Deval Patrick’s Lone Walk

The Lone Walk

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts walked down the Grand Staircase of the State House for the last time on January 7th.

Grand StaircaseDeval on Staircase

 The central doors of the Bullfinch-designed building, kept locked, opened for the occasion. As he disappeared through them, I cried. Crowds of well-wishers both inside the State House and outside in the bitter cold, did the same. State House

Deval Patrick made history eight years ago by becoming the first black governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Like his friend Barack Obama, who became another first for African-Americans, he came into office on a tidal wave of hope, one that he helped foment. Like the President, he almost immediately ran into a brick wall, in his case not the Congress, but the depression of 2008 that sucked budget funding away from a number of his visionary projects.

Nonetheless, he accomplished a surprising amount in housing, transportation, education and health care, a legacy of which he can justly be proud. I will miss his personal warmth, his steady leadership during the Marathon Bombing, his consistently moving oratory, his dedication to fairness, and his quick sense of humor.

Tradition

In 1884, Governor Benjamin Butler initiated the tradition of the Lone Walk by kicking open the central doors and striding from the State House on his own, an act that sounds characteristic for the former Major General of the Union Army.   Though no saint, Butler was a fierce advocate for civil rights throughout his federal and state careers. As governor, he appointed the first woman, Clara Barton, to executive office as head of the Reformatory for Women and, fittingly, the first African-American judge, George Lewis Ruffin. Deval Patrick probably already knew that.

Once through the majestic doors and down the steps fronting the State House, the governor crosses the street into the Boston Common, symbolically becoming, once again, a private, common citizen of Massachusetts.   I admire a 130-year-old tradition that brings the verity and elegance of poetry to politics. Just as I admire a governor who did the same.

Governor Patrick, fare thee well.Elizabeth Shaking Hands

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This One’s For Us

It was magical. Senator Elizabeth Warren—I can’t say that often enough—Senator Elizabeth Warren re-enacted her official swearing in down in Washington, DC with an unofficial one at Roxbury Community College on Saturday, January 5, 2013.

I repeat, it was magical.

Women’s Voices

On stage were a racially diverse group of famous and interesting people, including Governor Deval Patrick and soon-to-be-Secretary of State John Kerry. But something we don’t often see at public events like this was also true: women were prominent.

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan swore Senator Warren in. Attorney General Martha Coakley (my personal favorite for governor in 2014) graced the stage, along with State Auditor Suzanne Bump. Former Sheriff Andrea Cabral, now Secretary for Public Safety and Security spoke briefly. Dr. Linda Edmonds Turner, President of Roxbury Community College emceed the event. The Reverend who closed the ceremony was a woman.

A 13-year old girl with a knock-out voice blew us all away with the national anthem. A small troop of Girl Scouts led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. Females were both celebrated and in charge.

And the issue of women taking our rightful place in the public domain was, for once, on everyone’s lips.

The Sound of History

There were moving moments. Senator Kerry introduced Senator Warren with a joke about how long he’d been the junior Senator from Massachusetts, but turned it into a tribute to Ted Kennedy when he said there wasn’t a person in the room who didn’t wish he were still the junior Senator.

Senator Warren opened her speech, as she often does, by sharing her achievement with everyone who voted for her and worked on her behalf, offering her grateful thanks.

Her swearing in—the fact of hearing a woman say those words for the first time in Massachusetts’ history—gave me goose bumps. We don’t always get a chance to be present as history is created. When we do, it’s a moment to cherish .

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Sexism 2010

In our first week at an elite graduate school of business administration, I suspect the other women in the handful of us scattered amongst 60 or so men in our section of the class, imagined, as did I, that we were there on equal footing. Proud to have leapt the admissions and societal hurdles, we were eager to learn how to become captains of industry.

Picture my disgust when I learned that within the first week, the guys in our section (and by “guys” I do mean males) had already rated the women, not on our intelligence or business experience, but on our bodies, assigning us awards based on  best, or worst, body parts.

Sad story, but ancient history, you scoff?

Read today’s Boston Globe, December 8, 2010, the article with the headline New Website Lets BU Women Be Rated.

The boy creator of the site, Justin Doody, 20 years old, says he got the idea from the recent movie about the founding of Facebook. You’d think that in 2010 a male his age, instead of replicating such demeaning objectification of women, would abhor rather than replicate it.

BU Administration Does Nothing

BU’s student union—thankfully someone has guts and brains—condemned the site. Not so the administration. The dean of students, Kenneth Elmore, after trying to protect the university by saying it was not affiliated with the site, basically did a Pontius Pilate, leaving women hanging in the wind by saying anybody who objected to the site should take up the issue with Doody, that font of egalitarianism and respect for others.

I haven’t seen such cowardly behavior from a university administration in a long time. BU, shame on you! You should be teaching students—isn’t that your job? Teach them that to diminish and disrespect a whole class of people is not appropriate behavior for citizens of the world, of the United States, and of your school.

Would you have become so instantly invisible if the site rated people based on their religion? their race? their social class? How can you be sanguine in the face of such an outrage against women?

