Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Magic Sonia at Alchemist

Yes, there were cheers and tears. Yes, JP's Alchemist was loud with love and liberalism.

When hints that Sonia Chang-Díaz might appear circulated, the hundred plus supporters chanted SONIA and clapped deafeningly. I remember seeing the well tattooed, many pierced barkeep with her garish nail polish leaning over a register with her fingers covering both ears. It was that loud.

Oscar and Grammy winners could learn quite a bit from Sonia's cavalcade and parade of praise. She named, specified, pointed out and cheered dozens of workers, including her secret weapon, her mom. Her ex-astronaut dad was also there, but her indefatigable mother almost surely brought in far more than the 228 votes for victory.

Sonia fairly sang the thank-yous without dragging down her victory party at all. In a jaded political town with lowered expectations for politicians, the young woman with the huge smile and immense sincerity is at least starting off with her idealism intact and on display.

The crowd was loving it even before she arrived. Like puffs or snorts of drugs, the iPhone-fueled hordes were monitoring election results and didn't even droop as the margin of victory narrowed relatively quickly from 16% to under 2%. I saw over a dozen 20-somethings each bent over the silly tiny phone screen like the elder voters I had helped during the day. Technology can be so controlling.

By coincidence, as a poll worker, I discovered Sonia's mother behind our table as an observer. I had not met her previously and waited until she went out to follow her and introduce myself. (We're not allowed to talk politics in the polling location.)

At the Alchemist, I may have been the oldest person in the room. I did run into Michael Forbes Wilcox, who apparently rolled in from Western Mass to take part. He's of my boomer generation. Most were like my co-podcaster Ryan Adams and were my oldest son's age. Both of Sonia's parents were there, but it was an early 20s crowd (actually typical of that restaurant/bar).

The energy didn't stop. I suspect that had the results gone 2 points the other way, there may have been different kinds of tears. The affection and anticipation and idealism in the two rooms would have remained. Sonia is both what we want now and is the future.

We have a lot of tired politicians around here. The fantasy that because registered Dems so dominate public office, particularly the legislature, that we're a bunch of social liberals, even progressives. We don't have to look very far to understand how wrong that is. The grief and roadblocks Gov. Deval Patrick has gotten in trying to upgrade the General Court to Progressive 1.1 have been wide and high.

Sonia won't make all the difference solo, but I predict a huge impact. There are a lot of tired lefties who accept it's-the-way-politics-work-here. She doesn't, isn't about to, and is likely to catalyze reform beyond the Second Suffolk. In a nod to her dad, she said how he taught her she could do the impossible. I rather doubt she'll accept self-placed limits by other legislators.

Last night, after her initial blessing of her adorers, she said she's spoke with Senate President Therese Murry and the governor — both incumbent Sen. Dianne Wilkerson endorsers. She said she told them despite such differences, she was eager to begin working with them in advancing progressive changes.I say Patrick could use the help and encouragement, and Murry could use a jump-start.

That was the tone for her half hour remarks. She didn't rub it into Wilkerson. Instead, she noted the strong overlap in aims and concerns they shared and praised her for paving the way for women of color in politics here.

Sonia promised:
  • To "go to the mat" for the shared issues
  • To build the coalitions necessary to get stalled and new legislation enacted
  • To have "dogged" resolution to get the funding for the goals
  • To always be a senator who shows the high standards voters should expect from their leaders
No one in the room was old enough to remember the progressive movement and politicians from the WWI era, but anyone with some background on them may see some flashes. Sonia expressed the uneroded, untainted hope and idealism we hear only every few generations.

Typically, progressive movements "fail" in the eyes of many historians and other observers. They have partially fulfilled goals and their leading politicians fade or withdraw from office. Yet meanwhile, the successes are long lived and sometimes pervasive. These movements jolt politics and public opinion forward. We all end up with new, higher expectations, even when many of the goals go unrealized. The net is a gain for the public.

This election seems part of the shifts that brought Deval Patrick into office on progressive promises and have propelled Barack Obama as far as he's gotten so far. The sense of the possible is widespread.

Also: The Chang-Díaz results and how other progressives fared.

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