Story highlights

It's an interesting moment -- and not just because of who was there

It's interesting because it's the latest example of a grassroots mentality reaching the most powerful corridors of Washington

Washington CNN —  

On Monday night, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Georgia Rep. John Lewis walked from the House side of the US Capitol to the steps in front of the Senate. There, with Booker live-streaming on his Facebook page, they started talking about the health care bill the Senate is currently debating. Three and a half hours later, in front of a cheering crowd numbering more than 100, Booker brought the whole thing to an end by insisting “this is a moral moment … this is not a political moment.”

Over the course of that time, a bevy of Democratic Senators came to speak in this sit-out. Among them: Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, (New York), as well as Sens. Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), Bobby Casey (Pa.) and Chris Murphy (Connecticut).

It’s an interesting moment – and not just because of who was there. It’s interesting because it’s the latest example of a grassroots mentality reaching the most powerful corridors of Washington. After all, the sit-out came almost a year to the day after House Democrats staged a sit-in on the House floor to protest Republican inaction on gun control.

What these low-fi moments speak to is a) where the power center of the Democratic Party sits and b) the ways in which technology is changing the way politicians can – and should – interact with their constituents.

There’s little debate at this point that if you want to be a leader of the national Democratic Party – either today or in, say, 2020 – the best path to get there is to cast yourself as a product of the liberal grassroots. That’s where the energy of the party is – and is likely to stay as long as Donald Trump is in the White House. It’s impossible to be too anti-Trump or too anti-Republican for the Democratic base. Like, literally impossible.

It’s no accident that the vast majority of the senators who spent considerable time at the sit-out last night (Booker, Murphy, Merkley) also happen to be be regularly mentioned as possible 2020 candidates. That’s not to say they don’t believe in the fight against the health care bill. But, it is to say they also recognize the political opportunity present in such a gathering.

Then there is the way technology changes the game. Ten years ago – heck, maybe even five years ago – the only people who would have seen this sit-out would have been the few hundred who wandered by the steps of the Senate. As of Tuesday morning, 852,000 people had viewed Booker’s Facebook Live. And that doesn’t account for the people who saw it on some other person’s stream who was in the crowd.

The traditional way in which base voters got to know the prospective presidential candidates was cattle calls in which a slew of wannabees spoke in front of a labor or environmental crowd. Those cattle calls will still happen. But, events like Monday’s sit-out will also take on increasing import in the meet-and-greet process in the run-up to 2020.

Booker, whose speech at the end of the sit-out is a very, very good piece of political rhetoric, gets that.