Show Support for BU Women

I ask everyone who reads this to besiege the President of BU, Robert A. Brown, 617-353-2200, fax 617-353-3278; the Chairman of the Trustees of BU, Robert A. Knox Bknox@Cornerstone-equity.com , 212-753-0901, fax 212-826-6708; and the Boston Globe, letter@globe.com , with letters, emails and calls in support of fair, non-misogynistic treatment of women on its campus.

As for Doody, he should be sent back to kindergarten to learn some basics.

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Door-Knocking for Deval

I wasn’t sure Deval Patrick would be re-elected Governor of Massachusetts

picture of deval patrick from his website after re-election 2010and the thought gave me a knot in the stomach for the past few weeks. After Scott Brown was handed Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in January, I didn’t know what to expect from voters in my home state. Especially when people in The People’s Republic ofCambridge said things like, “Oh, I’m one of those Scott Brown people who think the Democrats have just gone too far. Giving health care, education to illegals. I want to throw all the incumbents out. Shake things up.”

Why not? Shaking things up is always a good idea when you aren’t willing to consider the consequences.

Getting Ready

The field operation of any campaign has three phases: 1) Identifying voters, 2) Persuading voters, 3) Getting voters for your candidate to the polls on election day.  In the first phase, you just try to make sure you have the right names, phone numbers and addresses for voters—as well as finding out who they think they’ll be supporting. Voters get categorized as being for your candidate, leaning toward, undecided, leaning against, or definitely against.

In the second stage, you go back to all those folks except the definitely against. You reconfirm the ones who are already in your camp and try to persuade everybody else over to your candidate.

Both of these stages build the foundation for the most crucial part, Get Out the Vote (GOTV), the final phase of the campaign. It’s of no use for folks to be with you if they don’t bestir themselves to actually vote. So in the GOTV phase, which usually begins the weekend before the election and continues through that Monday and Tuesday (for most elections) you make sure that all the people likely to vote for your side actually do so.

All three phases primarily involve two techniques: knocking on doors (canvassing) or telephoning voters to ask them questions to determine where they stand. Every campaign uses a balance of both because each has its advantages: phoning is far more efficient, but talking to people face to face can be more persuasive. Each method reaches some voters the other cannot. For example, these days of high cell phone usage are hard on campaigns because cell phone numbers are not listed publicly. Also, some people answer the door when they ignore the phone—or vice versa.

Men in Bathrobes

As a volunteer, I’ll do both phoning and door knocking, the latter being a time-honored tradition. Some volunteers stick with one or the other. The Coordinated Campaign (which tried to get votes for all the Democratic candidates) in Cambridge, like most of the state, ran a primarily walking campaign this time around rather than mostly phoning. That’s not the norm these days, and it’s risky because it requires tons of volunteers to make it work.

So legions of grunts like me carried a bunch of literature and, armed with the names, ages, addresses and gender of particular voters we were after in a household, knocked on specific doors. For days, I did my general neighborhood and got to meet lots of people I hadn’t known before.

Then I went out to help Somerville, a neighboring town, in an area with lots of blue-collar workers and students. Once I asked two young women of color walking down the sidewalk for their votes. When it turned out they were avowed supporters, I asked if they could spare a couple of hours to volunteer. “I work two jobs,” one of them said. “Me too,” added the other. “And I’m taking courses.” When I looked more closely, both had shadows under their eyes and appeared exhausted.

These are exactly the kind of people Democrats need to work for, I thought as we said our goodbyes.

But honestly, the highlight of that Sunday’s canvassing came when I rang the doorbell of an apartment with Latin music pounding out from behind the door.After two rings, the door opened.

There stood a well-built guy in his thirties wearing nothing but a towel gripped in one hand and riding low on his hips. He had a beautiful smile. Though it was in the 40°s, he seemed happy to stand there for days while I delivered my pitch in halting Portuguese, which I switched to when it became clear he didn’t speak English. Did I mention he had a beautiful build?

Unfortunately, my guy wasn’t yet a citizen though he promised to give the lit to his roommate, who was, and get him to vote for Deval. Do you think I should go back and see if he did?

‘Twas The Night Before . . .

My friend Mary Ann and I joined hordes of volunteers all over the state who went out to hang on doorknobs of likely Democratic voters royal blue, vertical signs which proclaimed in huge letters VOTE TODAY!

In Cambridge, where the great majority of voters vote Democratic whether registered as Democrats or unenrolled, we did a “blind pull.” We hung the signs on every door, blindly pulling out voters on the assumption that the bulk of them would vote as we hoped even if some did not.

Mary Ann and I, armed with flashlights, cruised the streets we were assigned, affixing signs to door knobs. I tiptoed past windows where I could see folks cleaning up from late dinners or watching television or putting their kids to bed, feeling every bit like one of Santa’s elves, imagining their surprise when they woke up in the morning to find our signs decorating the houses and apartments on their street.

