The manifold and seemingly enthusiastic community of Missoula supporters for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean met last Wednesday night as part of the Dean 2004 National Meetup day. The event takes place once a month, and is coordinated through the website Meetup.com, a site that brings citizens face-to-face to discuss issues of interest or concern. Nearly 40 individuals overlooked frigid temperatures and bad roads to attend the meeting. As they slowly trickled into the chilly, second floor meeting room at the Union Hall, they removed their coats and winter hats and sat around introducing themselves to the group. There were doctors and lawyers, students and businessmen, activists and homemakers. Based on the introductions, participants shared two things: the interconnectivity of the Internet that brought them together, and the unshakable belief that President George W. Bush has got to go.
Chris Winne, a research scientist at the University of Montana and self-described facilitator by default, said he had been attending Dean meetups since March, when there were only five people in attendance.
“This is all from the Dean campaign,” Winne told those gathered as he placed two small stacks of envelopes on the table in front of him. “They want us to write letters.” For Missoula’s Dean supporters, it was a night to solicit the support of Democrats in Arizona and New Mexico with personal letters, followed by a keen discussion of issues ranging from healthcare to education to gay rights and the economy.
When asked how much control the Dean campaign had over the meetups, Winnie said none, and pointed to the bag full of handwritten letters in his hand. “This is it. They send a packet for us to write letters.” John Wolverton, from Turah, said that the Dean campaign is not nearly so hierarchically top-down as most campaigns. “Typically, the special interests facilitate and energize the local base,” he said. “In this case, the local base does everything.”