Sunday, June 10, 2012

Democracy in action. Sorta.

Fair warning: Both of you will be bored out of your gourd if you're not politically inclined, so you can skip this if you like. You won't hurt my feelings. And it's kinda long. Ish. Here goes:

So the four of us – my husband, our friends (a married couple) who have recently moved from California, and me – trot off to the big city of Charleston, West Virginia, Friday afternoon to join hundreds of other loyal Democrats at the state convention. We were all first-time delegates in the quadrennial process of choosing national delegates and amending and adopting our state's party platform.

Friday was pretty low-key. We registered, got our pictures made with a life-sized cutout of President Obama, had just about the worst dinner ever (sorry if anyone from the committee is reading this, but blech!), and were gladhanded and plastered with campaign stickers from officeholders (or wannabes) and candidates for national delegate.

I was a candidate for national delegate but, being a first-time conventioneer I Did Not Know that campaigning was something I should have done. And I'm kind of shy in big crowds anyway so my previously slim chance of being selected plummeted immediately. I didn't have a sticker to stick, a sign to hold or a leaflet to hand out.

I did have a couple good friends who introduced me to everyone they knew (which was just about everyone), but name recognition is everything. My husband's family has been a pretty big school of fish in our little county pond, but I didn't have a prayer of being chosen.

And, as Stuart Smiley would say, "That's OKAY."

Because what happened Saturday more than made up for not getting to go to Charlotte in September.

Saturday was stump speech day, where everyone from the Secretary of State to the Agriculture Commissioner got to speak to the assemblage. The governor addressed us through the miracle of audio-visual equipment, since he was in Japan drumming up new business for West Virginia.

Our former governor and current junior Senator, Joe Manchin III, has made quite a name for himself here by avoiding endorsing President Obama. A thousand devoted Democrats sat on the edges of their folding chairs in a packed hall as Manchin took the stage. Would he call for unity in the party? Would he demonstrate the kind of leadership we were looking for?

He would not. He cited great Democratic presidents throughout American history, beginning with FDR, mentioning Truman, Kennedy and Clinton, but stopping short of saying a single word about the current leader of the free world.

And he pissed some of us off enough that we went to have a chat with him. How audacious is that?

As I stood in line behind other angry Democrats, I decided to keep my remarks low-key and my voice level. Former governor Manchin bristled and defended his omission. One of his aides noticed my name tag, which identified me as a member of the WV Federation of Democratic Women, and invited me to join other concerned women in a small meeting with Manchin.

I accepted and hurried back to the Summers County delegation to inform the group and grab a small posse for back-up.

So there we were, about a dozen women altogether, venting our spleens at a United States senator. I'll give him some props for agreeing to meet with 12 angry women. Many were there to chastise him for voting for the Blunt Amendment (which failed). The rest of us implored him to lead the Democratic party in West Virginia, to bring us together, to heal the divide.

(You may [but probably don't] recall that 41 percent of West Virginia Democrats voted for an incarcerated felon in our May 8 primary election.)

He continued with the bristling. He dug in his heels. One woman was in tears, she was so frustrated.

We in West Virginia know it would be political suicide for him to publicly endorse the President this early in the campaign, and we willingly said so in the meeting and he even denied that. He simply stuck to his talking points, dug in his heels and wouldn't back down.

Oh, and he called me "honey." My friend from California later said you can be sued for doing that in the Golden State. Apparently our Mountaineer State junior Senator thinks it's perfectly appropriate to figuratively pat the little woman's hand and implore her not to worry her pretty little head.

I didn't blink, or think twice: "Don't call me honey." He fumbled with an "I misspoke," and proceeded to continue to address my Democratic sisters as "honey." It was infuriating. And disturbing. And disrespectful. And condescending.

And he can get away with it because he knows that I, and all of us in that room and at that convention have to vote for him anyway, or see a Republican take the place of the late, great Robert C. Byrd.

I don't know if what I said next will make a difference to him as campaign season heats up. I told him about my FDR-Democrat grandfather and my Truman-Democrat father. I said I'd been involved with political issues for a few years and offered him the four most important words in the world, four words which can diffuse a situation in a heartbeat. These words have been invaluable to me. I offer them to you to use in any touchy situation. You can say them two different ways:

I could be wrong.
You could be right.

He could be right. We could be wrong. We were just a dozen die-hard Democrats in a state that's leaning more and more to the right. He's been in politics for decades and was a darned good governor. But I'm pretty sure the four most important words in the world went right over his head. None of us left that room feeling soothed.

But all of us left feeling empowered. (Cue the Rocky theme. And fade to black blue.)


Winnie said...

Awesome! I can read the passion you have in your posts. I had a conversation a few weeks ago with my hubby after reading one of your posts about the incarcerated winner. Oh my. Glad you took part in the process and got to speak your mind. So many don't get the opportunity, or take it for that matter.

from maggie's farm said...