Finding Votes in Public Housing

Election Day I was assigned to a part of Cambridge with more Spanish and Portuguese speakers, since I studied those languages in college. For the morning and early afternoon, I buzzed apartments in a large public housing project in East Cambridge, one that was built the year and month I was born. Many of the entryway doors sported VOTE TODAY! hangers from the night before, I was happy to see.

roosevelt towers low rise where i canvassed

Some of the guys walking by with hoodies covering their heads and part of their faces looked scary. I gamely asked one, a white guy in his thirties, if we could count on his support today for Deval Patrick and the Democrats. He gave me a cold look and kept on walking. “Never voted in my life,” he growled over one shoulder. “Never will.”

That was the saddest thing I heard all day.

Not surprisingly, the only people who weren’t out working were the elderly or students. I was shocked the first time when, without asking who it was on the intercom, someone buzzed open a door for me into a stairwell going up several flights of stairs.

Should I go in? If something happened, no one would know where I was. On the other hand, it was broad daylight. But I myself had advised canvassers never to go inside houses or apartments. Was the person buzzing me in trusting or malevolent? Was I trusting or stupid to climb those stairs?

I went in. What struck me first was how clean the hallway and steps were. Just like the buildings and grounds outside. No litter, no urine smell like in the movies or other places I’ve been. No graffiti anywhere.

I learned that the people who buzzed me in without even asking were the elderly and sick, unable to come down stairs. I don’t know if they looked out their windows and checked me out before buzzing me in; didn’t seem like they had time to, but maybe so. I tend to think that they just trusted and let me, or anyone else, in. Which spoke to how safe it was, I decided, as this happened over and over.

I don’t speak French, so I wasn’t very helpful to the Haitian folks. But I met a lot of kind people from a number of countries, including my own, handed out my lit and hoped someone who came home later on would get the message. I got a lot of warm smiles and soft handshakes as I left.

Driving Ms. Maria

A few streets over from the public housing buildings, a woman stuck her head out of a third floor apartment after I rang her bell. As we spoke, I learned she really wanted to vote, but had hurt her knee and couldn’t manage the three blocks to her polling place. We arranged for me to come back at 3:00 p.m., giving her time to get dressed and eat some lunch, to drive her over to vote. She was 82.

When I arrived, five minutes late, I confess, there she was, all bundled up in coat and scarf, with a cane, sitting on her doorstep. I got to know her a little as I walked her into the polling station, and then on into the booth. Her hands shook so much she couldn’t fill in the little ovals next to candidates’ names. I did it for her.

people in voting booths

Picture people in voting booths

There’s nothing so humbling or inspiring as watching people overcome hardship, of all kinds, to go out and exercise their civic rights by voting. I’ve often found older people reluctant to vote by absentee ballot, and while this may just be a case of not wanting to admit one’s limits, I suspect that, having watched Maria speak to all the attendants on our way in and out, they would miss the physical reality, the concrete process, of filling out the form and filing it, getting that little red-white-and-blue sticker that says I voted. It’s something about citizenship and the pride of doing what’s right in public, feeling connected and witnessed. It’s a ritual that still gives me a thrill each time I do it.I Voted sticker

Over the many years I’ve been canvassing, I often find the people who most treasure the right to vote, who are most willing to discuss candidates and issues are those who are either elderly or originally from other countries.

Crashing the Guitar Lesson

In the late afternoon, I teamed up with Susan, another volunteer in East Cambridge. We worked together, she taking the odd numbered side of a street and I the even, knocking on doors to draw people out to vote. Since people were starting to come home from work, we also accosted people on the street. Susan had a gift for this.

“Hi there! Had a chance to vote today?” Lots said they had, or they were on their way to the polls, but every now and then, someone would startle. “O my god, I’d forgotten. It’s today?” And Susan and I would grin at each other as they hustled off.

When we finished our “turf,” we went back to the local office for more work. We added a third woman to our team, a young college woman named Tiffany. By now it was full dark, and none of us wanted to be out on the streets alone, so we grabbed flashlights and piggy backed with each other, one taking one house, another the next, the third an apartment a couple doors down the street. We never got far from one another.

pile of guitar picks all colors

Sometimes we double-or-triple teamed a door, adding extra voices to pry a supporter from their comfy homes or out of their pajamas to vote. One young woman came to the door with a bone-colored guitar pick in her hand. “I really wanted to vote, but I forgot and now I’m in the middle of a guitar lesson.” Tiffany and I pleaded with her, telling her how close the election was and how much her vote could mean.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “My guitar lesson.”

Tiffany and I slumped away to rejoin Susan, several buildings down the street. The three of us were knocking doors on another block, when who should walk by but the young woman and her guitar teacher. “You guilted me into it!” she called with a smile. Tiffany and I slapped hands.

The last vote we got was a woman walking down the sidewalk with a man, 100 feet from the polls, at five minutes to 8:00 p.m. One of us called across the street to them, “Had a chance to vote today?” and, when they shook their heads, “Deval really needs your vote! It’s a close election, and your poll site is right there!”

Nothing happened for a few steps, then the woman turned around and started running to vote before it was too late. Yes!

Rewarding? You bet it was. I loved the collegiality, the fun of working with Susan and Tiffany as well as the thrill every time we added another vote to our tally. Plus it beats sitting at home and stewing about all that could go wrong and how awful I might feel waking up Wednesday morning if the votes didn’t go my way.

