The Rank and File Diversity Reigns at the Howard Dean Barbecue

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

Jacksonville,
Florida – They say that where there's smoke there's fire, and on this
day the fire was being generated by the Howard Dean for America
campaign, which rages on like a house afire – for now. Local activists
Joe Flowers and Steve Sikes held a barbecue and outdoor concert
at their home on St. Johns Avenue, which was open to political types
of all persuasions, some of whom aren't political at all. It was
a good scene, evenly split between men and women, with four black
people and two or three with Asiany features. There were even vegans.
This writer left the part of himself who sees Howard Dean as a great,
cavernous sucker-trap for the left at home, made nice with the keg
and sought to be convinced.

The
local Dean branch came together through Meetup.com, which was an
early organizational tool, said leader Bradford Stephens. “It's
several months old, but it hasn't really snowballed until the past
two months.” The Florida primary occurs as part of the “Super Tuesday”
contest on March 12, and it is expected that Senator Bob Graham
will take this state en route to a possible Vice-Presidential nomination.
But the Howard Dean campaign has taken everyone by surprise, except
maybe George Soros, and there's really no way of telling how many
Democratic axioms may be shattered by his run.

“Lieberman,
Kerry, and to an extent Edwards have suffered the most [from the
emergence of Dean],” said Stephens. “I don't know who's really benefited
the most. Maybe Kucinich, because he's kind of a rebel outsider
like Dean, but he doesn't have much of a shot anyway.”

“I
think Wesley Clark and Howard Dean are going to be the top two contenders
for the ticket,” said Stephens. “All in all, I'd be happy to have
either on the ticket.” As for the oft-rumored entrance of Hillary
Clinton (the “brokered convention” theory developed
by Anthony Gancarski
of Antiwar.com), it may be that Dean's
success could be the only thing that prevents such a development.

“If
she entered, I'm assuming it would impact the campaign. More women
would support Hillary, but I don't think she is much-loved by the
liberals, and the liberals, more liberals, seem to be the
ones that are supporting Dean. If Hillary entered, Dean's position
wouldn't fundamentally change. Although it would be different, different
people's support.”

At
that point, Brenda Bayne of Gainesville (which has a rich history
of maverick campaigns, most notably Tom Miller's run for City Commission
in 1995) stepped up to deliver what we in the industry call the
“money quote,” which forms the emotional core of an article:

“I
don't think Hillary would have a lot of bearing on Dean. The thing
about Dean, Dean's grass-roots are so deep. You have to understand
that this man in the second quarter raised $7.6 million, with the
average donation around $77. That translates to a lot of people.
None of the other campaigns can do that. Wesley Clark coming in,
though he has some grassroots movement, it's basically from the
top down. He's being pushed by the DLC and the likes of those folks.
Dean's grassroots are so strong, and I will tell you this right
now – I can go on record about this. The third quarter is going
to blow it out of everybody's mind; it's just going to blow it out
of the water, what he's going to raise. And the impressive thing
is the amount of people who have given. We're out here before he
even has the nomination, working for him. The Democratic Party is
foolhardy if they do not pay attention to this grassroots movement!
Because we want our country back, and that's not a corny slogan,
either.”

I
was curious as to how the Dean campaign's national momentum would
translate into local electoral politics, a subject that is often
overlooked, perhaps because it's so close. “The thing here is, Democrats
have been weak the last couple of years, and I think the only way
that's going to affect our local politics is that if Dean becomes
the candidate, I think we're going to see more of the Dean people
who are in the organization now . . . will step in to run with the
local DEC, because the DEC is in need of some restructuring as well.”

Interestingly,
most observers tend to agree on Dean's major weakness, which has
nothing to do with the quality of his organization or even his views.
Although he's one of the few candidates who seems comfortable speaking
extemporaneously, this looseness sometimes reveals itself in his
language and a sometimes prickly, adversarial disposition with the
media.

“I
think he's a pretty strong candidate, especially with the grassroots,
but occasionally he doesn't think every time he speaks, and says
things that are easily misinterpreted,” like his
infamous statement to Forward magazine in 2002
: “I don’t
do things for political reasons. I’m very loyal to my friends. Nobody
should read anything into my ideology.” Of course, everyone no-sold
that remark, and his Democratic rivals have been unable to use it
against them since it speaks to a uniform pliability among them
all, particularly in regard to the Middle East debacle.

“He
has really energized people,” said Bayne. “We need to be engaged
in democracy again, and Dean's bringing that back. It's not about
ideology, it's not about how he's going to vote on an issue. It's
what he's doing to energize people and bring them back in, and creating
communities. He's creating a sense of community again, and that's
what's most important. His campaign, as corny as it might sound,
is about hope. Is he weak? I don't know if he's weak. Do
I agree with him on everything? Not necessarily, nor do I think
I'll ever agree with a candidate on every issue, and I have no problem
with that, because I'll tell you what I know about Howard Dean:
what he says is where he stands, and that's what I like. . . . What
the Democratic Party as a whole needs to realize is that he has
galvanized a whole cross-section of people.”

Kristen
Booth, 17, was informed of the party via an e-mail from the ACLU.
“I'll be able to vote in the primaries for the 2004 election. Possibly
Dean. I'm still checking it out.” She'd heard nasty rumors about
me, and the process of squelching them effectively ruined my interview
with her.

Erin
Dupree: “From what I know, I think I agree with his politics, but
I don't remember what exactly I read about him, so I'm not sure
why I think he's worthwhile." She plans to vote for Graham
on March 12, tentatively, though “I don't really care about their
individual politics, I care about getting Bush out, you know?” When
asked how many Iraqis she would have killed if she were President,
she replied “None.”

