A religious following turns into a political one, as Dean
MeetUp.com gatherings take place in state
By Sam Youngman
Sept. 4 -- Tycho Celchu found what may be her political savior while looking for fellow practitioners of her religion.
Celchu, a Wicca disciple -- a religion described by Celchu as pagan witchcraft -- attended her first Howard Dean "Meet Up" in Portsmouth Wednesday night after finding the meetings on meetup.com, a meeting place for hobbyists and enthusiasts of various types.
Celchu came to the meeting as one of the initiated and left one step closer to being a true believer -- in Dean.
She and her roommate, Wedge Antilles, both of Exeter, were two of about 50 in attendance at O'Naturals coffee shop, there to either spread the gospel of Dean or see what the former Vermont governor has to offer.
The meetings, one of 10 last night in New Hampshire, have been given much credit for sparking an immense grass roots effort for Dean, one that has propelled him high in early polls and helped tip the cash cow in first and second quarter fund-raising.
For the novice, Meetup.com began as a dating service, morphed into an Internet meeting place for those with similar interests and, most recently, gave Dean supporters and the curious a chance to set a time and place to find new ways to support the man they think should be President.
At the Portsmouth meeting, volunteers and supporters welcomed first-timers, then fell on them with the Word of Dean, perhaps distracting them from the bottles of Heinz organic ketchup on each table.
The volunteers spread out among the Dean meetup.com virgins, trying to indoctrinate them into their seemingly effective spider web technique of getting out their message.
A newcomer, is armed with a list of "Questions to get 'The Great American Conversation' started," then encouraged to emerge from the coffee shop and engage others who may have questions about or want to support Dean.
Those who are signed up are then entered into the Dean's nationwide database, thus the spider web. Volunteers estimated the database to contain about 375,000 names now, with a goal of 500,000 by the end of the month. Nearly 100,000 have signed up for Dean on MeetUp.com.
The newcomers, convinced, not convinced or maybe afraid of seeming ambiguous, are then given blank sheets of paper and encouraged to write letters to the editor of their local paper.
Celchu, a network administrator who has been unemployed for the past year, said she was struggling with a case of writer's block, unable to remove the negative tone from her writing -- as suggested.
Caroline French is no stranger to these meetings.
French said she has long been involved in politics from the time of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech" to the Gore 2000 campaign to famous Dean house parties of early this year.
"(Dean) calls us his stalkers," French said of their allegiance to Dean." We said, 'That's not exactly flattering...what would the Secret Service say?'"
French and her husband, Gordon, said through their years of political activism, they've never seen such community involvement in the race for the nomination.
"This is more grass roots than anything I've ever seen before," Caroline French said.
"The spirit, the dedication (is) really amazing," husband Gordon was quick to add.
Celchu came with a spirit and left "leaning heavily" toward the dedication.