If you haven’t already worked in the field for a candidate you care about, I hope you’ll try it some time. Let me know how you like it.

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Riding The Bus For Women

Celebrating Suffrage and Women Reps

Yesterday I accepted an invitation from my friend, Representative Alice Wolf, and spent the day riding a bus to celebrate the 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage and to support four junior women legislators who have re-election fights this fall. You may have read the article about it in The Boston Globe today.

The idea was conceived by Rep. Pam Richardson from Framingham and headed up by Rep. Pat Haddad from Somerset, down by Fall River. Pat’s the senior ranking woman in the House of Representatives in the Commonwealth and the assistant majority whip. She’s got a great laugh, I learned, a kind voice and a generous heart. And she can heft big boxes of stuff even while wearing high heels. “I used to teach physical education,” she told me. My sense was she probably could do just about anything.

A lot of the organizing was done by two members of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, Priti Rao, the executive director, and Jessica Gibbons, the office manager. They quietly and competently made sure we got where we were supposed to go, left when we were supposed to leave (which was never easy) and had food, water and candy along the way.

Learning from the Senior Reps

I got to spend hours between stops with Kathi-Ann Reinstein, state rep from Revere, as well as my own beloved Alice Wolf from Cambridge. Listening to them talk with Pat Haddad about the work they do, comparing constituencies and their needs and hearing stories about issues they’d faced impressed me. You’ve got to have guts, a good sense of humor and compassion to do their jobs.

We drove out to Hudson to hold signs in a Sunday morning visibility for Rep. Kate Hogan, with whom we had a quick lunch afterward. She has enormous energy and wit and seemed to have a strong following, going by the number of thumbs up, beeping horns, and nodding heads I counted as folks drove by. We were joined there by Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante from Gloucester, who followed in her car because she had a constituent event to go to in the afternoon. Still, she took the time from her own hectic schedule to hold signs and support her sister legislators. I admire that.

Afterward, we shuttled off to Marlborough and met Rep. Danielle  Gregoire. She, her family and other volunteers stood with us as we commandeered a four-way intersection and waved to the cars that passed. The site was chosen because it was next to a memorial for Women Veterans, something I had never seen before, and which was quite moving. It made me wonder why there weren’t more of these monuments around, especially since all the statuary I’ve ever seen to remember veterans depicts only men.

Danielle, despite her own event, had shown up in Hudson for her colleague Kate Hudson, to support and hold signs for a sister legislator. Now that’s something when she’s facing a race of her own.

From there we traveled to Framingham for the dedication of a square to two women from Framingham who went to jail for picketing for women’s right to vote, an event made possible by Rep. Pam Richardson who had submitted the resolution to make it all happen, the kind of work that warms my heart. The square is right in front of a beautiful old building, Edgell Memorial Library and there I met many wonderful women, especially two senior women who’d been managing elected office and political life since I was in grade school.

The legislators on our bus were part of a panel of elected officials at the Library, women, who spoke about the mentors and role models they had who encouraged them to wade into the sometimes choppy waters of public service. I learned something I didn’t know: that nearly all of the women in the room had begun their public careers by serving on their local school boards.

This made me feel two things at once. School boards would make fertile ground for searching out and encouraging more women to run for office and I hoped somebody more influential than I had figured this out and was mentoring these women for higher office . But I also felt sad that this still is the principle path for women, who come to the school board on behalf of their children, when men come into public office from all sorts of backgrounds.

On our final stop in Bellingham, Rep. Jen Callahan put us to work canvassing. We knocked on doors with her, asking people to support her and giving them a bag of corn kernels to pop as a gift. That was cool. I’d never seen anyone do that before. If no one was home, we taped the popcorn, along with some literature, to the door. The bag said something clever like “I just popped by…”

These Legislators Work Hard—Yet Help Each Other

What impressed me most about all these women was how hard they worked. They did their legislative jobs to the utmost and then campaigned hard, not only for themselves, but for each other. The comaraderie, the sense of sisterhood was wonderful. I liked that a lot.

We have a long way to go to get to equity in Massachusetts. Right now we have 26 women out of 200 legislators, nowhere near the 51% that women make up of not only the population, but of registered voters.

It was worth spending a Sunday to see these junior and senior state representatives in action, standing up for one another to keep good women in office. I found each and every one of them impressive and wish I could vote for them all.

They give me hope.

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MA Democratic State Convention

I had a moment of panic when the four of us who’d carpooled together entered the Worcester convention center. Dean sped off to get in line for credentials; Alice left to find the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) reception; I don’t know what happened to Robin. People streamed around me as I stood in the huge hallway, wondering what to do.

I’d never intended to be a delegate to the Democratic State Convention, the annual gathering of a mere 4,000 party faithful. But at our ward caucus way back in February, when somebody else didn’t show up and my hard-working, good-on-all-the-issues state representative, Alice Wolf, nominated me, I just couldn’t say no. Besides, June 5 was a long way off.

Now that it was June, of course I was busier than I’d been in a couple of years and it was a drizzly Saturday morning perfect for sleeping in but I had to get up at 6:00 and suddenly, here I was.

