Monday, June 16, 2014

Inside The DFA Questionnaire, Parts 1&2: Who Are You? What Inspired You?

Full Disclosure: I LOVE DFA (Democracy for America)!!

(me w Jim Dean, 2014 AZ DFA Workshop)

At a time when I feared America was at its lowest point, Howard Dean's 2004 campaign for president was the jolt that got my heart pumping again. I howled when the news media turned Howard's howl into a kiss of death and cheered when DFA( under the leadership of Howard's brother Jim) rose to be a powerhouse in Democratic politics. & then, I actually started into politics and met AZ's DFA leaders like Joe Murphy, Randall Holmes, Ken Lakind, Karyn Lathan and Toby Stahl, I was thrilled to be part of a group that fights for politics on every level, in every district. In 2012, I went through the AZ DFA candidate course (and liked it so much I snuck in to the 2014 training session just to hang out ... and for the lunch, I admit it!). I still study the DFA candidates' manual and recommend it highly for any 1st time candidate.   In 2013 I even went so far as to join the push to expand AZ's DFA presence outside of Maricopa County and signed on the dotted line for the charter for AZ's statewide DFA chapter.

My DFA endorsement application writing process was a highlight of my 2012 campaign. You learn so much who you are and what you value creating the multiple 500 word essays that make up the questionnaire.
You can read my 2012 application stub here. When I look through it, I can tell that I am different. I hope that means I've grown--
My name is Mikel Weisser, a native Texan, lifelong Democrat and one of the leading voices fighting for change in our state. My campaign slogan is “Tell the Right They’re Wrong!” I've been fighting the right for the past 25 yrs myself and know now is the time for we as a people and Democrats as a party to act.
I know about action. I first took action for a cause when I was 10 yrs old and stood up to my racist dad over having black kids at my birthday party. I first joined an organized cause when I walked into a farm workers strike at 19. Currently I’m vice chair of the state party’s progressive caucus, a charter member of our state’s statewide DFA chapter, state party regional coordinator for the legislative races in my congressional district, legislative liaison and executive director of Safer AZ, our state cannabis reform PAC, in addition to serving as secretary of my county party and still being one of the state’s more popular poets and leading rural arts organizers. My youth poetry projects ran more than 5yrs, our community book festival, which I host, is now in its 10th year and the musical open mic I created for my local Democratic party just celebrated its first year anniversary.
Juggling these roles and a few dozen more, I travel thousands of miles every month, developing the grassroots Democratic organization we must have if rural AZ is ever going to join the 21st century. A former teen runaway and plumber, I didn’t go to college until I was 30 and didn’t know how to type till I was 27. I put myself through college working first as a carnie and later as homeless shelter administrator. Along the way, I’ve collected two Masters Degrees, published hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles (mostly political humor), self published several collections of poetry, and taught thousands of kids US History and Government.
And that’s how I knew I had to take on the larger role of reformer, of candidate. Each year we would start and end the school year w the INS citizenship test and watch “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” After a dozen years of that formula, and assisting in my wife's 2010 state senate campaign, I stepped up to lead my local Occupy movement and, while at a demonstration, when AZ announced the new congressional districts in 2012, someone asked me to take on the race. I did and experienced the greatest adventure I have had in what has been a very adventurous lifetime. In the end, while teaching full-time, I lost the primary by 19 votes and committed to my supporters to not give up. I would stay active and build for 3 cycles, commit to a long-range grassroots strategy to rebuild the culture and plant the desert blue.
I left teaching one year ago to campaign full-time, continue, as best I could, to create poetry and music shows in communities that have no active culture, train rural candidates and parties, learn the people and the problems we can fix. Inspire myself by inspiring others and hopefully change the world.


There are a thousand threads come together to make a moment like this; but, without any doubt, my wife, Beth Weisser’s, 2010 state senate campaign was the most important inspiration when I decided to launch my original 2012 campaign. 
(2014 campaign shot)

In summer of 2010 I was off doing my annual touring poet adventure and came home to find Beth’s campaign in full swing. At that point I had been an activist for more than 20 yrs and a Democratic volunteer for half a dozen. But her courage to stand up for what she believed in, to face a public that was majority opposition, to teach herself a whole new field of expertise and network of individuals and organizations, her ingenuity, practical creativity and drive were the inspiration that showed me how important it was to have an Arizonan populist progressive movement rise right now. I was even more profoundly struck by the fact the skills I’d gained as an educator, activist, organizer and entertainer were the same skills it takes to be the kind of leader who could help create that kind of movement.
 I have a line in my most famous poem, “Vocal Javelins,” that reads, “If we all wait for someone else to do it then we’ll never get it done.” America is ready to reject the disastrous “conservative values agenda” that’s been devastating our country for the past 40 yrs. Their appalling record of abuse and mean-spiritedness over the most recent 20yrs and the threats their policies and behaviors currently pose are an inspiration all by itself—it’s called outrage. Despite the GOP’s relentless propaganda campaign, American citizens are growing more progressive: in lifestyles, in priorities, in agendas for the future. Elsewhere citizens and Democrats are beginning to rise; but here in the west, in the rural “Real America,“ we keep waiting for someone more polished and trained, someone with more money and connections to take the reins and nothing happens. I decided to fight because the perils of not fighting for an America I believe in were far scarier than the thought of “losing.” We’re taught to believe that the winning matters more than the fight and it paralyzes us. The very immensity of the challenge of running for Congress in an R+15 district, and the fact no else had the courage to try it, became an inspiration in itself.

Then in 2014, after 6 months of traveling the district full-time to build the party, I was profoundly inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s 2013 book, David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits & the Art of Battling Giants. I had spent my adult life battling the giants of my time on street corners, in classrooms and on op-ed pages, standing up for the little guy, taking on the bullies; but I had not realized the power of being the underdog or the importance of fighting for the oppressed, or how my life had built me for this fight … until that moment. Since then the path is clear: Ever up.

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