In West Hollywood, 13 Angelinos gave up their Saturday afternoon - and two of them, their honeymoon - to come to the Crescent Heights United Methodist Church for an Obama platform meeting.
The two men in charge, George Leddy and Scott Imler, were just married the day before by Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa himself. One attendee quipped, "So this is your honeymoon?" But instead of being in Palm Springs, Leddy and Imler led a three-hour discussion on what the group believed in and how those ideas could be implemented in government.
At a table in a side chamber of the church, with pews and stained glass windows in the background, these Democrats became a part of a new model of government. For the first time in a presidential campaign, any person with any background could walk into a place like this church and feel a part of the process. The common man had a stake in his country's future.
"I don't think this should end when he's elected," said Joan Friedman, meaning that this could be a model for better civic participation and government responsibility to the public. This process raised the relevance of politics for the average voter. "This man running for president, who I believe in, is actually asking for my ideas," said David Friedman, Joan's husband. The two came prepared with a bullet-point list of issues they wished to see on the platform. Some of the points included tackling poverty by creating a cabinet-level position specifically for that purpose, eliminating nuclear weapons, and guaranteeing a free and objective press.
While attendees talked about what Obama stands for, what they stand for, and how to express it all, a few recurring themes emerged: the need to reestablish the United States as a role model in the world, the need to reestablish rights defined in the constitution and beyond, and the need for greater connectivity and inclusiveness among the people and government.
The difficult part of the meeting was not pinpointing the issues. There were no major disagreements about the problems facing the nation. It was how to succinctly write them down and prioritize them in a format that "higher-ups" could parse out and understand among the thousands of platforms they'd be receiving.
Ideas were tossed around the table, with most of the time spent discussing environment and energy, since Leddy is an academic in the field. Some criticized Obama's willingness to embrace biofuels. Others suggested that Al Gore become an ambassador to the United Nations. Leddy put forth a proposal for something akin to a Marshall Plan, because he said a simple cap-and-trade policy would be too little too late.
Linda Samuels and Melanie Henderson came separately, but with equally specific goals. Samuels, a former Clinton supporter, advocated more emphasis on women's issues, including equal pay and reproductive rights. "That's one way to get the Hillary supporters," she said.
Henderson had a vision of an inclusive government. "I have never seen a politician who speaks to us as one cohesive group on this planet," she said, describing Obama. Henderson proceeded to introduce herself as a black-white-Romanian-Jew. She said, "It's not Kumbaya, oh everyone let's come together. It's the only way we'll survive...if you don't include the least of us, it will impact the rest of us."
Hernderson's thoughts sparked a bigger theme under which many complained about how some of the basic civil liberties outlined in the constitution were no longer guaranteed - things like wiretapping and invasion privacy, to the use of torture and Geneva conventions.
Pretty soon, there were so many thoughts that they had to be grouped into an outline form, with examples falling under the major thematic headlines. "Put in something about war," one would say. Then, "We should definitely have something on health care."
"Can we put in something about filling the pot holes behind my house?" asked David Friedman. "That would be Antonio, I'm afraid," Leddy replied.
Nearing the last half hour of the meeting, everyone was feeling pretty good about the rough draft that Samuels had typed up. With the glow of the Mac laptop on Henderson's face, she read aloud the preamble describing a renewed American image in the world, and breezed through the bulleted themes and examples under each. Everyone listened intently - Samuels looking on at the screen in a concentrated expression, some with eyes closed in thought, the rest with exalted smiles.
One member who left early however, may not have been so ecstatic. Andrew Camp called Obama "a breath of fresh air," but expressed disappointment over time at the senator's lapse into typical politician behavior. Camp questioned in particular Obama's change in stance on campaign financing and on biofuels. And although Camp didn't speak up much during the meeting, he reacted to the discussion with hesitation: "As much as you want to argue these issues, most of the country is not that left," Camp said. Camp said he would still support and vote for Obama, as he considers him the better of two choices.
The rest of the group had earlier acknowledged the concern over Obama's apparent shift to the center, by stressing that he had to do that to get elected, but would then revert to his more liberal principles and policies. More importantly, they recognized the need for a disconnect between the politician and the man. Leddy added, "Like Andrew said, Obama is not the second coming. He's a politician."
The people's platform then, is one way to keep a politician honest, and to see the policies through. But for whom is the platform made? As Camp stated, the ideals are meant to better the quality of life for all, but may not match the values of all. Was the platform written for all Americans, all Democrats, or all Los Angeles Democrats? As one member put it, "This is the West Hollywood platform."
Perhaps it doesn't matter that it's the West Hollywood platform. "I believe in this man...but he has to know what we believe in," said Joan Friedman. That's exactly what the process seems to be about - gathering platform ideas from various local groups and digging at what matters most to each individual. It will be up to the Obama campaign to read all these platforms from various parts of the country and decide what is best for all: Democrat or Republican, black or white, gay or straight, old or young - as Henderson called it, the one cohesive group.