Friday, February 09, 2007
Maybe I'm Not a Misfit After All
So there's this group that threatens to strip me of my misfit identity. Sheesh! I've spent a lifetime feeling like a misfit, and I even came out of the closet with my 2003 book, Memoir of a Misfit. Two weeks ago, though, I attended a national conference for independent voters. And I experienced something I've seldom felt before: the sense that I actually belonged. Me! The perennial misfit! Among 500 political activists! I'm still reeling from this heady happening.
You have to love a conference that opens with an improv performance at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in midtown Manhattan. Is that a hoot or what? At that point, though, the conference hadn't officially started, so we all just went to the theater on our own. I didn't know a soul there, but that was okay. The performance was great. However, I wasn't at all enthusiastic about what was to come: a reception back at the hotel.
The word "reception"--along with words like "cocktail party"--sends shivers down my spine and back up again. I envision dozens of people mingling and talking and laughing, and me wandering aimlessly, searching in vain to find a clutch of people who will take pity on me and let me stand amid them under the tacit condition that I will not say one word.
Against my better judgment, I went to the reception--where people actually talked to me, listened to me, sought me out, introduced me to other people, never looked over my head trying to find someone more important to talk to (ever been to a church fellowship?), and in general, welcomed me with metaphorical open arms. They did the same to everyone. If you felt unwelcome in this group, I'm afraid there's no hope for you. They would have extended hospitality to the likes of elephants and donkeys, I'm sure.
The conference was organized--and impressively so--by a group called CUIP, the Committee for a Unified Independent Party. It's important to know that they kept the name even though they long ago gave up the notion of ever organizing a unified independent part. (They pronounce CUIP as "quip," which is certainly descriptive; they're witty and self-deprecating even as they go about the serious work of trying to fix a broken political system.) I was truly surprised at the turnout--500 leaders from 31 or 32 states, depending on who's counting. Remember, these are independent voters and therefore independent thinkers. The conference has been held every other year for 32 years, so I guess they’ve figured out by now how to get independents like me to stop being so doggoned independent long enough to get together once in a while.
The improv and reception were on Saturday, the conference on Sunday (more on the conference itself in the coming days). On Monday morning, when some participants had to go back to work, CUIP held a special session for those who could stay. What a treat! Actors from the improv troupe helped us hone our ability to think on our feet. How cool is that? They had the good sense to have us improvise skits based on a particular scenario (meeting with a member of Congress, in this case) rather than telling us we were going to role-play. Essentially the same thing, but a whole lot more fun with improv coaching.
I have this feeling CUIP is going to finally get the recognition it deserves during this next election cycle. But even if they don't, I've found one place on earth where I belong. Either that means that independent voters are misfits or that I'm no longer a total misfit. Either way, I'm happy. And totally psyched for what's up ahead politically. Bring it on!