|Event Program Cover|
I witnessed a hotel ballroom. Women dressed up, men in jackets and ties. Dinner. Speeches. Congratulations. Thank-yous.
In the event readers have never been to a political party function let me offer an up- close description. The purpose is to strengthen the party institution. Its leaders meet its activists. The organization recognizes and awards plaques to its most active volunteers. There is a "headliner" guest speaker who validates the organization and speaks to the importance of its mission.
Here is what happened at the 8th Annual Wayne Morse Gala, held at the Hilton Hotel in Portland. It was the annual fundraising and organization-building event for the Democratic Party of Oregon.
1. Invitations were sent, by email. Invitees were told to save the date and to buy tickets to the dinner at a price of $125 each. The headliner was to be Keith Ellison, a progressive congressman from Minneapolis and a suburb. In a divisive fight he lost to Tom Perez for the role of head of the Democratic National Committee. Bernie Sanders supported Ellison; Perez had the support of the more "establishment" Democrats. Immediately after losing Perez asked Ellison to serve as Deputy Chair, and he accepted.
|Mix and Mingle with the Governor|
2. The VIP Mingle Period. The venue was the Hilton Hotel penthouse meeting space.. As is common in events of this kind there are two events, one after the other. There is a VIP event then a larger event. The VIP event is for the various party leaders including elected officials, plus major donors and activists, to mingle with each other and the headliner. Something of this sort happens in most fundraising events. In this case people who were members of the President's Circle (i.e. $1,000 per year donors in this case) were invited, as were leaders from the major support groups of the Democratic Party in Oregon. Especially visible were leaders from the SEIU, a public employee union. About 200 people mingled in a 23rd floor view site meeting area.
|Dem. Party Exec. Director|
This is a time and place for chance meetings where issues can be discussed one on one. Debra Lee, attorney and Executive Director of my local Legal Services program bumped into the State Senator , Michael Dembrow, whose committee is dealing with an issue of special importance to them both, the rules and funding mechanism for providing guardianships to seniors with dementia who have no obvious family member to play that role. Her Legal Services program does that work.
|Gov. Kate Brown, Debra Lee, and State Sen. Michael Dembrow|
|Bad selfie with State Treasurer Tobias Read|
In this case the VIP mix and mingle period lasted an hour and fifteen minutes.
3. The big event. Downstairs in the big Hilton ballroom the venue was set up with a lectern, two big screens to create a large video version of the speaker, and about 150 round tables set up for ten people each. It was crowded. It was a "plated" event, i.e. servers brought out the main meal, which was hard to do. The tables were close together and the room was packed. They dealt with it by putting out the salads and desserts in advance because there was so little time to serve them separately. It meant the tables were filled to capacity with plates, centerpiece, bottles of donated wine, salads, dessert, goblets.
There was a subtle message in the look of the tables: there are a lot of Democrats here today.
The Democratic Party Chair, Jeanne Atkins, was the MC. There was the Pledge of Allegiance then a move directly to awards and recognitions and thank you mentions of donors. This period of the program went on for over an hour. The crowd was restless and there was lots of table talk during this period but the program organizers and MC ignored this cue. A field organizer in Eastern Oregon was retiring and there were two long speeches plus a videotaped congratulation from Ron Wyden: fifteen minutes total. Other awardees got nearly similar treatment.
There was some prep work done in advance of this. I had received a phone call from Ellen Rosenbaum, the state's attorney general, a Democrat, and she said she had the duty of pre-arranging some gifts so that people would be counted on to announce a major gift. For this kind of fundraising to feel energizing to the audience it needs to go quickly and the person doing the "ask" needs to know that gifts are ready to come in at the announced level. Ideally the person doing the ask has an enthusiastic manner made more enthusiastic as people shout out gifts and ideally that person knows the identity of the donor so the asker can thank the donor by name keep the patter going, e.g. "That's John and Mary Doe, thank you, they are from Eugene, is there anyone else from Eugene? Another Duck? Surely there is a Beaver here who will join them, one more donor? Yes! That is the Smith's from Beaverton, a Duck from Beaverton, thank you, anyone else?," etc.
I estimate it raised about $25,000 from gifts announced at that time.
|Good retail skills|
Portland area congressman Earl Blumenhauer introduced Keith Ellison. Ellison is black and he converted to Islam as a young man. He spoke partially in the manner familiar in black Christian churches, an oratorical style including call and response, fluidity, and a call to action. It is more like Martin Luther King than Hillary, Bernie, or Trump.
|Headline Speech: "Hug out our differences."|
Ellison spoke for exactly 30 minutes. The theme and content of the speech was party unity. He acknowledged the Bernie/Hillary divide in the party and said we should "hug it out." He urged the people in the room to understand our obligation to reach out and build community. We cannot tell people how to vote if we do not lay a groundwork of knowledge and empathy. He said nothing about any issue beyond opposing Trump and his attack on progressive change.
He finished at 10:00 p.m.
The MC Jeanne Atkins said thanks and goodbyes to a crowd that was standing and filing to the door. The Gala event in the ballroom lasted three hours. Democrats celebrated being Democrats. Democrats saw each other and mingled. The meeting was about institution building, and the institution was the Democratic Party of Oregon.