Canvassing in Iowa

Sunshine on my navy colored Obama shirt creates just the right temperature.  November or not, forgotten gloves are no big deal.  My newspaper journalist buddy Chris and I set out with maps in hand, for a South End neighborhood of an Iowa city.

Our targets are walled to the east by a huge grain processing plant.  A tidy grade school rims our west and we’re further defined by railroad tracks.  I’m feeling lucky to be handing out invitations to Barack’s Town Meeting this week.

The first homeowner to open a door is a thirty-ish woman who squeals, “I love Obama!”  Maybe this assignment won’t be so hard.  Next, a well-seasoned grim woman holds open her door to hear my appeal.  Clad in a worn dress and favorite house slippers, she thanks me and politely informs me her voting decisions are private.

Big black dogs guarding chain linked yards seem to appreciate my passing sweet talk.  I advise them not to snap at Obama people – we’re the good guys (and the dogs agree).  When I ask one attention-seeking mutt if Republicans ever pat his head, I’m answered “I don’t know” in goofy tail wags.

I’m puzzled by old pick-up trucks laden to near collapse, holding freshly cut stumps in front of a few homes.  A chipping sound signals men in backyards, bent at the waist, hand splitting logs into kindling.  I expect to find wood-burning stoves in remote rural areas, but in a city of over 20,000?  I settle on being humbled by their literal hands-on way of controlling energy bills.  Emboldened, I talk with other men leaning over cars, using the buddy-system to get them running again.  I learn the 1/2 house numbers are backyard garages converted into rental property.

Just when my confidence peaks, I meet the woman I carry in my heart.  Tillie is maybe thirty-eight.  She sounds sixty.  As a nurse aide going to school to become a nurse, she works part-time nights in a nursing home.  Her double amputee spouse lies on the couch in the unlit room behind her.

Tillie supports our War on Terror.  Her son was a Marine in Iraq during the first four years of the war, but he’s home now.  She much prefers we fight the terrorists over there than here.  Convinced it’s a real mean world, she feels we need constant protection at all costs.  Her biggest resentment is our country’s tolerance for illegal immigrants’ free use of our medical system.

When Tillie’s husband became ill, he lost his job and both their healthcare benefits.  Then he lost his legs and their retirement vaporized.  The doctor prescribed $2000 a month in medicine.  She says at the point he goes to a nursing home, they’ll have to sell their house so Medicaid will cover his care.  Her friends advise her to divorce him in order to keep their home.  She says this isn’t the right way and vows never to leave him when he needs her the most.  I see on her face she’s had practice at “sucking it up” to keep a sense of control over their destiny.

I ask her if perhaps a lengthy war over there is draining our means of providing Universal Healthcare for citizens over here.  We rail over gazillionaire politicians’ push for Health Savings Accounts as the “economy boosting” means to fix our medical system.  I tell Tillie hers is the story that needs to be told again and again until our leaders finally get it.  She seems to soften at the idea of an invitation to come meet Barack, for the chance to tell her story and to receive his message of help for her blue-collar neighbors.  Then she remembers it’s also the day her husband goes back for another surgery.

When I ask if a voter has logged on to barackobama.com, I’m met with the same flat response:  “We don’t own a computer.”  The few self-proclaimed Hillary supporters I meet each paradoxically listen to this Illinoisan’s reasoning for not supporting her.  I leave them thinking that perhaps my personal demand for ethics in government has helped to buy back a bit of the media induced/image-making consulting they’ve been sold in the past.

Upon sinking into the donated couch at the Field Office, I fall into silent grief.  Mature volunteers man the phones around me, seeking commitment to attend Barack’s Town Meeting in just a few days.  Young and talented field staff quickly train other volunteers about to embark upon their assigned neighborhoods.  I feel but a pinch of the humongous need expressed to Barack daily.  I’m convinced spreading our hope-filled personal reasons for voting for Barack will ignite the victory we need.  All the Tillies drive me on to doing more.  Nothing changes until we coalesce ethics with action.  Can you help?


The natives are restless. There’s been an online battle waged among Obama supporters over whether or not African American pastor/gospel singer Donnie McClurkin should be allowed to perform in South Carolina concerts supporting the Obama campaign. The reverend is a “former gay” who believes God can — and should — cure homosexuals of their ills. It’s a silly point of view based on the premise that sexual orientation is a “choice.” Barack Obama has stated, clearly and for years, that this is not a point of view he shares. Nor does he condone it.

The online Obama community spent days in-fighting over the McClurkin inclusion. There were “Christian” Obama supporters, quoting anti-gay scripture, fighting GLBT Obama supporters arguing for human rights and African American Obama supporters telling everybody where the black community stood on the issues–if anybody cared to listen. There was a lot of hyperbole about the “divisions” in the black community in South Carolina.

I write this from South Carolina. My home. I am not black. I’m as white as the underbelly of a right sickly frog. But I’ve lived and worked with the African American community here for years. I’ve been their voice on the op-ed page down here for longer than I’d like to admit. Last week I spent Thursday evening in a black church, among black Obama supporters. I spent Saturday in black beauty salons and barber shops. Sunday I was invited to a regional NAACP meeting. It was not my first.

There is division in the African American community in this state. It’s not about homosexuality. It’s not about religion. There is the feeling, among black voters over 55, that white America cannot be trusted to actually vote for an African American candidate. They also share a common dread that, if elected, Obama will be assassinated. Women are particularly concerned about his safety. Their fears are based on a collective memory of what life was like down here as they grew up. Zero tolerance. And, in their experience, America has not been kind to her visionaries.