Roy
Clark: “Howard Dean likes gays – I don't!”

Myra
Tidwell, 20: “Howard Dean is just a very, very sexy man, and I think
that people should vote for him. . . . I like his ears a whole lot.”

Stacy
and Tracy Anderson (no relation) were standing in the dining room,
freaking out because they had the same last name. Their dates smartly
used my interrogation as an opportunity to work heel while reinforcing
their basic manliness by expressing support for President Bush,
which is the standard default position for many who are skeptical
about the Democratic field.

“I
just want the preservation of the Earth and [for] the people to
be taken care of, instead of political agendas and crap,” said Stacy.
When asked whom she would vote for between Hitler and Hitler without
a mustache, she heard “Hitler” as “Hillary,” or else just chose
to stay on message. “I would say Hillary without the mustache. That's
not a fair analysis. That's the same person. You're looking at two
different debates. Hillary Clinton is a pony-ride on her husband
and her bandwagon is that u2018I'm a woman who survived a cheating husband.
I'm going to write a book, run for New York City's mayor and I want
all the women to jump on my bandwagon and I'm going to be the first
woman President based on my husband being President.' But yet, Hillary
Clinton then helped President Clinton through all his things –
she was always his strong back. But it depends on whether you support
Bill Clinton's positions.”

I
don't understand why all women don't just love Hillary Clinton!

Nick
Veneris of VoiceNow! hosts the “Church of the Left” radio show from
8–10 pm Fridays on UNF Radio. He's bullish on Dean, but not
on the prospects for local activism being taken up a notch by Dean's
momentum. “If he's elected President, all the major local activism
that's going on right now will stop, and it will only be continued
by the hardcore activists. No one's going to protest a Democratic
candidate, especially after what Bush has done. . . . I think he's
probably going to pull a Jimmy Carter, too. He's making a lot of
promises, but I'm not sure he's going to follow through with them.”

Russell
Pelle, there on behalf of the Communist Party USA, was probably
further to the left than any of the attendees. His unsuccessful
run for the local Soil and Water board exposed the basic gutlessness
of local candidates, in that his suppression – helped along by people
like Andy “I've never had any problems with Clear Channel” Johnson – handed
the seat to a Republican. He thus has a unique perspective on the
broader issues raised by the Dean phenomenon.

“I
like Dean better than any of the other candidates because he's the
one that most correctly and boldly challenges Bush. When he says
that you can't beat Bush by trying to be like Bush, I think that's
the kind of talk we need, and I think that beating Bush is the baseline
for any possibility of progress in this country, or the world, for
that matter. . . . One thing that's exciting about the Dean campaign
is that he's drawing a lot of people into politics for the first
time, and it's forcing people to think, because he's saying things
that a lot of the other candidates are skirting or waffling on,
at best. So he's stimulating a lot of thought, and that's good.”

“I
don't have a take on Lyndon LaRouche, okay?” said one man in a Howard
Dean for America t-shirt. None of the Dean people would comment
on Lyndon LaRouche, the infamous 11th candidate who has
been blackballed by the party despite being sixth on the most recent
money list. The mere mention of his name sent a chill through the
room.

Pelle
was a victim of LaRouche's “Operation: Mop-Up” in the early 1970s,
in which his National Caucus of Labor Committees (formed after LaRouche
was driven from Students for a Democratic Society for being too
extreme) used violence to purge the left of Communist influence,
a sensible if heavy-handed response to COINTELPRO. “I was at an
event where we were discussing socialism, and they stormed the stage
and assaulted people, broke up the meeting. . . . He's absolutely
a freak, and a bad person.”

Boris
Roboff and his niece were out raising awareness of the Living Wage
Ordinance, a public hearing pertaining to which is scheduled for
Thursday, October 9 at the City Council chambers. He would not otherwise
comment on his politics, always a smart answer.

“This
has been going on for about two years, and there are maybe 25 or
30 people on the steering committee, about 30 different churches.”
The cause is complicated by the fact that the US Dollar loses more
and more of its value every fiscal quarter, such that the $10.70
figure popular prior to 9/11 is now short by as much as a third.

“We
had a study done by a professor at the University of Massachusetts,
and the biggest variable that you're up against is housing. Our
living wage, as the ordinance is written currently, is based on
the smallest affordable efficiency apartment through HUD. At 30%
of your wages, how much would you have to make in order to afford
the apartment? The idea is, you're supposed to be able to support
yourself, your [rhetorical] wife and two kids at the very meagerest
of existences, but at least you wouldn't have to run by the soup
kitchen.”

The
quality of the conversation increased as the evening ensued and
the beer flowed, but most of it can not be printed here. However,
it’s worth noting that I was soon unable to find any new attendees
who know who Howard Dean is. Eventually the bands wrapped up and
I was drafted to rock the mic for about half an hour, at which point
the accoutrements of my trade were put away and I got into character.
Try as I might, I was unable to determine which of the partygoers
was the law-enforcement agent who would presumably be working undercover
at the gathering. It's like the old Burroughs quote: “If you can't
spot the mark in a room, then you're the mark.” But there's no need
to be cynical. Not yet.

September
23, 2003

Shelton
Hull [send him mail] is
a columnist and writer based in Jacksonville, Florida. His work
has appeared in FolioWeekly, Counterpunch, Ink19 and Section
8 Magazine.


        
        

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare