We are not a nation accustomed to joining together in jubilation. Hurricanes, tornadoes, terror, tragedy—those are the things that connect Americans these days. It’s only natural. When humans are in trouble, we shed the reserve of everyday robo-separateness and seek comfort in each other. Compassion flows from disruption.
But this past week in Montana, thousands of people made a different kind of connection. And holy cow, did we ever need it. In between caramelized onion tarts or boxed dinners, people like Pat Cormier, from Billings, and fur-coat-wearing David Fattah Jr., all the way from Philadelphia, and Kevin Kicking Woman, from Missoula—who sang a Blackfeet song to the crowd—people like those and 4,000-plus others joined in celebration at the Butte Civic Center. They shook banners, pranced in little black dresses, swaggered in cowboy boots, drank too much, talked too loudly, and roared their approval for Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It was as if we were all at a wedding for dearest friends (though it wasn’t clear who’d show up at the altar).
“We need a totally fresh start,” said Betty Haight, a lifelong Democrat from Helena. Hell, yes, the crowd agreed as Sen. Obama took the stage at the Mansfield-Metcalf dinner, where his presence had such a rock star quality, it seemed when he left that we should flick Bics to get an encore. “The pain is actually trickling up,” Obama told the gathering—and then it sank in. Despair, war, fear has burbled around us, zapping us with daily radioactive detritus—bad news, troop deaths, debt—that’s built to dangerously high levels of exposure.
And now we have, well, Dems. “The American people need a president who will get up every single day and work her heart out,” Sen. Clinton told Butte, and hearing that pronoun—her—double-pumped the euphoria. The relief at having two strong, progressive, smart, responsive, funny people running for president was enough to make people feel like they were levitating.
Did you go? Were you there? Whether they’re referring to Butte, the Adams Center (or Washington-Grizzly Stadium), or the Missoula airport, people are asking each other standing in line at the store, sitting at the bar, waiting at the gas pump, baking in the sauna. Wasn’t it amazing? For days to come, we’ll have a connection based on something worth holding onto—a vantage point from which to see the future, and each other.