TAMPA — For most people, Friday night marks the start of weekend fun.
But Mani Ghansah and about a dozen of his friends and neighbors instead chose to spend three hours Friday night talking about President Obama's economic recovery plan.
It was a return to a role he already knows. Ghansah, 46, volunteered to host a series of "house parties" during Obama's campaign for president. This weekend, he responded to a call from Obama organizers to resurrect his e-mail lists and phone numbers from the campaign and continue the grass-roots effort launched during the campaign.
Events like the one Ghansah hosted Friday night were held Saturday and Sunday throughout the Tampa Bay area, from Lithia to Largo. The goal is to promote conversation and drum up support for the president's proposals to turn around the economy. The House has passed an economic stimulus package, and the Senate is expected to vote on its version of the legislation this week. Ghansah promised to forward the stories, pictures and ideas of his guests to the White House.
"Just casting a vote and walking away doesn't work," he said while waiting in a private dining area at Beef O'Brady's in Riverview. "So I decided to be part of facilitating the action."
In the main restaurant, families munched on chicken wings, nachos and burgers, surrounded by television screens largely tuned to hockey, car racing and other sports.
But around 6:30, as Ghansah greeted people passing through a door labeled the "Coaches Meeting Room," three television screens showed cable news reports of the Senate's debate on the stimulus plan.
Ghansah used guidelines provided by Organizing for America, an outgrowth of the Obama for America campaign, to run the meeting, touching on key points about the stimulus package and asking the group to help him develop a list of action steps to recommend to the president.
They talked about losing jobs, friends losing houses and an expensive war they don't want the country to fight.
Kiplin Chin, 45, who was born in Jamaica, said he voted for the first time in November, and this was his first political event.
"I just lost my job at Verizon," he told the group. He used to lay fiber optic cables for the company. "It's pretty tough out there."
He said he trusts Obama to listen to the people and try his best to fix the country's problems without "politricks."
"I haven't lost my job yet. It could be me next," said Michael Phipps, 49, an engineer for Siemens.
Darlene Carter, 49, said she avoids taking her daughter, who has asthma, to the doctor because she can't afford it with her other mounting financial obligations.
"They're already calling my cell phone for bills that I owe," she said.
Donna Mitchell-Robley, a nurse, said banks that received bailout money need to report what they are doing with it, and work with homeowners to lower their monthly payments.
"Accountability," she kept repeating.
As her two children, ages 6 and 2, sat beside her nibbling on cheese quesadillas, Ebru Watt, 32, said she works in a day care center. One family recently pulled two kids out of the center because their father lost his job at Circuit City. Watt, who was born in Turkey, said she worries if that continues, the day care center will close. Her husband is a soldier serving in Afghanistan.
"Send the troops home," Mitchell-Robley chimed in. "It's too much money.''
"I'm saying that in capital letters," Ghansah said as he took notes.
Ideas generated by the group and their pictures will be posted on the Organizing for America Web site.
There will be more of these meetings, Ghansah said as the discussion ended about 10 p.m.
"We've been just trying to organize people from the grass-roots up, just like Barack Obama did in Chicago," he said.
Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.