Saturday, January 21, 2006

Driving Christine: Part I

A friend of mine is a volunteer for the Cegelis campaign helping to coordinate campaign events and often driving Christine to them. But this weekend she was out of town and asked me to drive Christine. So today and tomorrow I have the privilege of taking Christine Cegelis to all her events for the weekend. I'll blog about the events and any other conversation I can over the next few days.

For Part I, we're off to a Coffee with Christine.

One of the events that originally got me involved with the Cegelis campaign was a neighbor who distributed signs for her campaign last election. It was through my neighbor that I learned of Christine Cegelis - he through another neighbor. Many people in the district have met Christine, often at her coffees. The concept of these is similar to a house party in that residents of the district open their house to their neighbors for the candidate for a get together.

The difference for Cegelis is that these coffees are started by people who've often met Christine - many times at another coffee - and invite their neighbors to their home to introduce Christine to them. Since she's been at this a while, the network of people who introduce Christine has grown to the point that Christine may attended one or two of these on any given day.

Today was no different. Carol Stream residents Roberta and Beryle opened their home to Cegelis and invited their neighbors. I asked Roberta why she was hosting a coffee:
“I thought this was a great opportunity to meet some of the people in my development. If I didn’t reach out to my neighbors, who would? Plus this way I’d meet other Democrats in my complex. It’s good to see people in the winter, do a little entertaining, and introduce them to Christine on a Saturday.”

In a room full of 20 neighbors, Christine Cegelis did her short stump speech, then opened the floor to questions. At first those in attendance were timid, and the questions generic. What's you position on the war, the economy, health care, etc. But then I noted something special happen. When it became apparent that Christine was not just rattling off talking points, but actually looking to discuss the issues, often citing her positions or her feelings or her personal connections, people began to open up.

The body language changed. The questions became more a basis for discussion and debate. People couldn't wait to make their point, give their opinion, and chime into the discussion. The whole even became less about Q&A of the candidate and more about a discussion about how can we fix our government. The conversation was not just between Christine and the questioner, but between neighbors.

What suddenly struck me as I was furiously typing was that the questions and the responses weren't what was important about this event. Forget for a second that this was a Cegelis event. What was happening was people were talking with their neighbors about their government and their place within it. It was an inspiring and empowering event and in a short time discussion took place on topics of global terrorism, Bush's preemptive doctrine, telecommunications and rights to privacy, NCLB, Title 1 and related local school district issues, how to beat Roskam and the Republicans in general, campaign finance reform, outsourcing of jobs and H1-B Visas, our position in the world, religion and government, Congressional oversight, moral leadership, UN relations and Bolton, Depleted Uranium and its effects.

Now remember, this was not a blog discussion. These people weren't political junkies, but normal residents who knew an issue or two and were often shocked to learn of the requirements of NCLB or that there was even something such as depleted uranium in use by US troops. It was a discussion starter, and got these people talking in a way they as neighbors never had before.

One of the last questions before I had to pull Christine out to go to another event was "What can we do as ordinary citizens to fix our government?" Christine's answer:
Get involved. Volunteer. Donate to a political cause or candidate. Write your elected officials. And talk to your neighbors.

I had expected to attend a pretty generic event. In the end, how ordinary citizens can fix their government is what the event was about.

As Christine began to leave the room, I saw every person in the standing room only living room moving to the coffee table to take a volunteer sheet to sign up. Every one. That just impressed the hell out of me. Whether or not they will actually follow through remains to be seen. But at least for this afternoon, ordinary people had the idea to participate in their democracy again. This is the only way we will ever reclaim our government from priveledge, money and special interests.

I wish all of you reading this could been there. It was transformational for me, and only makes me want to work even harder to make Cegelis my Congresswoman. Help Cegelis reclaim our government. Volunteer or donate to her campaign today.