“We are the great grass-roots campaign of the modern era, made of mouse pads, shoe leather, and hope.” — Howard Dean, June 22, 2003, The Great American Restoration
So much has been written about the “grassroots” nature of this campaign that I’d begun to not even hear the word “grassroots”. To me it had become a synonym with individuals working on the campaign (as opposed to the traditional top-down controlled campaign). I’d heard it so often that it lost meaning.
Then I was talking with Mathew Gross this weekend while in Burlington, and it dawned on me: that the roots we were building weren’t about the people working on the campaign, it was about the roots each and every one of us are growing in our communities to make them (and ourselves) stronger.
Today’s post at the campaign blog from Kris and Page is just the latest example of what I’m talking about: by getting out and talking with neighbors, they’re connecting to the community in ways that many of us had stopped doing a long time ago. A few years ago, Cliff Stoll asked in Silicon Snake Oil whether the Internet was brining us together or giving us ways of staying apart, and concluded that in many cases it divided us.
No more. The real gift of the Dean campaign has been its ability to add water to our roots — so that our involvement in our communities gets stronger. My wife and I moved to our town three years ago, and with two little ones we’ve been busy trying to raise them. We hadn’t been as involved as we would have liked, but reasoned that we’d get more time “later.” The Dean campaign was the impetus to jump in — and as a result we’re meeting our neighbors, traveling to surrounding towns, marching in parades and fliering at local events. The end result is that for the first time we feel anchored in a community — we’ve now lived in Naperville longer than we’ve lived in any other town. We want to stay here and continue to grow those roots.
Our experience is not unique. As our roots grow, our ability to effect real, lasting change grows. It is not simply that we are empowered to act, we must act. It’s our responsibility.
When Howard Dean states that the campaign isn’t about him, it’s about us, he’s not stumping. This is what the Washington Post today called transformational politics — and it’s why the impact will not just be Howard Dean in the White House, but a completely new way of looking at our role in our own towns and cities. Then — and only then — will we have achieved real change.