Jan. 24 seemed a good fit with my schedule, so I signed up, figuring I could give a Saturday to the campaign. Then Iowa's perfect storm didn't turn out quite the way everyone anticipated, and I had another reason to make the drive--to reassure myself that other volunteers, people I only knew through reading their posts on e-mail lists were still enthusiastic and charged up.
I gassed up at 7:30, picked up somebody else's breakfast order at the drive through, and arrived at the Dean HQ in Florence, S.C., a little before 11. Sridar and Jenna from Cary and Steve from Raleigh are also there, as well as a half-dozen volunteers who've made the trip down from D.C. in a rented minivan for the weekend.
While there were probably better things for us to do, we end up carpooling to Columbia to wave signs and cheer at a Generation Dean rally at the Capitol steps. The recently relocated Confederate battle flag waves high in the air in front of us.
There are about 50 of us, an ethnically diverse group skewed towards college age, but a fair number of 30- and 40-somethings, as well. Jesse Jackson Jr. was supposed to speak, but a scheduling conflict has held him up, and he'll be down later in the week. Major Owens, the Brooklyn congressman, who was one of the first African-American political leaders to endorse Dean, has flown down to speak, and will continue to campaign until the primary, as well.
Another speaker was Ralph C. Dawson, one of Dean's college roommates at Yale. Dawson, a Charleston, S.C., native, spoke briefly and warmly about the qualities of the man he has maintained a friendship with for nearly 40 years.
By now, the story of Dean's request to room with African-American students at the then-nearly all-white university is widely known. But at the time, neither Dawson nor Don Roman, another African-American who ended up sharing a suite during their freshman year, was aware of Dean's request. Dawson says that Dean's real thirst for knowledge, which he contrasted with George Bush's self-professed lack of curiosity about the world, is one of Dean's strong points. "He doesn't try to take credit for his accomplishments," Dawson says of his friend. "He was courageous and forward thinking then, and he is now."
Dawson, who practices labor law at the New York office of Fulbright and Jaworski, intends to keep campaigning for his ex-roommate and still friend. He cites Dean's 12 years as Vermont governor, balancing budgets and shepherding legislation, as critical experience for a chief executive. He also defended Dean from charges leveled by other Democratic candidates when the former Governor declared that the capture of Saddam Hussein on Dec. 13th had not made Americans any safer.
"Howard has more than a surface understanding" of what's going on, Dawson says. The statistics bear him out. Over 40 American troops have been killed in hostile incidents in the six weeks since Hussein's capture.