by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & tall man with a deep voice and graying hair stood before the few dozen Democrats who met for their weekly lunch last Friday at the Iron Horse Restaurant in downtown Coeur d'Alene. Ron Johnson, in his white MoveOn.org T-shirt, led the group through the Pledge of Allegiance, then joked: "I want to make sure people's shoes aren't touching each other," a reference to the circumstances that led to former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's arrest in the Minneapolis Airport in June. Several in the crowd followed Johnson's line with cracks of their own. One man stood up and announced that he's not gay and never has been.
Cathleen O'Connor shook her head. The Coeur d'Alene coordinator for MoveOn.org says her progressive political organization probably won't take a stand on Craig's situation. She says MoveOn has opposed Craig and his positions on the issues in the past but that she feels bad for him because of his predicament.
O'Connor is more interested in talking about MoveOn's action against the War in Iraq. She stands up to report that 38 people participated in an Aug. 28 vigil in the Lake City; not a huge crowd, but a good turnout, according to O'Connor. "People joined us from the street and sidewalks. Cars honked, people hooted and hollered," she says. "About one-third of those people were our regulars. Two-thirds were new." Participants read the names of soldiers who have died in Iraq since the beginning of the year and lit candles to honor them. The word "protest" has been taken out of the group's lexicon. Though MoveOn protestors in other cities have been aggressive, O'Connor says she won't tolerate that kind of behavior at her events. "If I have someone who wants to be loud and yell 'F*** Bush', I'll tell them to put down their sign," she says.
O'Connor came to Coeur d'Alene last November from the MoveOn chapter in Atlanta. Almost immediately she hosted her first "home party," where she invited a dozen or so MoveOn members to her house and asked them to bring their cell phones. When they arrived she handed them voter databases. They spent a few hours making phone calls on the organization's issue of the day. "MoveOn provides us with scripts for our calls," says O'Connor.
Lately the issue of the day has been the war and how much the government is spending on it. That was the topic of the first of two town hall meetings hosted by MoveOn's Lake City chapter since O'Connor's arrival. The second was about climate change. Those issues match her members' top priorities, she says. In the fall, she plans another town hall meeting, this time on health care, once she can get a copy of Michael Moore's Sicko.
"People tell us that we're brave" to push the Democratic agenda in a very conservative area, says O'Connor. "But we're just trying to raise people's consciousness."