When in doubt, hit the women’s room. On the way to the line for that (!), a man handed me a flyer saying Suzanne Bump had been endorsed the night before by Joe DeNucci, the guy who was stepping down after being State Auditor for dog years and for whose office Suzanne was running. Great news! She’s my choice for the job, so I took a couple of flyers and asked if he had more stickers so I could hand those out, too. They went like hotcakes in the line for the bathroom.

My husband had left for Worcester the day before because, as staff on the Deval Patrick Re-election Campaign, he had important things to do at the convention. The actual things remained mysterious to me, but I knew better than to expect to spend any time with him as he whizzed around doing whatever he had to do. I just figured I’d spot him occasionally in his neon-green T-shirt that said on the front, Got 50? and on the back, Deval Patrick Organizer.  

In fact, under my own shirt I wore a tank top so that I could whip off the shirt and replace it with a similar neon-green T-shirt once it was handed out to me at the convention. I had signed up as an organizer days before, which means I have to get 50 people to agree to support the Governor when it comes time to vote in November.

Anybody out there willing to be one of my 50? Please? I kind of need a lot more people. Pretty close to 50, actually. (Email me, info@cherylsuchors.com or leave a comment below.)

The Exhibit Hall

Before you enter the actual convention floor (and, yes, it does look a lot like the national conventions you see on TV) you are decanted into the Exhibit Hall where there are many tables lined up and covered with white tablecloths.

It’s a nominating year, you see. The Party needs to endorse a candidate each for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor and treasurer. It’s kind of a big deal. Especially when a few months ago a Republican made off with Ted Kennedy’s seat in the Senate.

To add to those concerns, the races for auditor and treasurer had more than one Democratic running and each candidate had to get at least 15% of the delegate vote in order to be on the primary ballot in the fall. Every one of them also hoped to snag the cherished party endorsement. The endorsement translates into more party support—financial and otherwise—in the primary and more media attention, making it an all-round nifty thing to have.

The Governor’s “booth” handed out the coolest buttons. They had a red LED light on them that, later on, looked amazing in the arena when the lights dimmed and all these red dots appeared everywhere. Whoever thought those up deserves a raise.

Every candidate had a booth. I came away with bumper stickers, buttons all over my shirt, four hard candies, two breath mints, a new pen and the tote bag. Not bad for a fifteen-minute stroll through a bunch of tables.

Best of all, I got to meet Suzanne Bump, my newest heroine, and chat with her and her mother for a few minutes. Suzanne’s been a great champion for government reform. As a legislator she led the charge back in 1991 to rejuvenate worker’s compensation policies so successfully that Massachusetts went from being one of the worst states in the country in this regard to being considered the best. Now, as Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, she’s gotten twelve different state agencies to actually work together to make employers who avoid paying unemployment taxes, workers’ comp insurance, minimum wages, and so on do the right thing. Again, we’re now a model for other states.

I like that kind of record in a candidate. I took more Bump stickers to hand out and a few placards with her name on them to wave at the appropriate time on the convention floor.

I didn’t notice it yet, but I was having fun!

The Arena

We weren’t allowed to carry in a back pack, so inside my largest purse I had also packed: a metal water bottle, a pen for voting, the cross-word puzzles my experienced friend Mary Ann suggested I bring for the boring parts, of which I expected there would be many, and a map of the convention floor that told me where I should sit, something called MS&E for Middlesex and Essex counties, or at least the parts of them that belonged to state senator Sal DiDomenico’s district.

Brian Murphy and Alice Wolf at convention 2010

That’s not all I had. My friend Kim, a delegate from Brookline, sent me a marvelous email from the Democrat of all Democrats, Kate Donaghue. In it Kate explained in regular English the proposed amendments to the Democratic platform and how they would change the current language. (It turned out I didn’t need know all this because the changes were voted in Friday night but hey, I’m a savvier Dem. now.)

The item Kate recommended bringing that I was most curious about was “a small flashlight.” Whatever for? Trusting Kate, I packed it anyway.

Waiting for Roll Call

Larry, myhusband, had prepped me that roll call would be taken at 11:00 and everyone had to be in their senate districts seats to shout out “Here!” when their names were called. Otherwise you were marked absent and couldn’t vote later on. I found a seat, dropped my stuff on it, and looked around.

Everybody was gabbing, or wandering through the bleachers or around the floor, or wandering and gabbing both. I figured I could do that, too. I was too excited to sit still. I was about to start my peregrination when Larry yelled my name. I looked up to see him about 15 rows above me pointing to a man I hadn’t seen since the Hillary Clinton for President campaign, a wonderful person named Sidi. I excused myself past the seated people in my row, squeezed between standing bodies on the stairs and went up to give him a hug.

After catching up with Sidi on life, politics and our daughters, I thought I’dwander over to C&I, Cape & Islands, where my friend Thelma had emailed she’d be seated.I first met Thelma when she called me up early in the Hillary campaign. She’s an activist down to her toes and she wanted to get things moving down on the Cape. Larry and I were interested in doing the same in Cambridge. Thelma and I talked strategy. We talked tactics. We talked about Hillary. We hung up feeling we had each met a kindred soul.

