VOX POPULI • BY ED LEVY
The Blair High School Cafeteria was jumping on October 27 for the one-year-out area kick-off of President Obama’s re-election campaign. I once heard it said that while people who work with their hands only need to make things, what good is a politician who can’t deliver a speech? The speakers that night all knew very well how to give rousing speeches, and it was easy to see how Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Governor O’Malley, Senator Cardin, Representatives Edwards and Cummings, County Executive Leggett and the others made it to the top of their game.
To start at the punch line, I had a chance to ask DNC Chair (and U.S. Representative) Wasserman Schultz how she would argue to progressive Americans that they should support the President’s re-election. Wasserman Schultz stated that no other modern American President had done more to advance the progressive agenda. She cited the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, passage of the Affordable Care Act, appointment of two progressive female Supreme Court Justices, ending the U.S. presence in Iraq, and Wall Street reform, among other successes.
Interestingly, she was also questioned by a reporter from The Weekly Standard, a conservative news magazine, who pressured her to disavow the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Wasserman Schultz said that Democrats support the OWS movement and its free speech right to express its grievances. The DNC Chair further stated that Democrats are already working on many of the issues raised by OWS, and that few of the demonstrators have been critical of the President and the Democratic Party.
Volunteers at Maryland’s Obama for America headquarters in Kensington had been working hard for months to organize the event. Event Co-Chair Susan Miller says that she is “convinced that President Obama is our best chance to keep our nation moving in the right direction, (and) … believes this election is critical to creating the future our children deserve.” Harriet Shugerman, the other Event Co-Chair, was proud to be part of the grassroots effort that helped elect President Obama in 2008. She “wants to be part of continuing that effort to re-elect him to a second term, (and) thinks “the great turnout for the rally indicates that there are many others who want to join our effort.”
I also asked volunteer Jennifer Hosey why she was willing to donate her time to the campaign. Hosey said she was volunteering to build a better future for herself and others, and that she appreciated the President’s commitment to civil rights for women, Latinos, and all Americans. She added that she felt good about the direction the President is taking our country.
The volunteers were all wearing blue t-shirts designed for the event. On the front was the familiar Obama logo on top of a list of some of the President’s first-term accomplishments: from The Affordable Care Act to the Treaty Reducing Nuclear Weapons. On the back, the shirt invited the viewer to “Scan Me” over a large QR barcode, which links smartphones to the campaign’s volunteer sign-up page.
Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis was Master of Ceremonies. She criticized GOP presidential candidates as “wannabes who want to give more tax cuts to the rich,” and echoed the President’s call to ‘take off your bedroom slippers and put on your marching shoes’ to get to work and have your voice heard.
Jason Waskey, Maryland Director of Obama for America, told the crowd he was excited to see people in the crowd who had worked on the 2008 campaign and were getting engaged in the re-election effort. Waskey said there were many things volunteers could do now including working on the campaign’s community outreach, communications and media response efforts; or volunteering on issue teams. There is also a need for people with IT or office skills, and for people available to do phone banking.
The next speaker was Maria Welch, Chair of the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs. She applauded President Obama’s and Governor O’Malley’s support for the DREAM Act (which provides in-state tuition for all Maryland high school graduates) and asked the audience to commit today to work hard for the President’s re-election. She led the crowd in a rousing chant of Si Se Puede! (Yes We Can!).
Representative Donna Edwards told the crowd she was proud to represent part of Montgomery County, and committed to working with the President to protect Medicare and Social Security. She got a strong response when she asked the crowd “Are you ready?” (The just enacted Maryland Congressional redistricting plan will remove the section of Montgomery County currently in Rep. Edwards’ 4th Congressional District and shift the 4th eastward into Anne Arundel County.)
Representative Elijah Cummings told of how pleased he was to see the crowd was so large that he couldn’t even get into Blair’s parking lot. Rep. Cummings said to the crowd, “and some people say that Democrats lack enthusiasm.” He said that Republicans say “let people die and let foreclosures proceed,” while Democrats oppose these policies and that Democrats don’t have a compassion deficit either. Cummings said there was too much to fight for, and that President Obama has warned us that change will be difficult. He added that the President had kept his promises including his recent action to end the U.S. war in Iraq. Among a program of great speakers, Cummings fired up the crowd more than anyone. Those who came after him remarked on how hard it is to follow Rep. Cummings.
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (up for re-election in 2012) reminded the crowd of the dire situation President Obama inherited in 2009. We were involved in two wars with no end in sight, the economy was losing 750,000 jobs monthly, and the previous Administration had turned a budget surplus into a large deficit.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett told of how he recently was approached in an airport by someone who said they’d seen him on television … but they were mistaken and told him they thought he was Herman Cain! Leggett said that Montgomery County will play a crucial role in sending volunteers to the neighboring competitive states of Virginia and Pennsylvania to run against “Cain, the Cowboy from Texas, or the flip-flopper from Massachusetts, Michigan, or wherever else he says he’s from.”
Governor Martin O’Malley noted that the U.S. economy is turning around with 12 consecutive months of job creation and the lowest foreclosure rate in 36 months. O’Malley further said that Republicans are offering the same policies that have already failed.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was the final speaker. She stated that while the President’s Jobs Plan is expected to create 1.9 million jobs, the Republicans oppose its enactment but have failed to put forward a plan of their own. She criticized GOP candidate Mitt Romney for his opposition to extending payroll tax cuts for the middle class and for his opposition to government help for those facing foreclosure. The DNC Chair said it’s a higher priority for her if a child needs an education than if a millionaire wants a tax cut.
I asked audience members Bob Loube and Karen Williams for their reactions to the rally. Loube said he thought the rally was an effective way of energizing the community and of communicating the important differences between the parties. Williams said she had come to understand what she and others needed to do to get the President re-elected, and she was ready to go to work.
Everyone should get informed and get involved – the coming election is too important to sit on the sidelines.
Photos by Edward Kimmel.