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Howard Dean and me



In less than a week, North Carolinians will vote their presidential preference, and then... well, I don't really know what my life will be like. For the last eight months, I gave myself over to Dean for America. Everything else fell by the wayside.

I sang your praises in barbershops, grocery stores, historically black colleges, public-health associations, Latino festivals, drag- queen bingo games, unemployment centers in Fort Sumter and Sheboygan, Head Start parking lots, community-health centers, veterans' associations and Christian lesbian support groups, even Wisconsin-bound gates at O'Hare airport. I feel naked if I'm not wearing something Dean!

Last spring, things in this country seemed like they couldn't get worse. You arrived on the scene, and not a moment too soon. When you railed against the Bush Administration's unilateral war on Iraq, and demanded to know why the Democrats were supporting Bush's extremist agenda, you spoke for me.

The more I learned about your positions, the harder I fell. No, you weren't perfect, but I've been around long enough to give up looking for Mr. Right, in the personal or the political realm. And while I've always been an activist, this time was different. You catalyzed hundreds of thousands of despairing Americans, giving us hope again--or for the first time ever. You gave me a critical mass, a community. This time my candidate was going to win!

The rollercoaster of the campaign's last two months left tens of thousands of us grieving and bitter. Yet you've shown remarkable grace and integrity, even stumping for Kerry, all while encouraging us to bring our ideas and principles to the convention as Dean delegates so that we can strengthen the party.

Although some supporters are giving up, you'd be amazed how many have heard your call, and are picking up the pieces and moving forward. Inspired and supported by you and your new organization, we're working in other races, organizing precincts, even running for local office. Your campaign's ripple effect will be felt for decades.

On Saturday, April 17, I will vote to send Dean delegates to the national convention. For the first time in my life, I won't have to choose between my heart and my pragmatic side. I can vote for a candidate in whom I truly believe and who has made--and continues to make--an enormous difference. Dean delegates will lead the fight for a progressive platform: equal rights for all, health care for all, investment in kids, environmental and labor protections.

If you hadn't set our country on fire last summer, the Democratic Party would have ignored all the progressive voices. Although second- and third-tier candidates are usually shut out of the national debates, they couldn't ignore your record-breaking rally crowds and fundraising. And they couldn't let you in without opening the door to the others. So thanks to you--to us-- Kucinich, Mosely Braun and Sharpton got primetime exposure to millions of Americans.

Sadly, yours is the only progressive voice that still has clout, and Dean delegates are the only progressive block large enough to get the party's attention (Kucinich has only 1-2 percent of Kerry's numbers). Some say you gave the Democratic Party a backbone transplant, and we need Dean delegates to nurture that transplant. But I say you gave the Democratic Party back its soul.

If we win this fall, it will be because of you--you breathed life into this race, and your example forced Kerry and the others to stand up as Democrats again. Thank you.

Dr. Dean, do you realize I may never find a cause that matches the sense of purpose, inspiration and community I found in your campaign? But my best hope is also the best way I know how to show you the gratitude of a nation. I'm voting for Dean on April 17 with my heart, my head and my soul.

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