Friday, June 26, 2009

Joe Biden and Genius of Common Sense

Vice President Joe Biden came to Boston to raise money at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser on June 23. Before he was set to speak, people mingled in a large space high above Fenway Park. My old friend from Cambridge politics, Rob Barber, who now heads the New England Steering Committee for Organizing for America and was to introduce the vice president, tipped me off that if I positioned myself “along the rope” keeping the audience about eight feet away from the speakers, I might have a good chance of being on Joe’s path while he greeted the crowd as he exited after his speech.

When I noticed folks starting to move towards the podium, I headed up there and saw that tall, mostly men in suits had already lined up along the rope. I turned to the woman next to me, who was several inches shorter than my 5’2”, and said, “What do we do?” It turned out her name was Magdalena and she had taken a ferry, a bus, and a train to get there from Martha’s Vineyard where she works as a nurse. She had volunteered in Obama’s campaign and was enthralled by the candidate and his running mate, to say the least.

When I asked one of the tall guys if Magdalena and I might stand in front of them, they graciously agreed. We all had a great conversation as we waited a long time for the program to start. And right before it did, an 11-year-old girl made it through the crowd behind me, and I pulled her in next to me. I now had the beautiful young girl in a salmon-colored chiffon dress on my right and Magdalena in her colorful garb from the Dominican Republic on my left, all of us along the rope in front of the lectern.

I can’t neglect to say what a terrific and charismatic speaker Joe Biden is. He hit all the right points about health care, the environment, end to nuclear proliferation, etc. This is not a time to prioritize, we must do everything at once. He mentioned Scranton a number of times, with a funny story that took place there to boot. The three of us, directly in front of him, were smiling and nodding. When he spoke about children and education, he paused to ask the girl next to me how old she was and wove her into his message.

Sure enough, after his speech, Biden stepped off the podium and headed along the rope. His second stop was Magdalena. She blurted out that she had always wanted a hug from Barack Obama. Joe Biden responded with a bear hug and a promise to deliver it to the president. I held up Genius of Common Sense with a post-it note on the cover saying “About someone else from SCRANTON.” I said, “I wrote this book about another very important person from Scranton.” The vice president widened his eyes, yanked the book from my hands, studied the cover, and said, “Jane Jacobs? No kidding!” I managed to get in “It’s for your grandchildren” before he exclaimed “THANK YOU” and planted a kiss firmly on my cheek!

Magdalena had asked a woman across the room to take some photos of us if we got to speak with Joe Biden. Not surprisingly, he was surrounded by secret service, so I am not sure if the photos will capture anything. She’ll email them to me if they do, but anyway, it was a thrill – and I hope he or his grandchildren read the book. I think they just might.

[The author of this post is Glenna Lang, co-author of Genius of Common Sense, as well as several other Godine titles.]

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