Friday, November 11, 2011

Jocelyn Benson explains Nov. 12 "Engage Michigan" to local Democrats

By Michele Bourdieu

Jocelyn Benson (standing) chats with Houghton County Democrats during her Nov. 4, 2011, visit to Houghton. Sharing a pizza at the Keweenaw Brewing Company in Houghton are, from left, Laura Swenson of Hancock; Karl Johnson and his wife, Barbara Nelson, of Calumet; and Janet Gregorich of Painesdale.

HOUGHTON -- On Saturday, Nov. 12, Jocelyn Benson, Wayne State University law professor and former Democratic candidate for Michigan Secretary of State, will chair Engage Michigan -- a convention in Lansing about "values, vision and victories" for Democrats around the state -- an opportunity to share ideas about the future of Michigan.

The Convention, organized by the Michigan Democratic Party, will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Lansing Center, 333 East Michigan Ave. in Lansing (at the corner of North Cedar and East Michigan in downtown Lansing).*

Knowing the distance might prevent Upper Peninsula Democrats from attending the convention, Benson recently visited several towns in the U.P., including Houghton, to present her ideas on Democratic values and vision and to discuss ideas and suggestions that she might take to the convention. She met with a group of Houghton County Democrats on Friday, Nov. 4, at the Keweenaw Brewing Company in Houghton.

Benson first spoke about why she is a Democrat -- her own values and ideas of what government should do for the people it represents.

"I'm a Democrat because we're the party of the people," Benson said. "How can we have a government that invests in our people and helps our people thrive?"

Noting that more than half of the voters in the state of Michigan are not coming out to vote, Benson told the Houghton County group she was still impressed and inspired by energized county Democratic parties "like yourselves" -- willing to come out on a Friday afternoon to have a conversation about improving our state to make sure government reflects our values.

Engage Michigan is a project Benson has been working on for the past year. Its purpose is "to create a space for us to come together where we can have a conversation about how we can work together to engage people in our world," she explained.

Benson asked the group if anyone could say that everyone in their world -- people who share their values -- had voted in the last election. No one could answer affirmatively.

Benson explained how the Engage Michigan convention would allow people of different ages and backgrounds to meet with other Democrats, including some of their state representatives, to share a discussion about Democratic values -- how to talk about them with neighbors and friends who share these values but are not engaged and not voting.

During a Nov. 4, 2011, visit to Houghton, Jocelyn Benson, chair of the Nov. 12 Engage Michigan convention, tells a group of local Democrats, gathered at the Keweenaw Brewing Company in Houghton, about the goals and procedures of the event, which will take place at the Lansing Center.* (Video clip by Keweenaw Now)

"Too often we look to people on the ballot," Benson said. "Every one of you has to be a candidate."

Rather than knocking on doors with a message for people you don't know, Benson advises starting a conversation with neighbors and friends you do know and helping them get engaged.

"It's you talking to the people that trust you that's going to be the factor that changes things," Benson said.

She suggested that each person should try to get five more people who share his or her values and who didn't vote in 2010 to vote in 2012.

"It's our job to get them to vote," she said.

Janet Gregorich of Painesdale noted the last election was very negative. She asked Benson for ideas on how Democrats could counter negative TV ads, for example.

Benson said it takes conversations with people you know, communicating the right message to counter what they may hear and see in the negative ads.

"If we give up, and if we allow the negative talk and allow the people that are benefiting from disengagement to continue to thrive, then the vision we have for our state will never come true," Benson said.

She mentioned the Occupy movement as an example of people coming together around issues, not around politics -- around a vision that they want to see.

Benson asked the group to remember one thing:

"This is what drives me: If we don't fight for that government (a government that represents our values), if we don't fight to get the people we fight for to fight with us -- and engage the people we know, who are close to us (but) who aren't engaged as well -- if we don't do that, nobody else will," Benson said.

Barbara Manninen of Hancock said she would like to see Benson on television.

"You're like a prophet. I like what you're saying, but I don't know why you're not on television," Manninen said. "Can we get you on Rachel Maddow?"

Benson agreed that Rachel Maddow wants us to think.**

Laura Swenson of Hancock was impressed by what Benson had to say.

"She's great!" Swenson said. "Communicating with friends is a good way to get them out to vote so they can vote for their values."

Barbara Nelson of Calumet also had a positive reaction to Benson's ideas. She said she believed Benson would be a good voice for the Democratic Party.

"I think she is fabulous," Nelson said. "I think she's very engaging. I told her I think she could be the next Hillary."

Dorothy Love, former Houghton City Council member, said Benson was right about personal contact.

"The turnout we had in 2008 was due to personal contact," Love said.

Ann Pace of Hancock added, "She (Benson) wants us to engage on the basis of our own personal values. (In other words) We should kick butt!"

Scott Dianda, Houghton County Democratic Party member and former Democratic candidate (2010) for State Representative of Michigan's 110th District, said he was inspired by Benson's talk.

"We're so glad that we have such a fire for the Democratic cause," Dianda said. "She's inspiring for all of us, and we're looking forward to her future in Michigan politics and beyond."

* For information on Engage Michigan, visit the Web site: Registration is still possible on site Saturday if you are in Lansing. If not, you can participate in the discussion and forum on line at

See also the Engage Michigan Facebook Page.

** Rachel Maddow is the host of "The Rachel Maddow Show," which airs on MSNBC at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, and is rebroadcast at midnight Eastern. You can see her show on TV or click here to watch video clips.

No comments: