No matter how much President Obama has changed over the years, the one thing he's never lost is his feel for community organizing, though these days he's working a slightly better neighborhood.
Whether you're working Chicago's South Side or Beverly Hills, a good organizer knows that a pat on the back will coax another mile -- or maybe another few thousand -- out of the troops. Even so, local Democratic activists were pretty impressed when the president invited them to Washington on Monday for a dinner at the Mandarin Oriental hotel designed to thank members of the Obama National Finance Committee and other supporters, like the ones who helped make his recent national fundraising tour on behalf of the Democratic National Committee such a success. The star-studded evening last month at the Beverly Hilton was the tour's crown jewel, so it was no surprise that a large contingent of longtime Obama supporters in Hollywood were invited back to Washington to accept the chief executive's personal expression of gratitude.
Among the local contingent who made the trip back to Washington were ambassador-to-be Nicole Avant, Charlie Rivkin, Ken Solomon, veteran Democratic organizer John Emerson, political strategist Kerman Maddox, Michael and Mattie Lawson, Candace McKeever, Cookie Parker, Cate Park and Nancy Stevenson.
They not only got the chance to hear Obama give a personal recap of his first five months in office and plans for the next year, but also had the opportunity to rub elbows and exchange views with key White House staffers such as Valerie Jarrett, Jim Messina, Van Jones and Tina Chen.
The guests also heard from Jane Stetson, the DNC's national finance chair; Penny Pritzker, former Obama for America finance chair; and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who chairs the DNC in his spare time. If there appears to be a fundraising theme running through the evening . . . well, that's because there was. The DNC has been running behind the Republicans in recent money-collecting efforts and, with the midterms not all that far away, doesn't want to be caught short. (Neither does the president, who is relearning the value of substantial congressional majorities every week.)
If anybody wanted a snapshot of just how much the U.S. has changed over the past 50 years, all they needed was a picture of the White House's storied East Room, where the nation's first African American president and First Lady Michelle Obama played host to a distinguished group of gay and lesbian Americans, celebrating a movement that began in a gay bar in New York.
Sunday was the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the series of confrontational demonstrations that began after the NYPD raided a popular gay meeting place. Most activists consider those events the beginning of the modern gay rights movement -- and the gay and lesbian community came to Washington this week looking for reassurance from a president they supported but who, so far, has disappointed them.
Obama addressed those feelings directly, telling the group Monday, "I know that many in this room don't believe progress has come fast enough, and I understand that. Its not for me to tell you to be patient any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half-century ago.
"We've been in office for six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration."
Hollywood's and California's leading gay activists -- still reeling from passage of Proposition 8 -- have been stung by the administration's lack of action on the Defense of Marriage Act and the military's don't-ask-don't-tell policy, both of which Obama vowed to roll back during the campaign. This week, the president promised action.
Among the industry and California contingent invited to the East Room gathering were: philanthropist and technology developer David Bohnett, "My So-Called Life" actor Wilson Cruz, Ambassador James Hormel, Hillary Rosen (former head of RIAA), SegaGameWorks co-founder Skip Paul, Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, key Obama fundraisers Rufus Gifford and Jeremy Bernard, home decor designer Mitchell Gold and Chad Griffin of the Griffin| Schake political strategy firm.
The sentiment now is that Obama's effort has bought him additional time, but that this is a community whose patience is limited.