By Michele Bourdieu
HOUGHTON -- Kate Griffith, 18, of Calumet and Allouez Township, voted for the first time this past November. Now a student at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, she just happened to be home from college and able to attend the local Presidential Inaugural Ball and Dinner sponsored by the MTU Dems / Houghton County Democrats on Jan. 17 at Michigan Tech.
Kate Griffith, daughter of John and Jane Griffith of Calumet and Allouez Township, celebrates her first voting experience and Obama's victory during the Presidential Inaugural Ball, sponsored by the Michigan Tech Dems and the Houghton County Democrats on Jan. 17 at MTU. (Photo © 2009 Gustavo Bourdieu)
"I'm excited and ecstatic and relieved and ... just so happy," Kate said. "On election night we were all in the dorms at Roger Williams and we were like, 'O.K., eleven o'clock, California's coming in, Hawaii's coming in -- he (Obama) could be announced as the official winner.'"
When the announcement came -- at 11 p.m. -- that Barack Obama would be the 44th President of the United States, Kate added, students all over campus were screaming, cheering and laughing with excitement.
"We all just ran outside and screamed at the top of our lungs, like ... all over the campus everyone was doing the same thing," she added. "I just started crying I was so happy."
Kate said it was "incredible" that her first year of college, first year voting (she voted for Obama) coincided with this event.
"It was such a big election, and I got to vote," she said.
She volunteered for the Roger Williams Democrats and the Rhode Island Democrats during the campaign and canvassed for Obama and local Democratic candidates in New Hampshire.
"Afterwards there was a rally with John Kerry, so I got to shake John Kerry's hand. It was cool," Kate added. "It was awesome!"
Kate's parents, John and Jane Griffith, both active Democrats, are in Washington, D. C., now enjoying the Inauguration festivities.
Rep. Mike Lahti, re-elected last November to a second term representing the 110th District in the Michigan legislature, spoke to the group and thanked the MTU Dems and Houghton County Dems for their work.
State Rep. Mike Lahti addresses Democrats -- young and old -- during the Presidential Inaugural Ball and Dinner sponsored by the MTU Dems / Houghton County Democrats on Jan. 17 in the Memorial Union Ballroom at Michigan Tech. (Photo © 2009 Gustavo Bourdieu)
"We're here tonight to celebrate a historic event," Lahti said.
He said Barack Obama succeeded in becoming the first African-American President by uniting and inspiring people of all races.
"And he did it by really hard work and inspiring people to give him some money, to give him volunteers; and it was fantastic," Lahti said. "My wife Sharon knocked on a few doors, and occasionally she mentioned that her husband Mike was also running."
State Rep. Mike Lahti visits with fellow Democrats and supporters during the Inaugural Ball and Dinner Jan. 17 at MTU. (Photo © 2009 Michele Bourdieu)
Lahti said in these tough times the job (of President) seems insurmountable.
"But I think Barack Obama with his intelligence, insight and willingness to listen to varying opinions makes him the right man for the job," Lahti noted. "It's time for the country to unite behind Obama and get the country moving again."
Uncle Pete's Allstar BBQ Blues Band provides music for dancing at the Presidential Inaugural Ball held Jan. 17 in MTU's Memorial Union Ballroom. (Photo © 2009 Gustavo Bourdieu)
Phil Musser, chairman of the Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation (MTEC) Smart Zone and executive director of the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance (KEDA), said, despite negative economic news, he was optimistic about the local economic situation because of local companies that are currently expanding and hiring.
"There are a lot of good things going on in this economy," Musser said, "and it just shows the value of, over the years, having been really concentrated on growing our own companies here, helping our entrepreneurs who are committed to staying here."
Ann Pace of Hancock said she felt "Euphoric" about Obama's victory. She and her husband, Hancock City Councilman John Slivon, attended the Presidential Inauguration Ball Jan. 17 at MTU. (Photo © 2009 Gustavo Bourdieu)
"Euphoric" was the reaction to Obama's victory expressed by Hancock resident Ann Pace, who attended the Houghton Dems Inaugural event with her husband John Slivon. She said she felt euphoria at the possibilities that Obama's victory presents. Besides campaigning for her husband's non-partisan position on the Hancock City Council last fall, Pace campaigned in Hancock neighborhoods for Democratic candidates and hosted a neighborhood meeting with Mike Levin, Copper Country field organizer for Obama's Campaign for Change.
