Raising the Bar on Lowering the Bar

With every new Republican outrage the calibration on my disgust meter needs to be reset, and things that once tipped the scales now barely move the needle. Years ago we left Orwell in the dust. I now watch with increasingly numbed horror as the Administration works its way through Kafka.

We have secret prisons and hidden trials. I keep expecting Harry Reid to show up on FOX saying that the ‘Metamorphose into a Bug Act of 2007’ was as good a law as we could pass, and that without holding 102% of the Senate, the Democrats had no choice but send the President some sort of beetle transformation legislation that Bush will find pleasing to His royal eye.

Government has become like the weather. Most people feel it is too big and too distant to care about our needs or to be changed through our actions. At best it is simply something we need to plan around while trying to get things done for ourselves. “Is it governmenting outside heavily today? Then you better plan a few extra hours at the airport, and hopefully the government will let up in time for your trip.”

I remember when talking about it would irritate my friends. I would come into their homes dripping with politics and they would not want it on their carpets. They are not that way anymore. The government has been coming down so hard for so long now, that people are starting to pay attention. People are looking for a break in the weather.

Part of the mission of Democrats Work is to bring the scale down and narrow the distance between problems and answers. We literally put the tools in people’s hands to change their neighborhoods. With rakes and boots, cans and boxes, we are planting, cleaning, feeding and repairing. Hidden behind poll numbers are people. We walk up to those people and say, “Democrats are not some sort of institution out there in that unreachable realm of Washington wrestling. Democrats are you, me, and the person next door, and today our concern is with that tree right there, in that park right there, and we need a hand with this shovel.” It isn’t about budgets and votes and quotes in newspapers. It is about being the answer when someone asks, “Who is going to pick up that crumpled newspaper now that it is blowing down my street?”

So we work with a thousand small hands in a million small places, and suddenly politics is personal again.

The real weather was coming down in a cold drizzle last Sunday, but I was feeling comfortable on the exposed gravel parking lot. It was not the thin coat I wore that kept me warm; it was the hundred coats in front of me. Boxes of donated food were piled in cold aluminum, but they were charged with a kind of warmth which made the Fahrenheit chill worthwhile.

This is how the Denver Post told the story:


Members of the group, Democrats Work, feel a bit slighted after they tried to do a good deed for needy people but got rebuffed by the city of Broomfield.

The group, whose mission is to mobilize grassroots Democrats to perform community service, had been voluntarily weeding and cleaning up the open space around the old Brunner Farmhouse for weeks and had scheduled a “coats and cans” event there for Oct. 14.

Then, someone in the group got the bright idea to make each coat and can of food a vote for one of the 2nd Congressional District candidates: Jared Polis, Will Shafroth and Joan Fitz-Gerald. Bins were set up with the candidates’ names on the bins. One can equaled one vote; one coat equaled five votes.

The city of Broomfield got wind of the plan and decided they would have none of it. A city rule says the farmhouse cannot be used for “political fundraising or campaigning.” So, 24 hours before the collection drive was to take place, the group was shut out of the farmhouse and left to conduct their charity drive in the rain.

It wasn’t really the City of Broomfield that pushed me out into a parking lot tent. I am told that it was a single Republican council member who decided unilaterally we were in variance with the rules. I do not think it was done with any sort of process, much less the open meetings that law seems to require, and it is proving very hard to find out who originated the complaint.

So now I know that when the presidential scale abuses of ignored subpoenas and stonewalled Congressional committees have ceased to outrage me, I can turn to my local government as a source of fresh irritation. It is not surprising that they saw this event as ‘political’, and had to cram it into the limited way that they understand politics. They only grasp the type of politics that has people fighting over the seats on a city council. The sort of fights that lead people to say that there is not enough money in the budget to feed the hungry or keep them warm. The sort of fights that have people debating whether the government should be caring for people at all.

They didn’t see that this essentially wasn’t a fight. This was a healing. This was an opportunity to undo the damage caused to real people by the abstract fighting of offices and councils.

Standing in the rain, I witnessed how to transform outrage to optimism. Headlights started coming through the mist, and a table in a parking lot tent started filling up with hundreds of pounds of food.

Jason Carter told it like this in the Huffington Post:

Colorado primary voters went to the polls last weekend and the turnout was heavy.

No, this wasn’t an outlandish attempt by Colorado to jump ahead of New Hampshire by holding its presidential primary in October. And the votes cast weren’t even of the paper, electronic or even hanging-chad varieties. Instead, these votes came in the form of winter coats and canned goods, as part of the Democrats Work “Coats and Cans” Primary.

This first-of-its-kind straw poll was held in Colorado’s Second Congressional District, where three Democratic candidates are locked in a highly competitive primary fight to replace Mark Udall. The rules for our primary are simple: each can counts for one vote; each coat counts for five votes. How eager were Joan Fitz-Gerald, Jared Polis, and Will Shafroth and their supporters to cast their can and coat votes?

Very. And we’re happy to report that the rumors of rampant ballot box stuffing are true.

In the end, that day brought more than 450 lbs. of food and over 100 coats to the poor of Colorado. It was just the first of three rounds we have planned. From what the volunteers are telling me, the November event looks like it will be even larger.

And I hear they may be expecting snow.

I will be ready.


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  1. Your story reminds me of how Food Not Bombs has been harassed for trying to help as well.

    But the important thing: 450 lbs. of food and over 100 coats to the poor of Colorado.

    Keep up the good work and good luck on your next event!

    • xenic on October 23, 2007 at 01:55

    Democracy starts with mutual respect, and the concrete realization that we are all in this together.

  2. I don’t care how illegal they try to make it. It’s still true.

    • sharon on October 23, 2007 at 04:28

    amazing work.  how do we spread the word and make this happen everywhere?  it actually makes me want to elect dems again if in the process you can actually do good.

  3. Transforming outrage to optimism.

    Love that.  What a great story!

    p.s. I’m adding you to our Blog Roll right now.

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