Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a Platform - Dallas Platform Meeting

08/06/2008 01:09 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Saturday, July 26 at two in the afternoon, I found myself in the living room of Jon and Liesl McQuillan. This, my first chance to attend a Democratic Platform meeting here in the Dallas area, may as well have been a campfire Kumbaya. Or perhaps more like a Continental Congress?

The McQuillans' home was small and cozy. Artwork on the walls ranged from rustic to exotic. The wood floors creaked just enough to let you know if someone was coming, and a heady cinnamon-apple candle aroma made sure whoever it was felt welcome. Everyone began arriving all at once. Even after about 35 folks trickled in, there was still plenty of room in the 1300-square-foot home. Hellos were exchanged - some tentative, others boisterous. Then, it was time for business.

Liesl McQuillan, a philosophy professor with a Hollywood production background, encouraged a dialectic approach (her preferred classroom M.O., to which debate and disagreement are integral). We, her eager pupils for the day, were too concordant to truly oblige. Liesl's opening topic, equal access for those with disability, was met with head nods and affirmations aplenty. Immediately, universal health care and veteran's benefits were included in the same discussion. No objections there.

There were a number of attendees who were disabled in some way. Liesl herself, had suffered multiple strokes and walked supported by a cane. But compared to her honeyed reddish hair and coruscating eyes, this took a back seat. When she used the term "forced segregation" to describe the limited access inherent in many buildings, she had less an air of victimhood than a tone of intercession for those who might not be able to put the indignity into words.

The empathy in the room was palpable. Each person understood that we shared the same vulnerability to a bureaucracy that was failing the person sitting next to us. It just failed us each in a different way. There we were, old, young, healthy, infirm, man, woman, white and black. And for every issue voiced, there was a collective, ready ear.

David, the soft-spoken man with glasses seated to my right, openly shared his conundrum. David's male partner hailed from Taiwan. And with his visa set to expire within a year, he did not have a path to citizenship via marriage. As such, the pair faced the choice of moving to Canada or to Taiwan to stay together. Apparently, separation was not an option.

The married couples and single attendees alike remarked on the injustice of his plight. And the plight of educational inequality. And the usurpation of executive power. You'd be hard-pressed to find a topic we couldn't all commiserate on. No one contested that the number one priority of our party should be the environment. The mostly older crowd summarily agreed that though the Social Security system was in danger, but of graver and all-encompassing concern was our entire planet's state of peril.

We heard from Garth, an educator at a historically Black college. He spoke of having to enter a building through the back door - not because of race, but for the matter of disabled accessibility. We were told of another man's stroke, and how he received disability benefits only after he found himself filing for bankruptcy. We listened to David Ellis, a deputized registrar and well-versed advocate of a two-state Middle East solution. His discourse ranged from foreign policy to health care - the latter which he is not afforded via his full-time employment.

The entire group shared a firm belief in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". That phrase was used several times during the two hours we spent together. And we all agreed that our government must pay more than lip service to those so-called inalienable rights. The hope emerged that those rights are afforded not simply to the visible majority of American citizens, but also to the various people that for one reason or another belong to a minority. As such, we the people of Jon and Liesl's living room, came up with a few suggestions for the Democratic Party. The only thing missing was the s'mores.