Lessons Learned in the Windy City

By Jedediah Bila

Jedediah Bila

This past Saturday, I headed to Chicago to speak at the Conservatives4Palin November meet-up. The trip was one I’ll never forget. It’s incredible how many lessons one can learn from hard-working, patriotic grassroots activists.

It was my first time in Chicago, and let me say that the Windy City felt like home from the start. My airport taxi driver even decided to drag race a red sports car in the final stretch, flipping him the bird before making a quick turn and shouting an obscenity through his window.

Yep, Chicago and Manhattan are definitely related.

And despite my love of small New England towns, boisterous urban energy is in my blood. I guess you could say that much like Manhattan, downtown Chicago had me at hello.

The Conservatives4Palin meet-up crew was as wonderful in person as they had been on the telephone – warm, welcoming, and energetic. The attendees truly touched my heart with kind words about my columns and television appearances. They were sharp, engaged, and had taken the time to really read what I’d written. I was excited to hear their thoughts on my work, delighted to get invites to build snowmen in North Dakota and Alaska, and honored to receive tokens from some, including one I hold incredibly dear from members of our military. Everyone I had the pleasure of speaking with was gracious and passionate about his or her role in restoring the founding principles of our country.

After my speech, many guests approached me with the comment that they felt they’d learned so much from my writing and appearances. While I appreciate that sentiment greatly, I have to be honest and say that I think they have it backwards: it is me who has learned the biggest lessons from them.

I learned that the weight, power, and connections of the long-standing political machine can’t hold a candle to the raw passion and commitment of grassroots activists. The machine is robotic, tedious, and lifeless. Grassroots activists are independent-minded, dynamic, and vivacious.

I learned that the character of those who support a leader really does mirror the character of the leader herself. Many of Sarah Palin’s supporters are so much like the Palin I’ve come to know through her writing, appearances, and a brief encounter with her at a book signing in November of 2009. Much like the woman who inspires them, the activists I met on Saturday are humble, down-to-earth, and approachable, but tough as nails when it comes to fighting for what they believe in.

I learned that Tammy Bruce is downright fantastic. As a former lefty, her perspective is invaluable. But most importantly, she calls it like she sees it – all of it, even the stuff so many are too hesitant or too afraid to say. I, for one, am incredibly grateful that the conservative movement has her on our side.

And I learned that the extent to which Sarah Palin has inspired people is far bigger than I realized – likely much bigger than she realizes herself. When I covered her book signing in Rochester in November of 2009, I discovered that there was something different about her supporters, something I then labeled “a force to be reckoned with.” However, it wasn’t until I spoke at the C4P event this past weekend – where I met leaders from groups like US for Palin, Physicians for Palin, Jews for Palin, and countless others – that I fully understood how exceptional their commitment really is.

The people I spoke with don’t view Palin as a celebrity and don’t care about the fact that she’s famous. They treasure the message she carries with her, relate to the fact that deep down she really is just a regular person with a regular family and a regular life, believe in her ability to lead this country and to take on politics as usual, and – perhaps most importantly – genuinely trust her to keep her word. That kind of trust is not only priceless, but incredibly rare in politics. And – in my humble opinion – incredibly beautiful to witness.

Upon returning home from Chicago, I received an anonymous email from a Conservatives4Palin reader. The last paragraph read: “You’ve been given a gift, Jedediah. Now don’t take this the wrong way, but on the surface – political beliefs aside – someone could almost mistake you for the liberal elite. You were born in New York City, have a fancy Ivy League degree, taught in a fancy private school, can look like you fit in walking down fancy New York City streets, can talk the fancy talk. But on the inside, you’re so much like us. You might just be able to get those liberal elitists to pay attention to what you’re saying.”

I had never thought of it that way – perhaps because I spend most of my days writing in my pajamas in my studio apartment with Emma on my lap, taking breaks to dream about winter cottages. My mother once told me, “You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the girl.” Maybe that’s true. And perhaps the person who emailed me is correct – maybe that part of me will help me to reach an audience I otherwise wouldn’t.

Mom and Dad also taught me that God, honesty, and being true to who I am should be part of everything I do. They always will be.

Thank you, Conservatives4Palin crew, for inspiring me, for inviting me to share in your event, and for reminding me just how amazing grassroots America really is.

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