Friday, October 20, 2006

Howard Dean in Minnesota

DNC Chair and 2004 Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean addressed two groups in Minneapolis yesterday.

Howard-Dean-at-UofMN-DFL-rally The first event was a rally and voter contact initiative called “Storm the Dorms” sponsored by an organization called StandUpNow.mn, founded by Alex Cutler, a U of MN student who has taken the semester off to found this group and organize this event and others. Alex talked about using “the tools of the iPod Generation” to mount a statewide young voter mobilization effort saying that students had been “Standing up in St. Cloud, standing out in Mankato” for Democratic candidates that will address the issues of young people and students. “Seventy percent of soldiers in Iraq were under 35” and other issues that mobilized these young organizers were global warming and student debt.

Other members of the U-DFL organization introduced themselves and several candidates seated in the audience. A representative of the State DFL's coordinated campaign gave some insight into the problem of engaging young voters: in many cases they don't vote because they haven't been asked, and the don't know how (specifics of same day registration, etc.). Pointers on door knocking and direct voter contact were given.

The StandUpNow event also featured speeches by Democratic candidates for congress Keith Ellison and MN Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (and mention was made of this opportunity to vote to send Russ Feingold's Progressive Patriots Fund money towards the Mark Ritchie campaign).

Keith Ellison was warmly received by the students, who joined Ellison in some cheer and chants that highlighted that “18 Days” separated them from November 7th, and there were only “18 days to work for peace, 18 days to generate the excitement, educate and invite student voters to participate in the upcoming election.

Keith introduced Mark Ritchie, who spoke passionately about the need to remove barriers that prevent certain classes of citizens from voting, and communicate the importance of voting in our society, being that in some cases activists had sacrificed their lives in previous generations to organize and register black voters. Ritchie said that the Republican strategy was to suppress voter turnout, and this was evident in strategies employed to make voting more difficult for students or to exclude Native American voters with tribal gaovernment-issued IDs. Mark also mentioned an appearance in 2004 on the Daily Show with John Stewart (is this on YouTube?). Keith came back to the podium to add a few more inspirational words that Keith encouraged the audience to repeat, “I am an ambassador of power”, as they prepared to enliven fellow students with the message of empowerment to engage and participate in the election. He encouraged to get the message out to everyone they knew, “to go through your own personal little black book” and call everyone and encourage them to vote on Nov 7th. If possible, students were encouraged to volunteer for at least an hour on Nov. 7th to help get their classmates to vote, in between classes.

After Mark Ritchie and Keith Ellison spoke, Howard Dean took the stage and was greeted by enthusiastic applause.

Howard Dean made mention of several Minnesota DFL congressional candidates and the circumstances of their races, which he said would result in victories. He also highlighted the fact that Mike Hatch depended on student votes from this very Democratic district to help him win his statewide race (this might be something someone could tell Mike Hatch, who has failed to mount any credible campaign effort of his own at the University of Minnesota, which has received lots of attention from Peter Hutchinson and Maureen Reed , the Independence Party candidates that do address student debt burdens in their debates and stump speeches). Having to hustle an 'elect Mike Hatch' message on college campuses seems to be a excessive burden for the sake of appearing to have party unity, being there is not an obvious reason for students to vote for a candidate that seems disinterested in them, unwilling to debate, and absent on the campaign trail (this is a needles diversion from this post, as well).

With the exception of the awkward pauses made to make mention of Hatch, Dean was otherwise right on his information and its energetic, inspiring delivery.

Howard Dean also mentioned the lack of connection between Washington, D.C. and the daily life of most voters. “That missing connection is you, your generation” he told the students, encouraging them to really listen to the voters they contacted while doing door-knocking in the surrounding neighborhoods. Yet there was no obvious mechanism in place for College Democrats to share any insight gleaned by this effort of listening and being a connection. This is something the Democratic National Committee does need to think about. It still seems to me that this two-way communication that Dean was talking about (there being a lack of and a need for this connection between the voter on the otherside of the door and Democrats in Washington) has a minimum $1000+ price tag, like the private reception held for Howard Dean and large contributors at the house of Brian Melendez last night.

A-College-Democrat-doorknocks-with-Mark-Ritchie Nonetheless the event at the U of MN was well organized and resulted in an enthusiastic bunch of students participating in the “Storm the Dorms” doorknock after the rally.

I did attend the lower-priced fundraising event that began after 8PM or so at the Melendez house, and Howard Dean's speech there was similarly inspiring, and more detailed about communications concepts and potential DNC strategy about winning the presidency in 2008.

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