Monday, April 06, 2009

The Work Goes On

By Marc Korman.

“For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” –Ted Kennedy, 1980 Democratic National Convention

Those words, on my mind after reading the Washington Post’s review of the latest Kennedy bio, marked the end of Ted Kennedy’s presidential aspirations. The words have also been a stirring message of hope to Democrats and progressives as they struggled against the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s, the Gingrich-led Republican Revolution in the 1990s, and the Bush II years. The opening months of the Obama presidency mark a definitive new chapter for progressives in America. But Kennedy’s words about the work and dreams carrying on maintain their relevance regardless of how many seats in Congress Democrats win or how great it is to have elected Barack Obama.

On Sunday, I spent a few hours with a group of people who are the living embodiment of the idea that elections alone are not enough. I attended a house party with a group called Grow The Hope. Grow The Hope is an offshoot of the Bethesda Obama Office, which many readers of MPW probably spent time in making phone calls, picking up canvass materials, or finding other ways to help out. The office was the product of the hard work of many people, but one we can safely single out is David Hart. Hart started out in Maryland as an Obama Fellow but stayed on when the program ended and put together the Bethesda office. It began as a volunteer driven effort, though eventually it became an official campaign office.

Hart is the founder of Grow The Hope as well, though it is also driven by many of the other fabulous Obama supporters who made the Bethesda Obama Office function every day. It is distinct from the broad Organizing for America organization the national Obama campaign has morphed into.

Although I firmly believe Obama’s presidency marks a new era, his presidency itself is not the change we seek. That will come with specific policy changes such as universal healthcare, a turnaround in Afghanistan, a cap and trade system or carbon tax, and an improved economy. It will also come from style changes. Yes, I still believe it is possible to improve the process in Washington. Republicans and Democrats will always want to beat each other in elections, but we may be able to get them to do the jobs they are elected for a little better too. And although I long for the day when these changes come to pass, I know that new challenges will then arise requiring a continued commitment to hard work and change.

From what I saw at Grow The Hope’s recent house party, that continued commitment to change over the long haul is already in effect. The event featured its share of politics, as the featured speaker was the Maryland Democratic Party’s new chair, Susie Turnbull. We also heard from Jon Randall, who did incredible work at the Bethesda Obama Office last year and is now organizing for Democrats in Council District 4. But many of the participants were issue focused. One woman wanted to work to improve mental healthcare. Another speaker pitched her non-profit’s work for child adoption. A young man who may not have even been in high school yet promoted clean energy. Mark Walsh from Air America also previewed a bigger presentation he will be giving at a future Grow The Hope event about the importance of progressive media.

Maybe I should not be so amazed to find such passion in Montgomery County. But it was great to see the heart people poured into the campaign carried passed Election Day, the Inauguration, and even maybe some disappointments people may have with specific aspects of Obama’s young presidency. Obama’s biggest supporters are smarter than political punditry gives them credit for. They knew that Obama’s election alone, important as it was, would not be enough.

David Hart and the other organizers of Grow the Hope understand that change is always ongoing. Electing Democrats in one election is important for progressives, but we also need to ensure that they are following through on their promises. As Hart has said “the task is not his alone – it is ours together.” Grow The Hope is here to make sure we do our share.