A Special Kind of Energy

 By Marci Jacobs and Neesa Sweet

A “phenomenal evening,” a “topnotch affair,” an “inspiring night.” This is just a small sampling of the accolades bestowed upon the Tenth Dems Candidate and Volunteer Appreciation Dinner held at the Deerfield Hyatt July 19, 2017, by some of the nearly 300 in attendance.  Even Keynote Speaker Jason Kander, former Missouri Secretary of State, U.S. Senate candidate, head of Let America Vote, and recognized by President Obama as a rising star of the Democratic Party, decisively distinguished this event from the many he attends, noting a “special kind of energy in the room.”

An extensive album of photos from this event can by found at https://www.facebook.com/pg/TenthDems/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1522869657735850

From the delectable food – grilled vegetables, Caesar salad, and a variety of pastas – to the impressive lineup of speakers, to the extraordinary number of hosts, the night was a resounding success.   The festive ballroom, festooned with balloons, township placards, a variety of campaign buttons, and the welcome life-size cutouts of former President Obama and First Lady Michelle, reflected the mood of the evening.

The dinner was held to honor the individuals who took the big step of putting themselves forward to run in this year’s elections and the volunteers who helped them.  The evening’s theme was “Grassroots in Action,” as speaker after speaker told their personal stories and underscored how anyone could and should make a difference at the local level.

Lauren Beth Gash, Founding Chair and 10th District State Central Committeewoman, and Bonnie Berger-Neel and Marguerite Hampton, Co-Chairs, welcomed the crowd and spoke about Tenth Dems.  Dan Pierce, Northshore Sanitary District Trustee and 10th District State Central Committeeman, closed the evening.

The program began with a dedication to the loving memory of Nancie Blatt, one of the founders of Tenth Dems and a tireless lifelong supporter of Democratic and progressive causes.  Numerous grassroots volunteers and up-and-coming Democratic candidates followed.

Jackie Epstein, Leadership Committee, and Danny Ivanov, one of this year’s interns, spoke about community engagement.  Carolyn Rivers, a newly elected Zion Park District Commissioner who has helped run the Tenth Dems Waukegan office, told her personal story of progressing from volunteer to elected official.

Gail Schnitzer Eisenberg, New Trier Township Trustee, recounted her introduction to Democratic politics as a Tenth Dems intern more than a decade ago.  Gail introduced Daniel Didech, newly-elected Vernon Township Supervisor.  Daniel came into township office with a Democratic slate that ousted a slate of entrenched Republicans, and he acknowledged the important role Tenth Dems played in the Democratic victory.

Niki Warden, former Fox Lake Clerk and a candidate in 2016, introduced Waukegan Park District Commissioner Marc Jones, who celebrated the night’s honorees –all the Democrats who ran in the April 2017 local elections and the volunteers who support them and Tenth Dems.  Marc’s energizing speech called all present to action.  As he so eloquently reminded us, the most important things you need when you run for office are “a heart full of grace” and a “soul full of love.”

Former Village of Mundelein Trustee Holly Kim then spoke about the importance of every single vote, as she recounted her loss in the April 2017 election for Mayor of Mundelein by… wait for it… five votes.

Among the other elected officials who addressed the gathering were Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza, State Senator Julie Morrison, some gubernatorial candidates—in person or through surrogates, and our 10th District Congressman Brad Schneider.  Although Brad couldn’t leave D.C. midweek while the House was in session, he arranged to address the gathering via a specially prepared video in which he congratulated the candidates who, win or lose, made the 2017 election such a success for Democrats across the 10th District. Brad also thanked the volunteers who continue to promote our Democratic values.

Keynoter Jason Kander, an advocate for voting rights, an army veteran, and the first millennial to hold statewide office in the United States, inspired the gathering with his easy-going conversational tone and compelling narrative.  Identified by President Obama as a rising Democratic star, Kander narrowly lost a Missouri U.S. Senate race in 2016.  His campaign famously featured a commercial showing him affirming his support for gun safety while assembling a rifle in 30 seconds, blindfolded.  Kander revealed that the motivation for this campaign ad, which went viral, were his “F” rating from the NRA and Wayne LaPierre’s special interest in his candidacy.  LaPierrre personally travelled across the State of Missouri to campaign against Kander.

Kander seemed to be the embodiment of the evening’s theme as he explained how he ran the NRA out of his very red state, by being honest about what he believed in: background checks.  He related that the reason he out-performed every other Missouri Democrat on the 2016 ballot and nearly toppled Republican incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt, was that he “didn’t pretend to be something he was not, a conservative Democrat.” Everyone knew he was a progressive Democrat.  Kander’s philosophy:  voters prefer honesty to being “tricked” or “pandered to.

Kander’s major cause now is voting rights.  He told how, after hearing “the biggest lie ever told by a sitting president” (that millions voted illegally in the 2016 election), he founded Let America Vote, a national organization that pushes back against attempts to restrict voting rights. This cause has become even more critical in the wake of the Trump “voter fraud commission,” which Kander refers to as the more aptly named, “voter suppression commission.”  Kander’s rallying cry is, “If you make it harder to vote, we make it harder for you to get elected.

Kander pointed out that Republicans think the only way they can win is by excluding people from the process, while Democrats know that they win by including people in the process.  In recognition of the importance of national efforts to combat voter suppression and protect voter rights, Tenth Dems presented Kander with a donation to Let America Vote.

Kander reminded the audience that it would take grassroots groups like Tenth Dems to push back against efforts by President Trump and other Republicans to impose their right-wing agenda.  “Americans are not meant to fear the future. They are meant to shape the future,” he said.

Our keynoter ended with a message of hope: “We can be a unifying force because the truth is on our side…and if we all work together, we can save the American dream,” Kander said.  He continued, “Together we can save the American dream from the American nightmare that is Donald Trump!” These final words brought the crowd to its feet, as Kander received a long and enthusiastic standing ovation.

Kander’s acknowledgment of the “special kind of energy in the room,” was spot on.  A big thank you to all the Tenth Dems volunteers and supporters who contributed to the success of this memorable event!

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