DFTers Not So Depressed
The dozen or so politicos who spoke to the mopey hordes jamming the back room of Scholz Garten barely mentioned the presidential election. Instead, from a conference call with Howard Dean to thank-you speeches (their length and entertainment value varying wildly) by local down-ballot candidates, what mattered was the group's successes, such as the 86,000 new voters registered since March, and victories by such local Democrats as new District Judge Stephen Yelenosky. (There were, however, a few rank-and-file DFTers who gave voice to the group's collective agony, including through poems of the sort that rhymed "sending innocent soldiers away" with "kissing Cheney's ass all day.")
But beneath the positivity simmered a palpable concern over how a group organized around a political campaign could remain vital now that the political game is, at least for ordinary folks, in the off-season. After all, while right-wingers can cement their networks each Sunday, the ad hoc networks that developed in opposition to Bush stand a good chance of evaporating unless they find something to be "for," and fast. "One thing that Republicans are good at is that Republicans continue their momentum from election to election," said the disembodied voice of Howard Dean, via PA system. "We need to learn how to do that."
As such, many speakers urged the progressives to get involved in the little races that draw barely double-digit turnout, such as for city council, and pointed out that the 2006 state races are just around the corner. New District 50 state rep Mark Strama, for example, explained that he won his race on turnout, and confidently predicted that if turnout drops by 15,000 voters in 2006 (as would be likely in a nonpresidential year), he'll be toast.
But even as the group looked uncertainly toward the future, many felt they had been through a transformative experience. Twenty-five-year-old Nick Lawrie, who garnered a coveted shout-out from Strama as the "poster boy" of youth involvement, firmly believes that the last 12 months have changed his life. "A year ago I was sitting at home playing Xbox, and didn't know shit about shit," said Lawrie, who since then has campaigned in multiple states for Dean, served as a delegate to the national convention, and scored a job organizing for DFT. "Ten years from now you'll find my campaign lit in your mailbox." For now, though, Lawrie's going on tour with his punk band.