Sunday, January 22, 2006

Driving Christine: Part II

In Part I, I wrote about the latest in a string of "Coffee with Christine" events, where ordinary Americans became engaged again in their democracy. You can read about that here.

In this "Driving Christine," I'll write about what I thought was going to be the typical fundraising dinner for Cegelis. Instead the event seemed more like I had traveled back in time to an era when people got together at their local ma and pa restaurant, laughed together, sang songs together, and came together as a community to celebrate one of their neighbors.

The evening event was held at "The Brat House" in downtown Westmont, a typical ma and pa restaurant in a vintage 1930's storefront. From the big storefront with the name in gold leaf on the windows and the hand-painted murals on the walls, it was obvious that this wasn't one of your modern day cookie-cutter establishments. Instead this is the type of place I remember going to as a kid where you knew the owners and they knew you, and as a kid they always gave you ice cream no matter what your parents said.

In the corner by the door was an older gentlemen playing Umpa music in the background. There were people dancing, singing along, and making connections with people they hadn't met before. There were families and the retired, old and young, and what seemed every age in from 3 to 83. The place was packed, and I was lucky that someone from the campaign had saved Christine and I a place to sit.

The event began in earnest when an elderly member of the audience commandeered the microphone, and along with the Umpa guy, started to sing "Getting to know you" from The King and I. By the second chorus the whole place had begun to sing along, and although embarrassed a bit, Christine herself was in full voice by the end of the song. People roared with laughter at this, and the entire event seemed to morph into some hilarious combination of political rally held at an Oktoberfest. After a good laugh, Christine thanked everyone for coming, gave her short stump speech, and then sent people to get their food.

Throughout dinner, people milled about meeting people and Christine. It was a loud and spirited event, filled with joking, hugging, laughing and genuine interaction. I found myself thinking often if this was the way campaigning used to be done in the pre-televison age, when people actually gathered in their communities to not only meet, but socialize with the candidates vying for their vote. I realized quickly that this was not a dry, forced, boring campaign dinner with a bunch of boring speeches sandwiched in between dinner courses, but instead more like a family event where people ate buffet style (the food was really good), sat and talked, and enjoyed each other's company.

One of the highlights of the evening - as well as one of the most hilarious moments - was when a group of people got up and along with Umpa man on organ, sang the "Christine Cegelis Campaign Song" they had written. They even passed out the lyrics so everyone could sing along. It was karaoke at its finest! Led by a group of students from Glenbard East, the song was sung to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Here's just a taste:
Vote for Christine!
Vote for Christine!
She fights for truth and justice too
She came real close in twenty oh-four
This year she'll win for me and you!

The whole place was singing along by the end, and some in the audience who actually knew how to sing (as opposed to myself and those at my table) started shouting out call backs to the lyrics. Some people were in tears they were laughing so hard. Others were harmonizing (I guess you'd call it that), and still others were waving their glasses along. All I could think (besides man I can't sing) is this is blog gold.

So after the karaoke session, one of the campaign organizers spoke and noted that the way Christine was going to win was through their support in their neighborhoods by talking to their neighbors. She then broke everyone in the place up according to their township, sat them together at tables, and got them talking about what they could do in their own backyards. People were still laughing and joking, but now they were meeting others in their community they could work with.

Just like the Coffee earlier in the day, the theme of involving people in their democracy became the overriding goal of the event. People left this event with closer ties to their neighbors, a network of fellow Democrats they can talk to, and a goal toward which they can work. Regardless of how this election comes out, this is only going to help build the local party.

On the drive back to the office it was apparent that this was a good day and Christine was walking on air. I asked how she was holding up and she said that this was the fun part of the campaign that she enjoyed the most. In the quiet of the car ride, she told me that it was events like this where she got to meet and get to know people that meant the most to her. One of her most cherished memories of her campaign is that two of her supporters had met at one of her events and were now engaged.

Just like my last post, I wish all of you reading this could been there. Help Cegelis represent her neighbors. Volunteer or donate to her campaign today.