Why Philadelphia Made Me a Deaniac

Blog for Iowa: Trish Nelson, Caroline Vernon, Dr. Alta Price, Paul Deaton, Dave Bradley. Photo by Dan DeShane

Blog for Iowa: Trish Nelson, Caroline Vernon, Dr. Alta Price, Paul Deaton, Dave Bradley. Photo by Dan DeShane

Happy Tenth Birthday Blog for Iowa

The 2000 election was supposed to have elected Al Gore as the first environmentalist president. He was a shoe-in after a popular Bill Clinton, or so some of us thought. What happened after the U.S. Supreme Court gave the election to Bush was people I know, from the whole political spectrum, launched into activism unlike any in my experience. Howard Dean was at the center of this. Who had even heard of the 79th governor of Vermont as votes were counted, and then the counting was stopped in the election of the hanging chad?

When the 2000 election wasn’t settled on Nov. 7, we were enthralled. I listened to the returns on the radio as I drove to Chicago for a meeting on the 8th. When I reached the motel, I stayed up late watching the early morning coverage on television. I followed the Supreme Court action at home and downloaded a ream of briefs to read. It was a unique time. It was a cursed time. I felt sitting on the sidelines was no longer an option.

The turning point came shortly after the Al-Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and not for reasons one might think. My flight was scheduled to depart Moline, Ill. that day for Philadelphia. After our staff meeting in Eldridge, the televisions in the operations room were turned on with live images of smoke emitting from the World Trade Center. Air travel would not be an option that afternoon.

When I did fly to Philadelphia several days later, the aircraft was almost empty. Enroute to the Eastern Iowa Airport, the car radio informed me that President Bush was also heading to Philadelphia to fulfill a campaign promise at a battered women’s shelter. It meant a possible delay getting to my work site at the former U.S. Steel facility in Bucks County. As we approached, Air Force One had already landed, so we circled for 20 minutes— the delay was minimal.

After getting a rental car and leaving the airport, there were law enforcement officers on every corner, thousands of them. As I headed to work, I passed the presidential motorcade on I-95, heading back to the airport. It was only 10:30 a.m. All that public money on the flight, and law enforcement for a political event? The seed was planted: Bush had to go.

The rest is the history of Bush 43. Things rubbed the wrong way. The television address on the invasion of Iraq seemed similar to Nixon’s explanation of the invasion of Cambodia— both presidents appeared to be deceiving us. There were Cheney’s secret energy meetings, Christine Todd Whitman’s brief tenure at the Environmental Protection Agency, and a thousands cuts against everything I held dear. We were ready for change in 2004.

From the beginning of the 2004 campaign, I didn’t care for Howard Dean. He had the endorsement of Democratic leaders, including Al Gore, and U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, but no one I knew was supporting him. Our small family caucused for John Kerry, who won the nomination, and we lost the November election.

Vindication of Dean’s new campaign style came in the form of Democracy for America (DFA), which I heard about from the current Blog for Iowa editor, Trish Nelson and her friend Ellen Ballas at a DFA training at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids.

At the training, I met Arshad Hasan, Dorie Clark, Dave Leshtz and others who provided training in the mechanics of winning elections. Things like estimating voter turnout, fund raising, and setting a timeline for the canvass, were all important lessons. Thing is, the DFA techniques worked.

We experienced some success in 2006, and the culmination was in the ultimate grass roots campaign of Barack Obama, with Howard Dean as the chair of the Democratic National Committee. To say Howard Dean wasn’t a part of the transformation of electoral politics would be a lie. Unlike certain politicians, I’m not willing to tell a lie.

My first mention on Blog for Iowa was by Ed Fallon on Nov. 17, 2007, in a post titled Action on Coal Plants. What cemented my Deaniac status and my relationship with the group at Democracy for Iowa,  was when Trish Nelson asked me to start writing for Blog for Iowa. My first post was on Feb. 25, 2009 with an open letter to the Iowa Department of Natural resources on the then proposed Marshalltown coal-fired power plant. At some point along the way I got less formal, trading my suit for a T-shirt, but I have been writing ever since. And we can thank Philadelphia for that.

Congratulations Blog for Iowa! May you experience many new writers and another ten years.

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