Dinner with the Democrats

Got the autography, missed the photo op    
Montana's Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner
Keynote Speaker Cory Booker

While I consider myself to be politically engaged, I draw the line at fundraising dinners for politics. Between the droning speeches full of empty catch phrases with frequent pauses to clap and hoot, questionable food, and often lousy execution, political fundraisers tend to be unappealing. I’d much prefer to give money and skip the gathering.

This year, the Montana Democrats brought a rising party superstar to their annual Mansfield-Metcalf dinner, and Mike and I joined over 1,2,00 other Montanans for the fundraising event. In addition to Governor Steve Bullock. Senator Jon Tester, House candidate Rob Quist, women’s rights legend Nancy Keenan and several other key Montana Democrats, Senator Cory Booker joined the line-up as keynote speaker. While I cringed at the notion of driving to Helena, cramming into the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds building with hundreds of others, and sitting through a series of speeches, the chance to see Senator Booker was too good to pass up.

The Event Details
Overall, the event exceeded my expectations in every way. The notion of a big dinner in a fairgrounds building did not give me visions of a well-run and inviting evening, but I give big kudos to the event organizers for working within the building’s limitations and pulling the event off with style.

On a visual note, the room was set up nicely. Rows of long banquet tables filled the space and although they were basic plastic tables and chairs, they were set up with black and white linens. Water glasses were set at each seat and several small white (battery powered) candles lined each table. Black fabric hung from stands around the parameter of the room hiding entrance doors and making the cavernous space feel more welcoming. Overall, the black and white color combo added a polished feel to an otherwise unwieldy room. Three screens were set up so no matter where you sat, you had a good view of the speakers. Lucky for use we arrived on the early side and secured seats at a table relatively close to the stage.

The quality of food was better than expected and attendants circled the room letting tables know when it was their turn to hit the buffet line. To the appreciation of those in attendance, 1,200 people were fed with much speed and efficiency.

The Keynote Address
As for the program itself, it was great. I think highly of Senator Booker and was really inspired by his book United, (Review here: http://annvinciguerra.blogspot.com/2016/06/cory-booker-united-book-review.html) so I was eagerly awaiting his speech. 

On a personal note, I was fortunate to briefly meet him before the dinner started. He is as handsome in person as he appears in photographs, and he wasn’t as much of a giant as I had expected. The lighting was dim so I didn’t get a good look at his blue eyes. One way to get a senator’s attention is to be the only one in the swarm with his book, so while I got the autograph, I missed the photo opportunity.

The evening began handful of speakers who went before Senator Booker. All were well-spoken, and quick and efficient in their messages, so luckily we didn’t have to wait too long for the keynote address.

Senator Booker had a very engaging manner and was a dynamic speaker. He integrated some jokes into his speech without over doing it, and the metaphors he used tied nicely to his main points and were neither cliché or trite. He spoke for over 40 minutes, and at times showed a Martin Luther King style delivery, which got more pronounced towards its conclusion. I was fired up by the end of the speech and walked away thinking about ways I can make a difference to my community and to my country. Once again, Senator Booker did not fail to inspire.

I encourage you to watch this keynote address here. It is full of passages worth quoting and should inspire you and give you hope.

Several weeks have passed since the event and there are many parts of Senator Booker’s speech that I found memorable. Before too more time goes by and more details escape me, here are a few things that stood out to me….  

While Senator Booker spoke about the Democratic Party and wished Montana luck with its upcoming election, the majority of his speech dealt with the state of our country. To me, his message transcended political boundaries and had the ability to motivate regardless of your party affiliation.

Senator Booker believes what our divided nation needs is love, not merely tolerance, of our fellow citizens. You can tolerate a cold, he said, but to mend the divisions that bring us down it is necessary to love. We are Americans above all else, and we can’t love our country if we don’t love our fellow Americans. Our destinies are wrapped up in one another’s, and he encouraged the audience to show our love by becoming active and helping those in need so we may all thrive.

Tolerance, according to Senator Booker, should be our floor. “Reach for the roof, “ he encouraged. “That’s the love.”

Senator Booker attributes his parents’ success to those who helped them overcome obstacles. From church members who held collections for his father’s college education to the equal housing advocates who helped his family purchase a home, a whole slew of individuals were inspired by the love of their country to act on behalf of fellow Americans. As a child, his parents taught him that individual hard work, grit and determination are necessary for success, yet it was the hard work, grit and determination of fellow Americans that got the Booker family to where they are today.

He was constantly reminded by his parent,  “you are a physical manifestation of a conspiracy of love.”

With this in mind, Senator Booker reminded the audience, “you can’t pay it back but you have to pay it forward.”

In a rousing finale, Senator Booker encouraged the room of over 1,200 Montana’s not to loose faith during this period of political chaos, hatred, and lies. While it might be easy to want “to give up, curl up or shut up,” we must instead “stand up, speak up, and act up.”

By doing so, Senator Booker assured, Americans can make true the words of its songs and its anthems. We are one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. When we become activists, there is nothing we can’t no, no election we can’t win, no wrong we cannot right.

Despair will never have the last word.

Again, here’s the video of Senator Booker’s keynote address here. It is full of passages worth quoting.