Yeah, me too, I wanted to become something more than an angry American, nauseated every day by what I read and saw at work in government. I'd recently started blogging, but it wasn't enough. I needed results, something more than yelling into the void every day over a hot keyboard. As days went by I felt more and more isolated, alone, freakish, and horribly frustrated by the perception my country was sliding rapidly down a slippery, ugly slope towards something I couldn't label.
I'd read about a campaign that intrigued me, some guy out east that had a straightforward and pragmatic way of looking at matters and addressing them, a guy who actually had some chops at doing what needed to be done. He'd balanced a budget for more than a decade, while providing healthcare to all senior citizens and children in his state – and he did not believe we had solid intelligence to go to war in Iraq. Damn, I thought, I want some of THAT. Where do I sign up?
Mind you, I'd never been politically active in my life. The internet made it easier to express opinions, but it wasn't the same as actually hitting the pavement or pressing the flesh; it was still remote from making things really happen. I needed something more than sending emails that never seemed to get answered. After hearing about this groovy new tool called Meetup.com, I decided I'd poke around and see if I could not only find some progressive folks in my area, but look for that particular campaign.
And voilà, there it was: Dean for America, on Meetup.com. Scary...there were people signed up from the town in which I lived. What would happen if I went? Would they bite? What happened at these shindigs – did they roast babies? Would I be asked to do something unnatural to join? Would I be able to retain some anonymity? But seriously, all sorts of goofy thoughts ran through my mind. Not only had I not been politically active, but I'd never been a joiner outside of the corporate world. Never belonged to a civic organization. What should I expect?? Wow, was this uncomfortably different...
I sucked it up and I reserved for the next Meetup. They met in a common area in the local mall; that seemed safe enough, in case I ended up with a bunch of loony stark-raving leftists (don't ask me why I had it in my head I should expect foaming-at-the-mouth dirty f*cking hippies; too many years exposed to and mistreated by Kool-Aid drinkers, I guess). When I got to the mall, I actually walked by them, missed the group entirely. There were a couple handfuls of very ordinary people sitting in an informal cluster, introducing themselves. A couple of retirees, a teenager with her mother, some working folks...all very innocuous, very, well, normal.
It dawned on me that I was looking in the mirror; they were people just like me, Americans who chose to do something, and in most cases for the first time in their lives they were taking action to change the status quo, just like me. What a relief...I was hooked, immediately. It felt so damned good, freaky good, to be able to talk out loud with people who felt the same way I did, to not be ridiculed or pooh-poohed for thinking the country was going to the dogs, for thinking that we could do better, had to do better.
And the rest was history. Because of taking that simple step, taking a personal risk by stepping outside of my comfort zone, I have made many new friends that I absolutely adore and for whom I would walk through fire (and I may have to do that next year, but that's another story). I think of the folks I now know personally who've become role models, leaders by example and not by rhetoric. Two persons in particular stand out in my mind; they drove more than an hour each way to make our Meetups, so determined they were to make real change happen. What commitment they showed, what passion; I still think of Frank and Susie every month when we have Meetups, even though they no longer have to drive all this way to join us and can stay closer to home. I found I was rewarded many times over for whatever I did, which was a completely unexpected gift. Who knew that becoming a grassroots activist would be so good for me directly?
The other unexpected gift I found was a new social network; I have resources now that I never had in the past, simply because I became engaged in real process. Need a lawyer? Boy, can I tap some now. Need a local public official to talk with? No problem, they may be at the next Meetup or meeting. The distance between things and people completely collapsed.
One conversation stands out, talking with Frank after a campaign event in early 2004 called The Perfect Storm; Frank filled me in on what happened, how fun it was, what Iowa was like, the whole nine yards in that run-up to the last Iowa caucus. He mentioned to me that he met a really cool activist that I should meet some time, a Deaniac like the two of us were, somebody extremely smart, very funny and equally passionate about the cause. "I'll have to introduce you to Marcy the next chance we get," he said, and he did at the state party convention. Frank was absolutely right; she's all that and a bag of chips, isn't she, Jane?
The points between us all are that narrow when you become active. Who knows but you might meet me in person at the next event – assuming you're going to be there.
Will you? If you have never been involved before in grassroots activism but would like to, what steps will you take this week and this month to get engaged? Do you need help getting started? And is there anybody here who might be willing to help others get going?
Do tell – I'm all ears.