The John Kerry presidential campaign and efforts to reclaim the White House from George W. Bush are creating some unusual political alliances around the country and here at home.
Last Thursday, July 29, as John Kerry prepared to give his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, a number of households in Colorado Springs held celebration parties. The parties were organized through the Kerry campaign Web site (www.johnkerry.com) with e-mail invitations and RSVPs.
Vance Johnston, a sales manager for ATT and full-time student, and his roommate Laura Faul opened their house in Stetson Hills to a group of around 40 people, most of them strangers.
"It was kind of nerve wracking to open our doors to 40 people we didn't know," said Johnston, a registered Republican who says, "believe it or not," he worked on the campaign of George Bush the First.
The group that gathered in support of Kerry at the Johnston-Faul home was composed of about 10 independents, including Faul, five or six Republicans, including Johnston, and the rest registered Democrats.
Faul, 35, says this will be the first presidential election she has ever voted in.
"I'm a single mom with two kids," said Faul, "and [Bush] is worrying about the haves and have-mores, not those who want to have. I'm worried about whether my kids will be able to go to college.
"I just really feel strongly about getting Bush out of the presidency. I don't agree with the things he's done. Some of my friends are gay, and I think they should have the right to love who they want to love."
The group at the party participated in a conference call from Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards at 5 p.m., ate dinner, signed up to volunteer in telephone voter registration efforts, and whooped it up when John Kerry gave his acceptance speech.
Altogether, the Kerry campaign estimates that as many as 100,000 people across the country gathered at 5,000 similar celebration parties across the United States last Thursday.
"I think the whole thing was very hopeful," said Johnston. "Kerry signs are starting to pop up on our block."
Johnston says he wears a Republicans for Kerry button, and at least 30 to 40 people have come up to him and said, "I think that's great. "
Faul is concerned about the Bush White House's economic policies, unemployment and health insurance. Johnston says he opposes Bush because he has been "a divider."
"[Bush's] compassionate conservative model that he used to lure voters got shoved out the door by the right wing," said Johnston. "He's snubbed black voters; he's snubbed tons of people.
"To go from the most respected, revered to the most feared, hated country on Earth post 9-11 -- I believe the president could have built on that tragedy, but he used it to divide instead."
The old guard meets the Internet
In the elegant Old North End of Colorado Springs, Democrats Elaine and John Gallagher hosted a Kerry celebration party at their Del Norte Street home.
"I sent 200 invitations," said Elaine Gallagher, a seasoned Democrat who has served as precinct captain and worked on numerous local campaigns over the past 30 years. Her husband John Gallagher is a retired judge, also a Democrat. "I was told we'd have a 10-percent at most attendance, but 60 people came. We collected $3,500."
"What really is obvious is that the Democrats this time are united," said Gallagher, "whether it's the extreme left, moderates, the right, everyone believes there must be a change."
The Gallagher party featured live music, wine and beer, good food and fellowship among a group of people, many of whom had never met.
"People talked and shared," said Gallagher. "It felt extremely collegial and warm. It's rare to get that many Democrats together in a room in Colorado Springs."
Gallagher laments the fact that while the Democrats in town were very active up to the 1970s, party participation has sloughed off for several decades. But she sees great hope in the 21st century phenomenon of political organizing on the World Wide Web.
"I think it's fantastic," she said. "This grassroots mobilization over the Internet, along with the Michael Moore movie, has really helped to stimulate grassroots involvement."
Gallagher, who works around the world with the World Bank and United Nations agencies, feels that George W. Bush must be defeated because of his reckless foreign policy, and says many at her party shared her concerns.
"People feel that we must restore a rational foreign policy, restore our relationships with other countries," she said. "I think people are concerned about the recklessness of this administration, the do-it-alone attitude, the danger of a preemptive kind of strike [in Iraq] without a strong coalition behind it."
Her experience internationally has shown her that people are frightened of actions the United States under Bush might take, and how such actions might affect them. Most people abroad, says Gallagher, still separate the American people from the government of the United States.
"I'm not sure they'll continue to do that," she said, "if we re-elect this rascal."
Rock the vote
Kerry-Edward rallies around the city stretched past last Thursday's acceptance speech gatherings to a Concert for Change, held Sunday, Aug. 1 at the local electrical workers union hall on the West Side.
Joe Sciallo, 44, also known as Smokin' Joe of the Mighty Burners blues band, was one of the key organizers of the Concert for Change.
"It was a huge success," said Sciallo who estimates that 350 to 400 people attended the all-day event and says that 236 made contributions to either the MoveOn.org political action committee or to the Democratic National Committee Victory Fund that directly supports Kerry's candidacy.
"One of the local political people, from the Democratic Party, who has been trying to do things for years, came up to me and said, 'Normally you do something like this and you have 30 or 40 of the same people show up,'" said Sciallo.
"I believe we've tapped into something new in the community."
Sciallo said the crowd that attended the event -- 30-somethings and 40-somethings throughout the day, turning into 20-somethings as the night progressed and hip-hop bands took the stage -- expressed their concern for the future and the certain knowledge that they must get involved.
"It wasn't so much about Bush bashing as it was, 'I'm really concerned about the future,'" said Sciallo, adding that many concert-goers expressed their concern over the Bush administration's attempts to "shift the country far, far right."
"People have awakened to the fact that there's a radical agenda going on," he said, "that it's about politics, not policy."
Wages, jobs and healthcare were central concerns of those who attended the event, including union members who decried the Bush White House's benign neglect of an organized, well-trained, well-paid work force. Volunteering at the event were members of the local theatrical and stage workers union, who recently lost their contract with the Pikes Peak Center when management of the auditorium was turned over from the county to the private company that manages the World Arena.
The crowd grew younger as the night went on, said Sciallo, and a hip-hop artist urged his audience on with the repeated cadence:
"Are you registered to vote? Are you registered to vote? Are you registered to vote?"
"He was throwing down the gauntlet," said Sciallo, "saying that's the only way to be a rebel -- get out and vote."
-- Kathryn Eastburn
The Believe in America Tour with John Kerry and John Edwards
Saturday, Aug. 7
La Junta Park, 14th St. and Colorado Ave., La Junta
Gates open at 9:30 a.m.
Colorado Springs Kerry-Edwards Organizational Meeting
Monday, Aug. 9, 5:30 p.m.
219 W. Colorado Blvd. (Trestle Building)
Kerry-Edwards Meetup in Colorado Springs
Thursday, August 26, 7 p.m.
Location to be determined, check www.coloradosprings forkerry.com
Democratic Party Meetup in Colorado Springs
Tuesday, August 10, 7 p.m.
Location to be determined, check www.coloradospringsforkerry.com Colorado Springs for Kerry Concert for Change
Saturday, Sept. 18
Acacia Park, downtown
To volunteer, go to www.coloradospringsforkerry.com