Today I attended one of the 4,000 Unite for Change meetings, held across the country and engendered by the Obama campaign through their website. Unite for Change is the name of the grassroots project that the the Senator's camp is betting can produce the winning ticket for Dems up and down ballot, in every state across the country. For that reason alone, I was curious as to how many would show up, who they would be (young or old? the usual suspects in my community, or new people?), and what we would accomplish. The meeting was held at the home of a prominent Democrat and known Obama supporter, advertised only through the Obama website.
Since this person is a friend of mine, I heard about the meeting from him. I don't go on the Obama website, and I wondered if this method of notification was going to be sufficient.
Quantitatively, I need not have worried. About 35-40 people showed up at this particular meeting, and its a safe bet that other such meetings in the vicinity, also posted on the Obama website, were attracting people too.
Upon our arrival, we were asked to sign in, and given the option of taking some literature. Dan (our host) then spoke about his own enthusiasm for Obama, and the importance of using the website to make phone contact with our neighbors (the Obama website will generate those lists, in batches of 25). He also spoke about other ways to volunteer. Then a paid staffer of the Coordinated Campaign committee instructed the crowd in the importance of voter registration, and absentee and early voting.
Perhaps the most interesting, exciting thing about the meeting, and also maybe the scariest, was the crowd. It consisted largely of people around my age (I'm a Baby Boomer), most of whom I have never met. And yet, it was the younger folks (many first-time voters) who, six months ago, had all the enthusiasm. They were the ones who flooded the caucuses. Where were they now? This is a college town, and it is summer vacation, but it gave me pause that so few of them were there. Nevertheless, this was an enthusiastic group, "fired up, ready to go," as the Obama rally chant goes.
We all went around the room introducing ourselves, and giving our reasons for coming. One woman, who is Caucasian and married to a West African man, noted that the candidate looks like her children. Another said that her husband was on his third deployment, and that she had had enough. Another said that she was just very afraid of what would happen if Senator Obama did NOT win. And more than a few were drawn in by his speeches, starting with the barn-burner given on the floor of the 2004 Democratic convention.
I wonder if the youth presence was suppressed by the fact that Obama has lately come to be perceived, to some extent, as more of an old pol than a change agent icon. Over the past few weeks, he has tacked to the center faster than you can say Florida-Ohio-Michigan, reversing his position on the FISA Bill (and infuriating the netroots, see here and here), moderating his vehemence about a speedy ending to the war in Iraq, and foregoing public funding for his campaign ( a position with which I agree). As the Huffington Post noted today, his actions demoralize the activist base, and open him to charges of taking stands out of convenience, not conviction.
I don't think the Senator can win without strong youth enthusiasm and support, and I'm talking about the kind that, for example, produced the much-viewed musical testimony by Will I. Am. I guess time will tell.
But if all those committed people at our meeting actually end up calling their neighbors, or registering voters, or working at headquarters, and if the kids come back from summer vacation with renewed energy for this campaign, then not only will there will be no stopping the ascension of a President Obama, but we just might get a filibuster-proof Senate.