Thursday night I drove to a town hall-pizza dinner gathering sponsored by my congressman, Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Democratic Progressive Caucus. The drive during rush-hour traffic to the local Broadway Pizza restaurant reminded me of the diverse, yet heavily Democratic district, that Ellison represents. Inner city Minneapolis, first-ring suburbs built after World War II and the mansion-lined streets that fill the city lakes area of Minneapolis. Ellison knows first-hand the importance of coalition building, the significance of every vote, and the proud progressive history that has shaped his district for generations.
On a day that brought news of Wisconsin’s voter ID law being upheld by a circuit court, it was good to hear Ellison remind the crowd of the great accomplishments last fall here in Minnesota when we voted no on a Republican-backed amendment to enshrine voter ID in our state constitution. It was encouraging to hear that during this non-election year, Ellison and his staff will be focused on expanding the electorate and getting more Minnesotans to the polls. Few needed to be reminded that Al Franken, up for re-election in 2014, won his seat six years ago by a mere 300+ votes.
This year Ellison will literally be living his campaign slogan: Everybody Counts. Everybody Matters. “We’re going to keep on turning out the vote,” Ellison said, “because politics is about engaging people, building relationships, talking to people you don’t know. Because when you do that, you find out you have more in common with people. We all want to retire with dignity so that means saving Social Security. It means increasing wages and looking at the youngest among us and making sure we’re investing in them. We’re all in this together.
“The next election isn’t about one person,” Ellison said pointing to himself. “It’s more about what we are all about as a country. It’s not about personalities; it’s about policies. We want to change the political paradigm.” One wondered how it is that Ellison’s district could bump up against that of Michele Bachmann, who just days before announced that she would not be seeking re-election. The woman who personified personal gain over public good in her tenure literally occupies the neighboring congressional district to Ellison.
“We’ll be doing this at the grass-roots level,” Ellison explained. “We’ll be registering new voters who have just turned 18, we’ll be talking to new Americans and we’ll go into apartment buildings where the disabled live. We’ll meet them where they are. Every congressional district has 700,000 voters. We need to get them to the polls; to help them understand that their vote matters. If Franklin Roosevelt could govern from a wheel chair, we need to let people with disabilities to know that their ideas count.”
The best comment from the group came from Lamar, a Vietnam veteran who reminded the audience and Ellison that when he put his uniform on to fight for his country, he didn’t fight for Republicans or Democrats, he fought for America. Lamar expressed his frustration at the gridlock in D.C. Although Ellison had no immediate answers on how to solve the crisis, the solution remains simple, if not easy. More Americans need to become as smart as Lamar or embrace Ellison’s campaign motto of Everybody Counts. Everybody Matters.