To young Democrats, a call to action

Ex-aide to Obama addresses convention article page player in wide format.
By Erin Ailworth
Globe Staff / June 7, 2009
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SPRINGFIELD - The ballot box is your weapon, he told them, so use it often.

Speaking before a crowd of about 90 young Democrats gathered at the party's state convention, former Obama adviser David Plouffe laid the political success of President Obama at their feet.

Young people, Plouffe said, made change possible. They turned out in droves to vote - if they were old enough - and urged their family and friends to hit the ballot box. They organized, knocked on doors, made countless phone calls.

"Your generation is not going to be leading 50 years from now. Your generation is leading now," Plouffe said. "Time and again, young people defied the skeptics."

And they need to keep doing so, said Plouffe, who recently signed onto Governor Deval Patrick's 2010 bid for reelection.

"Politics is the way we settle disputes in this country," Plouffe said.

Even as Massachusetts politicians finished a daunting week of political setbacks with the indictment of Salvatore F. DiMasi, former House speaker, and two associates, Plouffe's words to the young crowd seemed to rally many.

"Even though we can't vote, we can break other people's apathy," said Hannah Arrighi, 16.

Arrighi, a member of the Massachusetts chapter of Young Democrats of America, said she first got interested in politics at the age of 7 when the Bush-Gore presidential campaign became heated.

Tatiana Matthews and Rachel Kalman, both 19, said they campaigned for Obama on their college campuses.

"I've never seen any candidate put so much stake in us," said Matthews of Gloucester, who is studying public policy and education policy at the University of Virginia.

It was nice to be able to feel accountable for helping Obama get elected, Kalman said. As for the recent political scandals, she said she hopes the local Democratic Party takes this as an opportunity to "step back" and recognize that reform is needed.

"If anything, it's going to inspire people," said Chris Cecchin, 17, of Boston, a member of Young Democrats of America. "It's going to make them want to get involved. It shows us why we need to."

Older voters at the convention agreed.

"There is a need for cleaning the house up as far as ethics," said Charles Motta, a member of the Mattapoisett School Committee. He was among the more than 2,600 delegates who turned out for the annual convention.

In an interview before his speech to the young Democrats, he declined to comment about this week's announcement that he would work on Patrick's 2010 bid for reelection, saying "we're not in campaign season yet."

"I think right now he's just focused on passing these much-needed reforms and focused on energy and healthcare," Plouffe said. "Change is hard. It's never going to be done overnight. You're going to have some setbacks."

Plouffe also wouldn't specifically say whether he thought Obama would put his weight behind Patrick's bid.

"Obviously, they have a very close relationship," he said, "and Deval Patrick was a friend to us in the campaign and someone we all have enormous respect for."

Out on the floor, convention attendees voted on issues that would form the Democrats' platform by shouting "aye" and "nay" under the guidance of a man wielding a microphone inside the MassMutual Center arena. A few browsed the tables outside, where attendees could learn more about Democrats like US Senator John F. Kerry and state Attorney General Martha Coakley, or pick up a T-shirt decorated with a donkey, the Democratic Party mascot.

Edith Mazzer, 85, watched the voting in the arena. The Pittsfield resident said she hadn't missed a convention in 62 years.

"I will always be one, a Democrat, until I die," she said.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at