I looked and looked. No Thelma. Maybe she had slept in after partying the night before. I knew she’d driven up Friday with friends from Falmouth. I wandered back to MS&E and gabbed with a few other people I knew. This whole visiting-with-people thing was pretty enjoyable. I hadn’t expected that.

Since 10:00 when the proceedings began, somebody up on the stage far away had been speaking, either announcing things or welcoming us to Worcester. But everybody in the stands was talking, ignoring the speaker more or less completely. Somehow you sensed when some speech had come to an end and it was time to applaud even when you had only subconsciously registered what they were saying.

State Democratic Convention 2010

It’s rude. And it’s hard to talk with your neighbors when someone with a microphone is talking too, not only from the podium but from three huge screens on the stage and four smaller screens hanging down from the center of the ceiling where, during athletic events, the scores were kept. It’s a weird split in concentration; I found it hard to focus completely on the person I chatted with and equally hard to ignore the talk around me to listen to the official speaker addressing me from seven screens.

Eventually, somewhat past 11:00, roll call began. A guy in a striped shirt with a clipboard and papers started yelling out names amidst the din. The main stage went quiet, thank goodness, but with all the delegates still talking and the hundred people calling roll and the thousands answering, I worried I wouldn’t hear my name and they’d mark me absent.guy calling roll at state democratic convention

I was surprised that several names I knew were called and no one answered. I didn’t know you could do that: get elected a delegate and then not show up.

Roll call for my ward over, knowing I was now marked present, I got up again. The rows were clotted with bodies and, in order to search for Thelma, I had to hurdle a couple of rows of chairs rather than fight my way through the crowds. One man said he’d been there since Friday afternoon and not seen her anywhere.

That worried me. She is, after all, 92.

Then a woman told me Falmouth wasn’t part of C&I; it was somewhere else altogether. I combed through several districts but no Falmouth, and no Thelma. Back at my home base, MS&E, Robin, the carpool buddy who had magically appeared in the seat next to me, and I decided to go find lunch. Robin finnigan sitting next to me

Voting in the Gov

We took our cheddar-cheese-and-broccoli soups to seats high up, directly opposite the stage with an awesome view of the large screens. By now roll call had officially ended and we watched various speakers explain in 3-5 minute vignettes, why they were nominating Tim Murray for Lt. Governor. Then Tim came on and gave an energetic acceptance speech. He looked happy. I was impressed; his speech-making skills have improved in the last four years.

Before The Big Speech from the Governor, others repeated the brief-testimonials- as-nominations process, this time for Deval Patrick. When he strode out onto the stage, the speakers pulsed with that classic foot stomper from Bachman-Turner Overdrive: “You ain’t seen nothing yet B-b-baby, you just ain’t seen n-n-nothing yet.” Bomp! Bomp! Deval in dark on big screens at state dem convention 2010

I remembered that song. I liked that song. I stood up and danced. The energy level in the arena hit the ceiling.

A ton of neon-green shirted staff and volunteers snaked through the aisles like a sinewy green python. They surrounded the stage so the podium looked afloat in waves of bright green and blue that rose as people applauded and the staff raised their colored placards. This kind of spectacle gets to you through your senses, I realized. It’s energizing and entertaining and it works.

Placards surrounding Deval Patrick as he speaks 2010

When Deval talks, I can’t help but listen. He’s a moving, compelling speaker and I almost always like what he has to say. In this speech, he sounded like a governor should sound. He was a person with a plan, undaunted by the decisions and daily crises that I would find crushing, willing to work on tough problems, still interested in and determined to sort things out. I believed in him all over again, yelling and applauding as loudly as everybody else. Listen to his speech yourself.

He and Tim were elected by resounding voice acclamation, an efficient, expeditious process gaveled by party chairperson John Walsh.

I left Robin and continued my search for Thelma.  After ten minutes, to my delight, I found her. We walked off to find a few seats together where we could sit and schmooze.thelma and me at state dem convention 2010

Hearing Other Candidates

After leaving Thelma, I sat for a while in some empty seats on the floor just for kicks, and listened to the speeches for state treasurer. The Treasurer’s Office, as you might expect, manages the state’s money. Steve Grossman sounded just like the capable, ethical, good guy he actually is and did a good job despite being in the difficult position of following the Governor. I’ve watched him fundraise for other candidates over the years and know how much time and energy he commits to strengthen the Party. Since he would be managing my tax money, I also cotton to the fact that he’s been running a successful company through good times and bad.

His competitor was less impressive. Murphy did a lot of verbal wandering, was hard to follow and exceeded his time limit, which we all knew because each speech was timed on the thingie hanging down from the center of the ceiling that normally ticks off the seconds of each quarter in a game.

I made my way back to MS&E for the speeches for state auditor. I didn’t want there to be any chance I’d miss out on the voting that would follow, when we voted for both secretary and auditor at the same time. Now that was a smart, time-saving idea on somebody’s part.

Suzanne Bump spoke first. She showed a video that I didn’t think was as effective as it should have been, but her speech hit the mark. She sounded experienced and smart, which she is, and excited to be an auditor, which, to my way of thinking, is saying something.

