On Monday night in a mid-sized meeting hall in Greensboro, North Carolina, nearly 300 people of varying ages, races, and ethnicities crammed into a town hall organized by Tom Steyer and his “Need to Impeach” campaign (Impeach Donald Trump that is, for those who’ve been asleep.)
Despite this town hall taking place only two days after we learned that the “MAGA bomber” had targeted Steyer with a bomb, no one raised that issue. Nor did anyone ask Steyer about Trump’s tweet the day before mocking the progressive billionaire as “wacky” and as a “crazed & stumbling lunatic.” (Funny how Trump never uses Twitter to slam David Duke or other white supremacists by name the same way he goes after Steyer, Maxine Waters, Jay-Z and others… but we know why.)
No, the focus of Steyer and the crowd can best be summed up in one word: Winning. In fact, Steyer, who originally became known for his activism on climate change, summed it up this way: “You are asking if we are going to win on November 6?” After a short pause, Steyer continued, “Yes, we are going to win,” to which the crowd exploded into extended applause.
I moderated this town hall, my second on Steyer’s Need to Impeach tour, the first being in August in New Orleans. But this town hall in Greensboro was far different than the earlier one for one glaring reason. In August, the questions were much more about policy issues, from climate change to healthcare, that led to nuanced policy discussions.
In contrast, the town hall Monday can be best be summed up by the famous line attributed to Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing.” But the reason the people in that room so desperately wanted to win wasn’t to capture a Super Bowl trophy. Rather, the stakes are far higher, as one person in the audience made clear with her comment: “My name is Carol. I’m 72 years old. This election is the most important vote of my life.” As the crowd erupted into applause, she added, “And this is the most important vote in my children’s, my grandchildren’s, and my great grandchildren’s lives.”
I’m sure many Americans feel the same. (I know I do and I don’t even have kids!) But what was so compelling about that statement and so many others like it Monday was that none were delivered in a fiery Lombardi-esque manner like we were at a pep rally. No, the words were said slowly, powerfully, and with the sense of the gravity of the situation before us. To the people in that room and for so many others, this election is truly a battle against Trump’s vision of an America that celebrates cruelty and emboldens white supremacy and other forms of hate.
In fact Steyer, who spent 16 million of his own dollars in the 2018 midterms on registering especially younger voters in battleground states, even invoked a past war to inspire the audience, saying, “It’s like World War II, we didn’t win a single battle until we won one.” He added, “And then we never lost again. That is what we need to do November 6 and from there on.”
When I say the audience was laser-focused on wining, I’m not exaggerating. When I asked the audience what are the top issues you are concerned with in this midterm, people in the audience yelled back: “Stopping Trump!” And the best way they believed to do that is by flipping Congress. In fact, as Steyer explained, he chose Greensboro for this town hall in North Carolina’s 13th congressional district because it features a hotly contested race between Democrat Kathy Manning against the GOP incumbent Rep. Ted Budd.
There were some substantive issues raised at the town hall, such as the North Carolina GOP’s effort to intentionally disenfranchise African-American voters and a truck driver who said that because of Trump’s “terrible tariffs” he has seen a big drop in income because he hauls steel and aluminum, both targeted by the tariffs. But most of the questions and comments were about how to win, such as how do we overcome the GOP’s grotesque gerrymandering in North Carolina? To that question Steyer responded, we need to “overwhelm” them with votes, adding, “I understand they are cheating, and we are going to have to win anyway.”
In addition to the Town Hall, Steyer spent the day meeting with college students about getting out the vote. I spoke to some of the college students working on the Steyer-funded voter registration campaign and they reported seeing student engagement at far higher rates than in 2016. But these student activists weren’t simply content to register voters. Some told me they were giving out their personal cell numbers to hundreds of students urging them to call if they needed a ride to the polls, and many had done just that.
One of the most memorable discussions I had after the town hall was with a young mother who told me she was a registered Republican but had just voted straight Democratic in early voting. When I asked why, she explained that being immigrant herself (she came as a young child) she was disgusted by Trump’s demonization of immigrants.
But the comment of one woman at the event truly summed up the fear that’s motivating so many who oppose Trump’s un-American vision of this country: “I’m almost afraid to wake up the day after the election if Democrats don’t win back Congress.” Steyer responded, “We will win on November 6 because there are far more of us.” He then added instructively, “But to do so you need to vote.” Amen!