Tuesday, May 23, 2006

First of our Monthly Meetings at Kerry's Office

On Thursday May 18 the group from the MA Roots Project had its first "official" meeting with the director of Sen. Kerry's Boston office. We met him on April 22 when a group of five of us went to Fanuill Hall in Boston to hear the Senator give a speech on the 35th anniversary of his testimony against the Vietnam war. We were expecting a town hall kind of meeting and it turned out to be a speech (though an excellent one). We stuck around afterward wanting to make a connection with someone from his office. We lucked out and had a brief and cordial chat with Jon Jennings who was very interested in finding out more about what we are doing and how we can work together. He offered to meet with us monthly. He was familiar with the blogs and had seen FDL.

Though we had wanted to talk with him specifically about the shredding of the Constitution by this administration and the threat to invade Iran, the meeting turned out somewhat differently. Our group consisted of Prof. Foland, Scarecrow, rcman, KathrynMA, TonyK and me. Prof. Foland wrote up the summary and we shared it with Jon before posting it here. Our next meeting with him will be after YKos (to which at least two of us are going)

Summary of the Discussion

Several members of the MA Roots Project traveled to Senator Kerry's
office to speak with the director of the Boston office. The
conversation was conducted as "off the record" (a point Roots groups
will have to deal with) in order to increase the possible level of
candor. We will report on what we said, on its general reception,
and some lessons we took away. Obviously, nothing from the
conversation can be construed as an official position of Senator Kerry.

This was the first in a monthly series of meetings, so we spent most
of the time feeling each other out, and understanding how we can come
to usefully work together. We delivered a few major points, and a
diverse array of secondary points. First, we introduced ourselves
and the Roots Project; there was considerable interest in how the
Project came about and how it is and is not organized. We made clear
our concern that there was a lack of leadership from the Democratic
party. We made clear that with a broad consensus having formed
throughout the country about the failures of this Administration, we
found it difficult to understand why we were having such a difficult
time hearing clear statements of defense of our rights against the
Administration. We asked for some direction in how we might
effectively shape both the Senator's public positions, and their
reception. We also realized that this was more about the leadership
of the party as a whole than just what Sen. Kerry can/cannot, should/
should not do or say.

We came out of the meeting with a sense of a few things looking
forward. First, there was a lot of discussion of how “Kansas
farmers” can be brought on board, and how that could be a major
changing point for the political discussion. (A purely observational
note: these Kansas farmers came up an awful lot for a discussion with
a Senator from Massachusetts, however Jon ran for congress in Indiana
and was on the ground learning lessons).

Second, there was a lot of discussion about how large numbers of
people demonstrating in the streets could bring about substantial
shifts in the political discussion. We all understood that the
protests of the Vietnam war in the streets included the dynamic of
the reality of the draft which we do not have in today’s war.

Towards the first of these, we came out with an understanding
that small-town newspapers might make a good venue, not only with
LTE's, but also articles (as many such newspapers are always looking
to fill column inches.) Pieces written by our roots folks need to be
more like conversations with neighbors than shrill tirades. We are
trying to bring over the fence-sitters with reason and common sense.

We also had some useful discussion concerning the local Air
America station and whether there might be a useful role for the
Roots Project with their local programming, such as it is. There was
also discussion of how hard the right side pushes, consistently
sending hundreds of faxes on issues even to Senators (like Kerry)
with whom they know they will never agree. This sets the bar pretty
high for us in our actions. But when Senators and Reps can say in
staff meetings, committee meetings, and on TV that their mail and
faxes are running 2-1 in favor of reining in the Administration on
some issue, they will find it much easier to do so.

There was a lot of discussion of the relative roles of leaders, such
as Kerry, and "the American people". We certainly need to do
everything within our power to make sure the peoples' end of that is
upheld. There is an obvious tension between we, the people wanting
someone to get in front and lead a movement, and the legislators
feeling the need to have the grass roots push them into action.

We came away with a positive feeling having spent an hour and a half
with a high level staffer who knows about and reads some of the blogs
(including FDL now) and wishes to work with us to figure out how we
can work together to bring about a progressive change in our government.

Kathryn added:

I came away with the impression that its not what we can urge the senators to do, it is more what we can do to encourage the "groundswell of the people's demands.' It seems Congress is waiting for this 'groundswell' before undertaking any action. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us - the Roots - to become even more active, reach out to 'ordinary people' who do not read blogs, and start a discussion in the town General Store, over the fence, at the service station. I was taken aback at this viewpoint because a bunch of leaderless people in the streets is anarchy. I was demanding a leader stand up, but the leaders want us to stand up. I think, therefore, its up to us. A leader will emerge.


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