What does the state auditor do? A lot more than I ever realized. The Auditor’s Office is supposed to audit all the state’s agencies to eliminate waste and prevent fraud. As if that’s not important enough, the auditor will play a big role in overseeing the spending of the nearly $9 billion of federal stimulus money coming to Massachusetts.

Which is why I’m for Suzanne. She’s already done this kind of stuff in her work in the Governor’s Executive Office and I believe people who go into a job with relevant experience under their belts do a better job. Call me crazy. You can read her speech yourself on her website.

Mike Lake was up next and he seems like a decent guy, but lacks experience. I knew some people who were voting for him and I didn’t get it. In a state where only 26% of elected officials are women—ranking us 19th in the nation— where we have only one woman in statewide office, Martha Coakley, where only one of our 12 federal offices is filled by a woman (Nikki Tsongas) and where we’ve never had a female governor, how could anyone who believes in fairness not vote for a perfectly qualified, effective, honest candidate who’s a woman?

When Guy Glodis, the third contender for auditor, spoke, I confess I didn’t pay much attention. This from a recent article about Glodis sums him up as far as I’m concerned: “…Glodis is on the wrong side of nearly every liberal issue — gay rights, the death penalty, gun control, taxes, diversity — and, more than that, has left a trail of crude comments that gives him a reputation as a piggish, misogynistic boor who would be an embarrassment to represent the party on the statewide ballot. Enough said.

His speech is when I learned the value of the small flashlight. I could peaceably do my crossword puzzle while the lights were down.

Voting the Old Fashioned Way

I now have a better sense of what it must be like to participate in a presidential caucus instead of the primary we have here in MA. The roll-caller shouted out your name and you shouted back the two candidates you’d chosen for treasurer and auditor. A young woman behind me was aghast. It was weirdly public when we’ve become so accustomed to private ballots. But I guess this way there’s no chance of anyone’s voting more than once.

My district seemed to split pretty evenly for auditor. Several folks around me and I started to fist bump every time someone shouted out a vote for Suzanne, well, Bump.

As you might imagine, the process took a while. First off, the caller had to walk to a central location and get the books with delegates names in them so he could record our votes. Why couldn’t he have gotten them earlier? For that matter, why wasn’t it all done digitally?

Two black women anxious re vote

There was a certain romanticism to the process, calling things out, pressing into the crowd to try to hear. It was a little like being on the floor of The Stock Exchange. If anyone wasn’t present to vote, their names got called again at the end to give them a second chance. If they hadn’t shown up by then, too bad.

At least that’s how it went in MS&E. Other districts, apparently, went off searching for missing delegates, because they didn’t close the voting until what seemed like 30 minutes after my district had finished. Being Democrats apparently means we hate to have anyone miss out.

Steve Grossman'

A Second Vote?

Drama surrounded the auditor’s race. With three candidates, it wasn’t clear who would win the party’s endorsement. Glodis came into the convention way ahead, and rumors flew that he would encourage some of his delegates to vote for Lake and get him on the primary ballot in September to take votes away from Bump. A candidate has to get at least15% of the delegate vote at the convention to be on the primary ballot, but can afford to give up more than that if s/he wants. My district seemed to split fairly evenly among the three candidates, so I wondered how it would all play out.

If no candidate got 50% of the vote, there would be a second ballot for party endorsement in which the candidate with the fewest votes would drop out and we would all vote again between the top two.

By this point, it was after 4 p.m. and my carpool mates and I were ready to go home. I’d guess about a third of the delegates had left. Much debate ensued among us about whether to go or stay in case there was a second vote; three of us were Bump fans. We finally agreed to leave.

As we walked out of the arena, a young man wearing a Bump T-shirt and headphones, noting our Bump stickers and buttons, intercepted us. He said he’d just been told to ask supporters to stay because they’d just learned no one had received the required 50% to win the endorsement and a second vote would be called.

We went back to our seats.

On the up side, we got to hear the tribute to Teddy Kennedy. As votes were counted, we heard speeches from folks who knew and loved him. Senator John Kerry gave the most moving talk I’ve ever heard him make; it was wonderful. By the time Vicki Kennedy came to the podium, I had forgotten all about the balloting. She was marvelous. In the car ride home, we agreed we wished she’d run for office. Then we watched a video with lots of black-and-white clips of the young Kennedys interspersed with the older Ted. Many, like myself, had to wipe our eyes.

We still waited for the second vote. Finally, we got word that Bump and Glodis had each gotten 37% of the vote and agreed to forgo the second vote because it was so late. As we left, people speculated that the two candidates weren’t sure that enough of their supporters remained to vote.

I was sorry Suzanne Bump didn’t get the Party endorsement but delighted that she had, unexpectedly, gotten even a few more votes than the forerunner Glodis. The upset should create some additional momentum for her campaign.

As we drove home, I was quiet as the others talked housing issues and legislation. I’d just put in eight hours at my first state Convention and I hadn’t spent any time at all being bored. In fact, I had enjoyed myself! If asked, I’d be happy to come again . . . at least in a nominating year.

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The Savvy Enumerator

What exactly is an enumerator?

