Penn takes the stage for Solomon

David Briggs
At a campaign fundraising event on Tuesday, Sean Penn encouraged audience members to continue the tradition of progressive social movements by supporting the “principled” Norman Solomon in his bid for Congress. 
08/25/2011

Democratic Congressional candidate Norman Solomon, of Inverness Park, and Oscar-winning actor and director Sean Penn headlined a campaign fundraising event at McNear’s Mystic Theatre in Petaluma Tuesday afternoon, reminding a crowd of close to 300 that progressive political achievements are initiated at the grassroots level.  

Penn, who wore an open-collared dress shirt and a dark sports coat, took the stage 10 minutes into the event. After a standing ovation he introduced Solomon with a vivid memory of a women’s rights protest in Tehran. “As hundreds, then thousands gathered around the circle of singing women, suddenly it was the appearance of the special police,” Penn said. “And then out came the batons. As things got chaotic, I briefly lost Norman in the crowd. I was about 25 yards from getting to that inner circle of women who were taking bludgeons to the heads. And then I saw Norman, not flinching, standing directly beside them and he stayed through it all.” 

Penn said that despite his many exploits, Solomon, who advocates for the closure of California’s nuclear plants and a commitment to renewable energy, has always taken advantage of the natural beauty of the newly redesigned 2nd District, which divides Sonoma County and stretches from the Golden Gate to the Oregon border, and wants to preserve the areas for future generations.  

“[The Arab Spring] told us that suddenly it was a new world where principle is strategy and you are a district in particular that has represented that,” Penn said, wrapping it up. “I’m here to encourage you to continue to represent that with this extraordinary, principled man, Norman Solomon.” 

Solomon walked on stage in a light dress shirt and red necktie, briefly embraced Penn, and spent the remainder of the hour-long event, which was punctuated with allusions to progressive thinkers like Martin Luther King Jr. and former Senator Paul Wellstone, loud applause and screams of support, discussing the policies he supports. 

“Everything that we have to be proud of in our country is because people in rooms like this dared not only to imagine but to work together to hitch the dreams to the hard work,” Solomon said. “We can make history.” 

Solomon, 60, began with a discussion of Petaluma’s Shollenberger Park, a wildlife habitat currently threatened by Dutra Asphalt Plant Project, and the fact that corporate money dominates political decision-making. The other leading candidate, California Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), has remained neutral on the plant. 

“This should be obvious, but big money has a way of fogging what should be obvious,” Solomon said. “We believe in a different kind of politics. We need to implement our principles, not just talk about them.” He informed the audience that his campaign has refused to take even a single dollar from corporate America. The grassroots strategy has actually worked for the campaign, which has raised $130,000 from more than 1,500 individuals, according to June figures. This is second only to Huffman’s $260,000.  

Other topics included the absurd cost of the “warfare state,” the pressing need for federally funded healthcare clinics and for more extensive restrictions on Wall Street in light of the foreclosure crisis. According to the National Priorities Project, Sonoma County taxpayers have paid more than $2 billion that have gone directly to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Solomon suggested that the money would be better spent on guaranteed healthcare or a number of other initiatives, such as education, housing, green jobs, transportation and secure retirement.  

Although Solomon has more campaign volunteers and more individual contributors than any other candidate in the race, he told the audience that it was still going to be a hard-fought battle and encouraged everyone to participate. 

 “We may feel sometimes that we’re getting lost in this topsy-turvy, upside-down world, especially when we look at what passes for democratic activities and elections and politics,” Solomon said. “But if we keep our eyes on the prize, if we remember that human rights are precious and eternal vigilance is essential to make them real, we will not get lost and we will win and we can do it.” 

He walked off stage to a more thunderous ovation than Penn had received earlier in the afternoon. 

Filmmaker and social media strategist Ben Zolno, 33, of Sebastopol, had spoken to Solomon via email about potentially volunteering for the campaign, but he was not positive that he would until he heard Solomon on Tuesday. “Norman speaks the truth in a way that not a lot of politicians are able to do,” Zolno said. “He’s convinced me now that he really will be winning the campaign with the right people behind him. I barely know Norman, but it’s time.” 

First time volunteer Tara Thralls, 66, first met Norman when he began frequenting a CD and political merchandise store she operated in Point Reyes Station until three years ago and decided to get involved based on political conversations she shared with him there.  

“I think he really embraces everything that liberals have stood for, and that we can count on him the way we could count on Lynn Woolsey,” Thralls said. “She never disappointed me and I don’t think Norman would ever disappoint me.”