three emails?

And then Bernie Sanders got up and basically said that George W. Bush was a idiot and that Corporations are leading to the death of America, especially in health care, the middle class, and the environment. Nothing new, just more of the dualistically inspiring and depressing talk that has been the hallmark of progressive speeches since the Socialist party stopped getting more than 1% of the vote some decades ago. Still, maybe things are swinging up for us lefties these days and the long national nightmare we've been subjected to since Reagan won in 1980 might be subsiding. Too bad, a few thousand U.S. soldiers and untold thousand Iraqis had to die first.

Okay, enough "reportage"...let's get to what was really happening. First, the event was held at the "Plumber's Hall" a mid 20th Century brick building on San Pedro that was like walking into a history lesson. The building was pretty nondescript, but that nondescription spoke volumes about Unionism's more glorious past and it's almost moribund present. The Hall is a basketball mini-gym sized room that could easily hold at least 500-700 angry union members, and you can sit there and imagine them all chomping cigars, sitting on those ubiquitous metal chairs and screaming/yelling back in the day. I wondered how full the Hall has been recently on days it wasn't 1/7th full of progressives.

The event got me looking around the web, and I found the Southwest Labor Histories Archives that includes a page or two of B&Ws from New Mexico's Union past. I stole one photo to put at the top of this entry.

Second...just between you and me, do you absolutely despise the "Q&A session" part of progressive meetings like this? Maybe it is just me, but cringe is not strong enough of a word to describe the overall body implosion I experience when the questions start. The main speech ends, and sure there are questions to be asked, but then the moderator throws it open to a certain class of extroverted folk who invariably "ask" the following:

1. Long diatribes about something that has obviously been boiling inside them since the first time they did LSD and that they have been holding in, holding, holding, until this very second.

2. Long diatribes that are obviously intended to impress us with how intelligent they are, as if some hidden teachers in the large room are sitting there with grade books and red pens.

3. Long diatribes that always end in questions like "don't you agree Senator that child molesters are bad, and that people who kill little puppies are just as bad and that the law of gravity is a good law and should be supported, don't you think that, Senator, or are you in favor of child molesters, puppy killers and against gravity?"

I could go on, but this diatribe is long enough as it is. In brief, the Q&A at these events always leaves me wanting to literally meld into the ubiquitous metal chair to the point that I have to leave. In the case of yesterday's session, I'm sure I missed some good info during the Bernie Sanders Q&A, but weighing the possible nuggets of wisdom versus the absolute certainty of diatribes meant scampering out of the mid-20th Century Hall as fast as possible without making it look like Rep. Sanders had said something so offensive that I bolted in political protest.

I reached the same front door that I'm sure many cigar-chomping, angry Unionist have for decades, popped it open expectantly, breathed in the crisp, mid-Fall air as I lifted my face to the sun and realized that I was probably never going to knock on 8,000 doors, if for no other reason than the diatribes-masked-as-questions I would have to face. I will send plenty of emails, however.

1 comment:

chantal said...

If I attend one more progressive meeting where the speaker starts off the event with the requisite 5 Minutes of Hate against George W. Bush, I'm going to flip out.

I didn't even vote for the guy, but come on, this is getting puerile. Indeed, I hope a new day is dawning for progressives, but until then, the diatribes are getting tedious, very tedious.