They come in various sizes, ages and colors. Over one shoulder is slung a black satchel that’s waterproof and rip-stop, bullet-proof too. From a black cord around their necks hangs a badge showing a teeny US flag, the seal of the Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census, and the words: Census Enumerator.

Yes, folks, these are the brave women and men knocking on your doors to ask you sometimes startling questions—Are you male or female?—and hurriedly marking down your answers before you lose patience with the process. They enumerate in the cold and rain and heat, at all hours of the day from 9:00 a.m. till dark.

woman showing badge

That little census form that you didn’t fill out but would have taken you about five minutes to do yourself? Enumerators have been through four days of training, alternately overwhelming and boring, to learn how to fill it in for you.

They have sworn to keep all individual census data confidential for the rest of their lives. They have been finger-printed, so they will be found should they mess up. They guard even papers to be thrown away that have  PII (personally identifiable information) on them and turn them in to their crew leaders to be shredded.

Enumerators are a breed that appears in profusion only once every ten years. And I am one of them.

The Language of Enumerators

Like any profession, we have our jargon. In your line of work, you  may have to account for every quarter hour that you work on a piece of paper. You probably call that piece of paper a timesheet. To us, it’s a D-308. We fill one out every working day. The things on which we write your answers to questions are EQs. If you live at an HU part of the year with your primary residence elsewhere, you’re a UHE.

You think this is easy?

It’s weird. The work is clearly not rocket science, but it’s also not always a snap. Buildings appear for which we have no record; buildings disappear, too. People come and go. Apartments get mixed up. If you started your lease on April 2, 2010, we have to find out who was there on April 1; we also need to enumerate you if you didn’t respond to the census in your prior home, even if that home was in Walla Walla, Washington. Which requires a different form, of course.

Okay, I was kidding about the bullet proof satchel. But the handy-dandy Enumerator Manual does advise wearing comfortable shoes . . . in case we have to run!

Word to the Wise

I’m amazed at how well the whole system works. Imagine for a moment that you need to start up a nation-wide company that will last for roughly six months with the bulk of the work being done in about three months. You’ll need to hire, train, and supervise over 600,000 workers. Ready? Go!

Sure, there are mistakes and some wasted time. But the whole effort, to my former management consulting eyes, is nothing short of a miracle.

So when your doorbell rings and you see before you a census enumerator, here’s my advice: just answer the questions. If you do, we’ll be out of your hair in fewer than 10 minutes. If you hide behind your door or otherwise obfuscate, you’re wasting your own tax dollars and time.

young guy from census picsWoman from census pictures

Trust me, a savvy enumerator never gives up.

man enumerator adultWe know the census provides the information that determines political representation, number and location of libraries, day care centers, schools, and roads. We know how much businesses, scientists and other researchers depend upon accurate census data.

We’ll find you. Because if you live here, you need to be counted. And we’re just savvy enough to do the job. Any questions?

census logo

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I Married a Cowboy—Did You?

I Married a Cow Boy :: Cheryl SuchorsEven though we met riding a train, not a horse, and he was born in New York City, apparently my husband is a cowboy.

He must have inherited a stray gene from Wyoming. Republican state Senator Jim Anderson has introduced a bill to the Wyoming legislature to recall the “cowboy ethics” of the old West. According to The Boston Globe, the cowboy code stresses “the importance of living with courage, keeping promises, finishing what you start and saying more by talking less.”

Whoa. My husband is just like that. He’s the most responsible, ethical, productive person I know. And he really likes horses. Maybe I should check his birth certificate.

I confess to squirming a bit at discovering I like everything about the code of the West—which no doubt cowgirls also lived by—except for the silence part. While I’d like a number of men in meetings and at parties and other public gatherings to take up less air time, (perhaps they could ask more questions of women instead of talking about themselves?) in private, I find, too many men say too little.

I have accused my cowboy husband, for example, of talking as if somebody were charging him by the word. Especially on subjects like relatives, relationships, feelings, or Christmas presents.

Deborah TannenDeborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, described this phenomenon in her book exploring communications between women and men, You Just Don’t Understand. Men, she said, were raised to believe they owned the public arena and therefore felt quite comfortable holding forth in group or public situations, whereas women were raised to believe they were responsible for private discourse and found themselves far less comfortable speaking up in more public settings."You Just Don't Understand" By Deborah Tannen

Tannen also said men tended to state their opinions as facts. Period. Women often stated their opinions as questions. (See my example of the parenthetical question in paragraph 4 above.) The result? Men thought women in public sounded uncertain and lacked self confidence; women thought men in public dominated and pontificated while in private behaved like the proverbial sphinx expecting women to do all the heavy verbal lifting at home.

Was it like that in the West? Maybe the cowboy code of ethics only worked when there were no women around, like on cattle drives or before women showed up in mining towns and such.

I Married a Cowboy :: Cheryl SuchorsOver the years, my husband’s loquacity has waxed and waned. Now we face each other in an empty nest, which means robust communication between us has become even more important.  Actually, I do find him talking to our daughter’s so-called “daughter,” our grand-dog. That’s a good sign, I think.

So long as he’s not simply treating her like a very small horse.

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