Meeting up with the True Believers

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

Meeting up with the True Believers

October 7, 2003

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Thanks to, political campaigns have found a new way to organize. This site was designed to facilitate meetings between people with similar interests, but presidential candidates are getting the most use out of it. In an attempt to understand this new online breed of political activism, I recently attended a John Kerry meetup in Boston. In an attempt to be cruel, I dragged my friend Anna along. Don't worry. I'm sure she'll get me back later.

The meetup takes place in a restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston. Anna and I arrive just a little after the start time of seven, which unfortunately is not quite late enough. We had hoped to sit in the back, but, much to our dismay, the people at the table graciously make room for us. There goes blending in with the walls. We are soon given nametags to fill out too, on which for some reason Anna decides to call herself Elsa.

There are about 25 Kerry supporters here, though most will arrive after us. It's an interesting cast of characters. There's Carol, a twenty-something who starts the night by complaining about the heat and never really stops complaining. There's silver-haired Henrietta, who has participated in many campaigns (including a run for City Council) and never tires of reminding us. There's Dennis, a diffident campaign volunteer who is running the meeting and introduces himself by saying, "I'm basically dedicating my life to John Kerry." And finally there's Elsa, who seems to be having great difficulty just staying awake and must be having second thoughts about joining me for an hour and a half of political activism.

Dennis starts by suggesting all the ways in which we can help the Kerry campaign. We can sign up for a weekend of canvassing in New Hampshire. (Henrietta tells us that knocking on the doors of strangers for Kerry is one of the best experiences we'll have. "In New Hampshire, the voters want you to knock on their doors. They're disappointed when you don't," she explains.) We can drop by the office anytime between 9 am and 9 pm and help stuff envelopes or make phone calls for Kerry. We can even tell our friends about John Kerry. "Try to casually work John Kerry into your conversations with friends. It'll help even on a subconscious level," Dennis suggests.

"Hey, Joe, did you see the Patriots game?"

"Yeah, and speaking of patriots, have you seen John Kerry's new health care plan?"

Try as I might, I cannot imagine casually working John Kerry into any conversations. (Mental note to self: Refrain from inviting Dennis to any parties I might have.) Dennis now places some fliers on the table. "I don't want to see any of these on the table when you leave," he says. It's a motley collection of handouts that say something about John Kerry and the 3 E's (Economy, Education, and Environment!). Dennis hands me a flimsy John Kerry sticker as well. I can't help but remember that the Howard Dean people gave me a button at his meetup, and here all I get is a sticker. Kerry is clearly falling behind on the schwag issue.

I'm not the only one thinking of Howard Dean. At times, it seems like Howard Dean is mentioned even more than Kerry himself. There's a strong undercurrent of "why can't we be more like Dean?" running through the meetup. Some complain that they see many more Dean posters than Kerry posters. "The other day I was driving on the Mass Turnpike, and there were people with Howard Dean signs at every bridge," one person announces. "We need to do more things like that."

"That's so illegal," Henrietta says with contempt. Another reminds us that the Dean people have been targeting Massachusetts lately, so obviously they will have greater visibility. Dennis says that the Kerry campaign spends more time talking on the phone with voters, because that's more important. The others don't seem satisfied with the answers though, and this obsession with Howard Dean can't be a good omen for John Kerry's candidacy.

Carol is especially annoyed that the campaign isn't catering more to voters like her. She feels that the constant requests for donations are annoying, apparently forgetting the importance of money in politics. Recently, John Kerry had a fundraising event at which Moby performed, but the tickets were too expensive for Carol. "What we should do is call [local radio stations] 'BCN and 'FNX and find a band that supports Kerry and put on a concert for him that is affordable, like $20 or $25, not $100."

Henrietta is visibly agitated at the stupidity of this suggestion. "But those venues cost money. You have to charge those prices so that you can raise money." And Henrietta does have a point, as Carol seems more interested in seeing a good concert than in electing John Kerry. I want to suggest that maybe she can try going to some clubs and hear bands there, but I don't want to get on her bad side. The sniping between Henrietta and Carol continues throughout. A few more of these meetups, and they'll be wrestling in the aisles.

In the end, I'm not sure how useful these Meetups really are. True, they are a great way of getting new people involved in the Kerry campaign. When Dennis gives us a list of things we can do to help Kerry, it's by far the most useful part of the night. If the campaign simply tells us what to do here, it might work, but this complete democracy among political newbies means that very little can be accomplished. I'm beginning to see why Henrietta seems so frustrated.

As we leave, we are asked to write down our names, addressees and phone numbers. Dennis says the campaign will definitely be contacting all of us later -- except for Elsa, that is.

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