Just about a year after my sister was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer (just prior to 9/11) our Mother was given the same diagnosis. Now Mom is very healthy and has always taken good care of herself but she is also staring to get up there in years so this was a real concern.
During the late winter/early spring of 2003 I made arrangements to travel to my parents home to be with them during the surgery. Mom and Dad have both seen a lot of years, are spiritually strong, and understand that life is what it is and takes the course that it does. All the same we children decided that we'd make sure one or more of us were around at all times. So I went to stay a few days with my parents and accompany them to the hospital.
This was during the run up to the Iraq War. I had already come to the conclusion that I needed to get involved in the upcoming Presidential campaign somehow. There was no question that we were being lied to and this administration was criminally negligent (or worse) in their handling of Afghanistan, the so-called Patriot Act, homeland security, budget deficits, lying their way into Iraq, and of course Guantanamo Bay, which was the most egregious of outrages perpetrated by the Bush Administration.
During my visit my Dad and I took a walk together along Lake Champlain. To those of you that are Dean people, along the famous bike path. A few years earlier when my folks moved to Burlington to settle down for their last years, it was the bike path that decided it for my Father.
I don't recall now whether it was this visit or, I think perhaps Christmas prior, that Dad had stated that for the first time in his life he feared fascism in America. This got my attention. I had been thinking the same thoughts but figured I was being overly dramatic. But Mom and Dad lived through the 30's and 40's. They'd live through a time of the real thing. When he said that, unprompted by me, it confirmed for me that the danger was real. I think that was the moment that clinched it that I would have to do more than vote.
So Dad and I took this walk and we talked. He had been active in the early sixties in the Civil Rights movement having gone down to Mississippi a few times, the first time attending Medgar Evers funeral in 1963. Dad was the President of the Chicago chapter of The Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity (ESCRU) and had been invited to represent the church as an honorary pall bearer. Dad came home rededicated as a leader in the struggle for urban renewal and equality in the Chicago school systems.
As we walked and talked about politics and other things Dad spoke of these experiences (he was a few years younger than I am now) and said to me that it was the most exciting time of his life. What he didn't say but what I heard loud and clear was "And now it is your turn."
Mom's surgery went well. Very well in fact. She is amazing to me. She was awake the whole time and joking with the Doctor. In fact she said to me that she wished they had set up a mirror so that could watch (they had a tent set up so that she couldn't see). She is a tough, tough lady. I'd have insisted they knock my butt out. My sister and I shared that inclination and this despite her having had a very hard time with the anesthesia during her surgery.
Both Mom and Sister had two surgeries just to be sure they got wide enough margins but thanks to having health insurance and practicing preventive health care their outcomes were good because in both cases the cancer was caught basically at stage zero and therefore their outcomes were good.
While many of you were experiencing a Sleepless Summer I was watching all of the various candidates trying to determine who was the one to support. I had an early inclination for Gov. Howard Dean as I knew a bit about him and his record in Vermont, my nephew went through school with his daughter, my brother knew him parent to parent, and I liked what I was hearing. But I didn't think a Governor from Vermont stood a chance.
But the end of the summer came along and I knew I had to make a decision. I had expected Kerry to move to the front but he hadn't. None of the campaigns seemed to be distancing themselves from the others. So I spent a weekend reviewing everything I knew so far and the obvious became clear. It was Howard Dean that was making things happen. It was Howard Dean that was getting people excited. It was Howard Dean that was taking on the Republicans and saying the things I wanted to hear.
A few days later I attended my first local Dean planning meeting. I brought home paperwork to become a delegate to the Democratic National Convention for Dean and involvement in a local event. I also signed up to carry a petition to qualify Gov. Dean for the primary ballot in New York. A few days later I attended my first meetup.
Sometime soon after that I received a phone call from a woman in the next county south. She was co-chair of the petition drive for Gov. Dean in our 10 county congressional district. She explained the process to me, answered my questions and at told me that they didn't have anyone to captain my county yet. There was a long pause after that before the conversation went on. We talked some more and then she came back around to tell me that they didn't have anyone to coordinate my county yet. Another pregnant pause with me chuckling inside about that. The conversation went on some more before she came back a third time and I sighed and asked "What does that entail?" So I went from volunteering to carry a petition for the first time to coordinating the entire petition drive for the 12 towns in my county that are in this district as well as helping find someone to captain the remaining 4 towns in the other congressional district.
I didn't make it to Iowa but I did go to New Hampshire. When the campaign ended and Gov. Dean asked that his supporters stay involved, that we look around for local candidates to support or that we run for office ourselves or take seats on our local town, city and county Democratic Committees, it was obvious were the opening was for me. My town didn't have a Democratic Committee. Hadn't since before I moved here. So I made some inquires and found out how to get on a committee and found a couple other guys to do it with me. When the appropriate time came we carried petitions for ourselves and formed a new Democratic Committee and I became Chair.
In the meantime, our Dean Meetup group became a Democracy for America group and somehow I ended up as the organizer for it. We stayed involved. Worked for Kerry, worked for a local insurgent District Attorney, worked on a Democratic Congressional Campaign against a particularly ugly player in the Bush 2000 election monstrosity, Rep. John "Shut it down" Sweeney.
Gov. Dean was right about the fact that we have the power. This government belongs to We the People but only if we take action to keep it.
We have the power. With power comes responsibility... to use it. To use it wisely. To use it fairly. To use it for the common good. To form a more perfect Union.