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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Friday Night Lights

There's a Friday night tradition here in Texas, a tradition that stretches from two stoplight towns in the windy Panhandle to crowds of thousands in the Valley. It includes stadiums full of screaming fans who are closer to their 20 Year Reunions than they are to graduation to Six Man contests that shut down whole burgs, ranging from oilfield towns in West Texas to the suburbs of Dallas/Ft. Worth to inside the Beltway in Houston.

Football is King in Texas, and the "Friday night lights" of football stadiums of every size imaginable are football's court.

H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger wrote about this tradition as it played out in Odessa, Texas in 1988 in his book Friday Night Lights. Last Friday night in the Adam's Mark Hotel in Dallas, Texas, the Young Democrats of America celebrated Friday night lights of a different kind featuring a political gridiron of John Edwards, Jon Soltz and Chuck Rocha.

Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards spoke first, echoing his core themes of social justice, global responsibility and the need for all of us in attendance to "be the leaders we've been waiting for." I want to avoid going into a litany of "he said this, then he said that, etc.;" any one of us can go to John Edwards' campaign website and read his stances on individual policies. What I thought was so exceptional about his speech was that the discussions of policy were all framed in the language of a larger call to action. Since JFK's admonition of "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," all calls to service greater than ones self have been labeled as "Kennedy-esque." That's a label that I hate to apply to anyone because I think that its namesake's greatness somehow minimizes the person's agenda it is used to describe, but this application is inevitable when you hear John Edwards speak.

His speech on Friday night didn't take the form of a laundry list of policy prescriptions. It wove several ideas about policy (universal health care without exemption based on pre-existing conditions, access to college and the use of markets for carbon dioxide auction) together into the larger narrative of we ought to do. Not "I" or "me" or "you," but "we." His broader call to action evoked some of the bigger questions I've been kicking around in my head these last two weeks since seeing "SiCKO." Edwards' rousing proclamation of "never again in America" made me think back to one of the most gripping moments of "SiCKO" where Michael Moore asks "Who are we? How did we get to this point?"

The ideas that John Edwards discussed tonight spoke to the need for all of us to take action, to take responsibility and to get involved now, not later. Once more echoing both John and Robert Kennedy, Edwards told the crowd "No candidate can change this country alone; it requires a movement. It requires you." Last Friday night, John Edwards was a candidate with something more than just answers; he was a candidate with a dream to offer the YDA convention-goers, a dream that can only be had with lots of hard work, sacrifice and engagement.

As hard an act as John Edwards would have been to follow for anyone tonight, Captain Jon Soltz of VoteVets.Org stepped up to the podium next to share his story of coming back from serving in Iraq to find that while he had left Iraq, Iraq had not left him. His trips to the VA spurred his interest in advocating for Iraq veterans and his meeting with decorated Vietnam veteran John Kerry helped him to launch VoteVets.Org, an organization highlighted in his recent interview with The Texas Blue.

With the success of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the 2006 midterm Congressional elections as a backdrop, Soltz shared some of VoteVets' hard hitting political ads that they took into Republican districts and Republican-leaning elections in 2006; all I can say is that their strength was undeniable. I will eagerly await the VoteVets slate of candidates for the upcoming 2008 cycle as well as their ads, some of which I hope we might see here in Texas.

The final political speaker of the evening was Chuck Rocha, Political Director for the United Steelworkers. Chuck's a Texas guy, hailing from Tyler. He proudly holds himself out as a "crazy redneck Mexican" from East Texas who was invited to his first Democratic Party meeting in Tyler because he had a truck and could help move stuff (an experience shared by this truck-driving author). I didn't know anything about Chuck before his speech other than his current occupation and that he worked with the Gephardt campaign in 2004. The best way I can describe him is as the kind of speaker that would make Ann Richards stand up and pump her fist. He's a bare knuckles Democrat; he didn't speak about specific issues but instead spoke about how young people need to be a part of the solution right now instead of waiting for our turn. As he walked off stage after a five minute speech, I felt like I would go into any political battle with him anytime and anywhere.

With what I heard last Friday night, I believe our Democratic field will mirror the trajectory Mojo followed from the 1988 season to the 1989 season. Just as John Kerry and John Edwards lost a heartbreakingly close Presidential contest to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in 2004, I believe that whomever our nominee is will win in 2008 as we win a true majority in the Senate and expand our majority in the House, just as the Permian Panthers built on their heartbreak of 1988 to win the Texas State Championship in 1989. With the lineup present at YDA's political Friday night lights, it seems more than merely possible; it seems there for the taking.

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