City woman to volunteer at Democratic meet

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 11, 2008

When Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama acceptshis party’s mantle and ends what some say has been the mostexciting nomination bid in recent history, he will do it before theeyes of one of Lincoln County’s own.

Brookhaven’s Sherry Washington will serve as a volunteer inDenver at the 2008 Democratic National Convention at Mile HighStadium Aug. 25 through Aug. 28. She will be present to see Obamaofficially accept the Democratic nomination for president andselect a vice presidential running mate.

Short of running for the post herself, Washington believesattending the convention is about as exciting is it can get for aveteran of the Lincoln County Democratic Committee who has put intime volunteering at the polls.

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“I’m excited – totally excited,” she said. “I’m just going totake everything in, enjoy it and come back with the knowledge.”

Washington said politics have fascinated her since a young age,but she has been out of the game for more than two decades. Through26 years of working for the Social Security Administration inBrookhaven, Washington has had little time to continue thepolitical involvement she began more than 25 years ago.

But now that she’s retired, Washington said she was “back inaction.”

After she lands in Denver the week of the convention, theDemocratic higher-ups plan to put her to work.

Her first duty will be to go through orientation. Then, she willteach convention-goers about the “presidential experience” -leading walking tours through a replica of a Boeing 747 outfittedto duplicate Air Force One and answering questions.

“I’ve gotta get a heads-up on my history,” Washington said.

Convention officials had to get a heads-up on her.

Washington said the process for being chosen to attend theconvention has been lengthy and thorough. Since she applied for avolunteer spot immediately after the presidential primary in earlyMarch, Washington has been through “plenty of back-and-forth” -answering questions, submitting paperwork and profiles and picturesof herself.

“Of course they have to check you out before they let you into aplace like this,” she said. “You had to match the criteria, and Iguess I did.”

Washington wasn’t sure of her spot at the convention until thelast minute, however. She almost missed her chance to attend whenshe chose to skip a mandatory orientation in Denver this summer tostay with her brother, Eric Sanders, during his final days.Sanders, 61, passed away in July.

“During that time I just kind of gave up,” Washington said. “Ireally and truly thought I wasn’t going to be able to go. But theycame back and gave me the assignment. I don’t know how I made it -I’m blessed, I guess.”

Now, Washington plans to use her blessing to the fullest.

She doesn’t know, of course, who she will come into contact withfrom the National Democratic Party among the 50,000 attendees atthe convention. But if she is afforded the chance to bump shoulderswith any high-ranking party officials, Washington said she wouldspeak her mind.

“It’s probably because I’ve been working with it for years, butmy biggest thing is disability, senior citizens and health care,”she said. “Because I’ve been around it, I understand it and some ofthe things that are wrong with it. I don’t have the answers as faras exactly what needs to be done, but there needs to bereform.”

Based on her experience with the SSA, Washington said she wantsher party – and the nation – to pay more attention to the economicand social middle ground – the working poor.

“It’s all about the money. You have so many people in the middle- they’re not poor but they don’t have enough money,” she said.”They’re just working class people and they’re suffering. Theirneeds are not being met as far as medication or insurance, andthey’re the ones who really keep things going.”

Washington hopes her party will focus more on this group ofcitizens, but she primarily wants the focus to be national, notpolitical. Even though Washington is a lifelong Democrat, shedisapproves of the two-party system.

“In my view, there really shouldn’t be any party,” she said. “Ithink there are good people on both sides, and you should alwaysvote for the best man. Our country gets divided over things likethis, but most of us are just born into either party.”

Regardless, 2008 has been a major political year. Washingtonbelieves the year has progressed fairly well – despite “some issuesback and forth” between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton. Shebelieves the Democratic Party is coming together, and the nationwith it.

With the convention experience under her belt and plenty of aretiree’s free time to enjoy, Washington plans to step up herinvolvement in the county committee when she returns from Denver.Her volunteering at the convention will have little impact on thenational party, she said, but it will have an impact on her.

“I can’t make a difference to them, but I can make a differenceto me as far as the experience and knowledge gained of the wholeprocess,” she said.