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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006
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Charlene Wakefield

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke conducts a town hall–style campaign event in Keene.

Voices / Viewpoint

Sharing a passion for Beto

A reluctant mom, persuaded by her daughter to go to a presidential campaign rally, gets up close and personal in Keene with Democratic contender Beto O’Rourke

Charlene Wakefield, president of Write Action, is an artist and writer whose work has been published in The Best of Write Action, The Cracker Barrel, and Chrysalis Reader, and also in these pages.

Westminster West

I had not been following the Democratic primary race. There are too many candidates for me to sort through, so I’ve just been waiting until the field narrows down.

But then my daughter called from California.

“Mom, Beto is going to be at Keene State tomorrow. Will you go? I hope you will,” Asia said.

“I’ve been reading all his policies, and even though I like most of the Democratic candidates, he’s the only one that I agree with completely,” she continued. “Each of the others has a little something that I don’t quite go along with. But not Beto — he has everything just right.”

“Will you go?” she asked.

She sounded so hopeful and enthusiastic, I hated to tell her I was still waiting before getting involved. And besides, Keene is half an hour away, and it would be dark by the time the event was over. I don’t do well driving in the dark.

“We’ll see,” I told her. When my father used to say, “We’ll see,” it always meant “no,” but I decided to keep it open as a possibility.

“Oh, I hope you do,” she said, and she sounded so passionate that I started wanting to go just for her.

The next morning I’m more awake, have a little more energy and entertain the idea more seriously. I open the website and look at the RSVP button and before I know it, I find myself clicking on it, filling in my name and email. Hmm — I guess I’m going.

I emailed Asia to tell her.

I called a couple of friends to see if they’d like to go, too, but no luck there.

That’s okay, I told myself. I’m good at doing stuff by myself. It gives me a chance to talk to strangers.

* * *

Down at the far end of the long, open building a small crowd seemed to be gathering, so that’s where I went. I chose right. Amid the people milling around, many of them filling out papers on clipboards was a table staffed with people wearing “Beto for America” stickers.

“Were you able to sign up online?” a young man asked.

I nodded, proud of myself for managing such a task, and he located my name on his list and handed me my own clipboard and paper to fill out.

When I was done, I got my own Beto for America sticker. I followed a volunteer’s pointing finger up the stairs, where a meandering line formed outside closed double doors. On nearby benches, people made themselves comfortable.

I walked over and took an empty spot next to a woman with a cane. She lives in Brookline and is a guardian ad litem in Windham County. She’s 83, and the cane is for her osteoporosis. We talked about being GALs, which I did myself several years ago. I also talked to the woman on the other side of me. She’s 70, from Keene, and has arthritis, which has stopped her from being able to knit anymore.

She was here to see the former vice president, now-candidate Joe Biden a couple of weeks ago, and he didn’t get started until two hours after the time he was scheduled to begin. I realized that I shouldn’t get my hopes up even though it was four minutes until 5:30.

We chatted some more, commenting that if politicians want to make a good impression, being punctual is probably something they should consider.

Eventually the doors opened, and in we went.

There, a limited number of seats — many of them in a 5- to 6-foot circle near the front of the large room and others far back along the walls — filled quickly, prompting volunteers to move more audience members into the circle, leaving standing room.

The volunteers encouraged people to move increasingly closer and more tightly around the center of the circle, an actual wooden soapbox. Beto must like being close to the people, which is a good attribute, I observed.

Then, following introductions and catchy music, eventually Beto showed up to cheers and clapping. He stood in the middle of the circle, enveloped by people.

* * *

Beto, wearing chinos, a long-sleeved blue button-down shirt with the cuffs rolled back, and a baseball cap, didn’t need the soapbox — he’s really tall. And young. He’ll be 47 in a couple of months.

He spoke for a while and covered topics starting with climate change and moving to health care and immigration, which seems to be his passion.

He talked about the children being separated from their parents, about our country as a place that should be welcoming to those in need, of the horrors he’s seen with children housed in cages. He then went on to talk about weapons of mass destruction.

He is so well-spoken that I was really impressed. He speaks clearly in good English without pauses or hesitations — fluid speech that’s not only literate but easy to follow, making his points well and without repetition. He trusted us to understand and follow what he was saying, and he made that easy for us.

Then he took questions. As he answered, he always thanked them by name for their questions. He looked at the people who asked and made sure to address the entire question if it had more than one part.

One woman took the traveling mike and told him that she’s 83. She didn’t have a question but wanted to thank him for his concern about the future of the planet, for wanting to make it a place where her four great-grandchildren can live.

He thanked her and asked her if she’d like to join him as he moves around the country campaigning.

A heavily tattooed man with a closely shaven head and black leather vest said he’s a Trump supporter but willing to listen to all sides. He’s concerned about losing his guns.

Beto explained that his proposals limit just the assault weapons, which are designed for the sole purpose of brutally killing people in large numbers. He said he doesn’t want to take away guns that people own to protect themselves in their homes, or guns for hunting or even for target practice.

An environmental activist asked him if he will vow to halt all non-renewable energy on his first day in office. Beto responded that restricting power to so many all at once would put people out of work, cut off their heat, and remove them from their homes. Doing so would stop transportation. Food would spoil.

He did, however, promise to start the process of eliminating non-renewable energy as soon as he is elected, acknowledging that doing so will take years.

* * *

I wanted to ask a question myself, but there would be time for only two more, so I didn’t raise my hand. As it happened, I didn’t need to ask — the next person to receive the traveling mike asked my question for me: Does he have a plan to address the divisiveness that is splitting our country so disastrously?

Beto said the healing should start at the top, with our elected representatives and senators getting together across the aisle and working to find common ground, setting an example, and passing their achievements down to their constituents.

When he was done, he walked through the crowd to sit at a table where he’d talk to people individually and be available for photos.

On his way by, he shook hands with audience members. I was one of them.

I told him that my daughter teaches English to children in the East Palo Alto, Calif., schools — children who are new-comers to this country — and that she insisted that I come to see him tonight.

He said, “Tell your daughter thank you — not just for telling you to come, but for what she’s doing.”

* * *

I skipped having my picture taken (I’d been taking my own while he spoke anyway) and went home. It was the first time I’d tried driving after sunset since I had my cataract removed and gotten my pockmarked windshield replaced , so my hopes were up. And, miracle of miracles, I could see just fine, as far as I needed to. This realization alone made my evening out worth it.

I got home to six messages on my machine.

The first one was from Asia: “Mom, I’m so proud of you! Call me! I want to hear all about it!”

The second was from Asia, too: “You wore your specked down jacket to see him? And your hair — is it in a tiny braid? It looks so cute!”

The third was Asia again: “Are you taking a picture of Beto for me?”

The last one was Asia once more.

“I know I’m getting obsessive, but I’m so proud of you for going! Are you wearing your turquoise scarf? Thank you so much for going! Call me!”

I got on my computer, checked my email, and got a message from Mike, Asia’s husband, with the subject line “We See You.” He’s sent a photo of me, sitting there in the circle surrounding Beto, listening.

The world sure has changed!

I called Asia, and her animated voice got me excited all over again. I conveyed Beto’s message, and she could barely contain herself. She couldn’t thank me enough for having gone.

But I couldn’t thank her enough for sending me, and for giving me the opportunity to share her passion.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #527 (Wednesday, September 11, 2019). This story appeared on page D1.

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