February 29th, 2008

Jam For Change Manages to Produce Both

by Philip Baruth

In 1972, eighteen-year-olds were given the right to vote, and they were supposed to flood the general election, elect McGovern, and stop the War. They never showed, at least not in numbers comparable to their strength. It’s taken 36 years, another disastrous war and the sort of candidate that only comes along once in a generation to actually bring them out into the process. But they’re here now, baby.

All photos by Elisabeth Wilhjelm

If you missed Monday night’s Jam for Change at Nectar’s, you missed seeing that process unfolding before your eyes. For one particularly crisp example, take UVM student Dana Jokela, pictured here with a choice selection of Obama gear.

Not ordinarily a politically active person by his own admission, Dana felt something different at work in the Obama campaign, and he found himself wanting to help. Bada bing, bada boom: within the last few weeks he and others have managed to register some 500 new UVM voters.

That’s in addition to the 100 or so he turned out on a Monday night in the deep of winter. All through the evening you had the impression that these self-appointed Obama volunteers were capable of pretty much anything, without seeming to hurry or break a visible sweat.

It was a night of great political discussion, and more. Given the demographic, of course, it was also ultimately about the music. The Sepia Tones play what they call funk/rock, but it sounded like intense rocking jazz to me. Brendan Dempsey’s saxophone alone was worth the price of admission — okay, it was free, but still that’s meant as a compliment.

And later in the evening, aspiring novelist and Obama-supporter Steve Dempsey sat in for a few licks.

After The Sepia Tones, we hit the overtly political part of the program: short, crisp videos about the candidate, including the now-famous Black Eyed Peas tune, and a series of speakers with the much-discussed cult-like fire of Obama burning clearly in their eyes.

The crowd was loose and forgiving, everyone there for the express purpose of being a part of something exciting and meaningful. They cheered everything and everyone, and it all felt as though in some infinitesimal way it was ushering in a new era.

Neil Jensen, in green, creator and web overlord of Vermonters for Obama, clearly felt the vibe. It was universal — except, of course, for the normally unflappable Oliver, far right, who veered all evening between hope, despair, and occasional dismay.

And then it was back to the music. For those of you who wrote in wondering what, precisely, was involved in Chainlink Gunlove, and would participating in it ruin your chances of being elevated to the Supreme Court someday, here’s your answer.

Yes, it was a brilliant evening, made all the more so by the news that polls suddenly had Obama up by 4 points in Texas, a first since he announced more than a year ago. It was as though the whole world had caught the wave, not just Burlington and Texas, but Ohio and Pennsylvania and every town in between.

A feeling hard to shake, especially when you walk out of Nectar’s just at midnight, with a stomach full of good Buffalo wings and Vermont-brewed beer, only to find a dusting of pure new-fallen snow on the hood of the Barackmobile, idling casually at the curb.

[Many thanks to Dana Jokela for his organizational prowess, and to the very talented Elisabeth Wilhjelm for all of the photographs used in this post.]