A recorded message from Mike Levin was included in the multi-media presentation following the Democrats' dinner. He thanked local campaigners for their hospitality and hard work. The video presentation also included messages from other campaign organizers unable to attend the event.
U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menomenee) spoke to the group from Washington, D.C., where he was preparing to attend the Inauguration ceremony.*
One of the youngest Democrats at the event was Cassandra Sterns, a high school student from Hurley, Wisconsin.
Cassandra Sterns of Hurley, Wis., too young to vote, campaigned for Obama. (Photo © 2009 Gustavo Bourdieu)
"My uncle was over in Iraq," she said, "and he voted for Obama."
Sterns said her father, who lives in Illinois, was able to attend Obama's acceptance speech on Election Night in Chicago. Since she had school the next day, she couldn't go to Chicago and felt sad that she missed it.
"Anybody can be anything now," Sterns noted. "It's not limited to your race or your gender, because Hillary ran (she admitted being a Hillary supporter at first)."
Despite being too young to vote and having to deal with cold Wisconsin weather, Sterns put Obama campaign materials on doors in Hurley and a nearby town just before the November election.
Mary Hoffman Hunt said she rented and ran the Houghton County Democrats' Calumet office because a knee injury kept her from campaigning door-to-door last fall. Instead, she sat and chatted with people who walked in the door.
"It was an experimental outpost," Hunt said of the Calumet office. "The only reason (people) walked in the door was that they wanted an Obama yard sign."
People from Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor (Keweenaw County) who came to shop in Calumet also stopped in the Democrats' office, Hunt added.
"I met the neatest group of people," she said.
At the Inaugural Ball held Jan. 17 at MTU, Mary Hoffman Hunt, who ran the Houghton County Democrats' Calumet office during the campaign last fall, is pictured here with "the three Brians" -- Brian Rendel, left and Brian Hoduski, right, Houghton County Democrats' co-chairs, and Brian Isaksson, second from left, HCD head canvasser. The sign has signatures of local Democratic campaigners. (Photo © 2009 Michele Bourdieu)
Brian Hoduski, Houghton County Democrats co-chair, said the group operated on a minimal budget at the beginning of the campaign, so, unfortunately, the Calumet office didn't have a phone, which would have allowed volunteers to make phone calls.
"Money started rolling in later after people started getting excited," he said.
In his address to the group, thanking the people who worked on the campaign and who helped with the MTU Inaugural Ball, Hoduski said, "Can you imagine what we've been through the last eight years -- it's all going to change."
He said Barack Obama ran on the things that matter to Democrats -- a moral struggle, doing the right thing.
"The thing about Obama that I think is amazing is how he transformed people," Hoduski said. "The intensity of that campaign, people working together....We really did build community, and I see that really manifested in this turnout tonight."
Hoduski added he hoped the Democrats will be able to maintain that community and continue to elect progressive candidates.
Russ Stacy, MTU graduate student in mechanical engineering and acting vice-president of the MTU Dems, was also happy with the turnout -- more than 100 people -- at the local Inaugural Ball.
Seated at the door of MTU's Memorial Union Ballroom are MTU Dems, from right, Russ Stacy, acting vice-president; Kati Stacy; Adrienne Hernandez and Joe Hernandez, MTU Dems secretary and Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering. (Photo © 2009 Michele Bourdieu)
"We had a lot of anticipation going in," Russ said. "We were worried about how many people were going to show up, and it came out with a bang -- a lot of people showed up, great time and no glitches -- so I'm really happy."
Russ said he had to balance school with campaigning last fall, but did a lot of door-to-door campaigning in Lake Linden, where he lives. His wife, Kati Stacy, an MTU graduate in English education, said she also helped with the campaigning and was "thrilled" with the results.
"I'm finally getting old enough to know what's going on with politics and be interested," Kati explained. "It's great to be involved."
* Editor's Note: See U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak's photo of President Barack Obama being sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, and Stupak's message to his constituents.