ELKHART — As a child, Zanzer Anderson remembers watching Democratic presidential conventions on TV.
There were all the red, white and blue signs and hats “and all those people being so enthusiastic,” she recalled. “I didn’t know what I was doing, I just wanted to be there.”
Fast forward, and by now, Anderson, speaking from her Elkhart home last week, should be in Charlotte, N.C., the sole delegate from Elkhart County to the Democratic National Convention, which lasts through Thursday. She’s one of 106 delegates in all from Indiana, and she’ll be among the larger contingent of delegates from across the country formally nominating President Obama this week as the Democratic presidential candidate on the Nov. 6 ballot.
It’s going to be a busy few days. That’s why, Anderson jokes, she’ll be sticking with some of the other younger delegates from around northern Indiana — all the better to help keep her moving amid the frenzy. Anderson and four others — including former Elkhart City Council member Ralph Bean, attending as an observer — piled into a van midnight on Saturday and drove 12 hours to Charlotte.
The speech from Obama on Thursday accepting the Democratic nomination won’t end things, though. The convention, Anderson’s first, is meant to spur the gathered Democrats into action ahead of the November vote.
“We’re the spark that’ll hopefully come back and fire up the base,” said Anderson, long active in the Elkhart County Democratic Party and secretary of the Indiana Democratic Party.
Anderson, who’s African-American, figures her interest in politics dates to when she was around 12 years old and she helped pass out fliers for an Elkhart County sheriff’s candidate. He may have been Republican — it’s hard to remember exactly — but her sentiments lie with the Democrats.
“If it weren’t for liberal thinkers, I would not be able to vote as a black, a woman,” she said. One of her three children, now 35, has Down syndrome, and she adds that Democratic Party policies are generally more apt to provide the social safety net to assist such people.
“I see them as more compassionate in that way, helping one another,” said Anderson, who works in the radiology department at Elkhart General Hospital.
Democrats play second fiddle to the Republican Party here, at least at the county and state level, but that doesn’t deter Anderson. GOP leaders still have to take into account their Democratic constituents. And her support of Obama has a strong basis, even if he has sketchier chances of winning Indiana, as he did in the 2008 general election.
A Hillary Clinton backer leading up to the 2008 Democratic primary, she later switched her allegiance to Obama. Her father, now passed on, had always wondered if he’d see a black president in his lifetime and after reading up on Obama, Anderson was convinced. If she could help her father’s dream come true, “I should get involved, and I really got involved, beyond my wildest dreams,” she said.
She helped lead the local Obama campaign in 2008, and this cycle, in addition to Obama, she’s helping gubernatorial hopeful John Gregg, U.S. Senate candidate Joe Donnelly and U.S. House hopeful Brendan Mullen. They’re all Democrats.
Anderson doesn’t contemplate running for office herself. “I always like to think of myself as a person behind the scenes,” she said.
But her activity isn’t limited to supporting political campaigns. Of late, she’s taken part in at least one of the demonstrations against a tea party group’s controversial billboard message off Nappanee Street here in Elkhart.
The message reads ”The Navy SEALs removed one threat to America... The voters must remove the other” and it’s riled critics, including Anderson. They say it inappropriately equates the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden with the political ouster of Obama.
“That really isn’t what we’re about,” said said, alluding to the usual tone of political discourse in Elkhart County. “We may have heated discussions, but we’re not hateful.”
Indeed, she’s more about working together to get things done.
“I love people getting involved, being positive, trying to make a change,” she said. “I love it when we can get together and compromise.”