Younger voters do not share such deep concerns; they can imagine an America led by a black president. Assassination, to them, is not a familiar or shared experience. They acknowledge “it could happen”, but that fear does not impact their support. Older African American voters are saying things like “I can’tvote for him. We’ve got to protect him. If he’s elected, they’ll just kill him.” One 67 year old told me “He’s a fine man, but if he’s elected there’ll be riots and looting and shooting in the streets!” These fears are real, and we’re doing our best to counter them.

Speak at length with most black voters who support Hillary Clinton here and you’ll find they cannot talk about her without linking her election to “getting Bill back in the White House.” They still miss him. And she’s a “safe bet” — whites will vote for her, Obama will be “spared.”

There is no battling on the street here about Donnie McClurkin. The buzz about the upcoming gospel singings ia all good. No one cares about McClurkin’s personal opinion on homosexuality. They like his music.

As for the rest of us, the squabblers: Personally I cannot and will not reconcile homophobia with Christianity. I find the hard-right fundamentalist “judge-and-condemn” approach to all things moral a very narrow, hateful view of God’s intent, of Christ’s message. No one chooses to be gay, to live in a toxic, threatening environment if you dare to love — or to live a life barren of love altogether to suit the moralizing, the aggressive posturing, of a Prosperity Gospel church which has forgotten “Judge not…” and “Love one another…” right along with “…the least of these…” My take? We are seeing the new generation of vicious bigotry. We replace niggers with queers.   A new group to victimize from our perch of superiority. It stinks.

But all that is my personal belief. I am free to shout if from the town square if I like. What I am not free to do is impose my belief system on every other person who supports my candidate. Or to demand that my candidate sanitize his campaign by throwing anyone with a dissenting or unpopular personal belief off the bus. Or under it.

This campaign is about diversity and inclusion. So we accept one another even when we disagree. It’s about building bridges, not blowing up the one that looks different. Most of us, if we talk long enough, will find we do not agree on every issue. It is not necessary that we do. We share a broader vision, a tolerant one.

It’s certainly not the province of any sub-group of Obama supporters to dictate the terms of inclusion or exclusion for any other member or group. Our time — and our energy — can be put to far better use.

canvassing in cd6

Canvassing in CD6:

Corte Madera, CA. October 13. It is 2pm on a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon and CD 6 coordinator Lance Iuoye is sitting at a picnic table in the town park, checking over canvassing forms with the last returning teams of Barack Obama volunteers. “Turn the Page on Iraq,” a national canvassing day, is drawing to a close.

But this local Obama team was obviously thinking big when they chose this locale to host their event. Since 10 am, their launch pad, highly visible under a festive white canopy and a colorful cache of Blue & White Obama signs, has been set up mid-center on the grass alongside the town’s main parking lot; and thus it has attracted heavy foot traffic and garnered huge interest throughout the day: ongoing soccer games on the adjacent fields, at all-day Open House at the Firehouse next door, and just down the block a community fair chocked full of hundreds of attendees.

Amidst the music and balloons, the Saturday bikers and the family dogs, this pint-sized Obama camp seems a perfectly synchronized slice of a vroomed-up, vitalized community.

Lance is really excited about talking to the team who inspired a teenager he had just registered to drive down and sign up.

“That’s just amazing,” he says. “What did you say to get him to do it?”

“He said Barack Obama was his man but that he was only 17,” says volunteer Sandy Grant “But then his mom walked into the room and said “No, your 18, You can register right now.’ She must have taken him down here. “

Indeed she did, says Lance (big smile). “She said some very nice ladies told him where to go to register right now and after they left he said ‘lets do it.”

Sandy, a busy Mill Valley physician who doesn’t have much spare time for hobbies, is so determined to elect Barack Obama she’s become active in politics for the first time.

“I can’t believe I’m so excited about one kid when there are millions of people all over the country …” her voice trails off. “Next week I’m going to start canvassing in my neighborhood.”

CD6 is reportedly one of the best organized districts in the California campaign, with 56 registered volunteers and a schedule that includes regularly weekly tabling, phone calling, outreach to high schools and colleges and a growing voter registration drive. Volunteers are encouraged to ‘think out of the box’ and meld their personal skills and talents with the campaign’s mission.

The efficiency of today’s volunteer team coordinators rivals the proficiency of any professionally designed event. Before setting out in seven teams, with assignments in three towns, participants are guided through a short tutorial on the do’s and don’t of canvassing (don’t knock on a door more than once, don’t force campaign literature on someone who’s clearly not interested, leave flyers tucked under outdoor mats so they’re not too visible from the street, and be prepared to tell your own story about why you support Obama). Folders are distributed with maps and print outs of the 50 families on each teams’ itinerary, along with clear instructions on how to fill in data on each location. A ‘cheat sheet,’ explaining the goal of the day’s event is provided as an example of how to introduce yourself. Each team receives handfuls of official campaign “Turn the Page in Iraq” handouts and small yellow flyers offering tips to new recruits on how they can become involved in the Obama campaign NOW.

“There are more canvassing events happening here in California today than in any other state,” says Canvassing Coordinator Ben Ludke, a student at College of Marin. “We’re the first campaign to be canvassing in California. This is just the beginning.”

Conversation around the table shifts as Lance asks volunteers for feedback. What can we improve upon next time?

“I didn’t feel that I was informed enough about all the issues,” says Sandy. “I was really nervous someone would ask me something that I couldn’t answer. We need talking points next time.”

“Right now you are your own talking points,” says Lance,“ acknowledging that talking point memos are in the works and should be available by the next canvas.

For every issue mentioned in this discussion, however, (“I’m not sure on his stand on education …. on immigration … on Blackwater … on tax breaks … “) someone in the group has a well researched answer and can offer resources: listen to his speeches, read the blogs, visit the website, join the listservs.

By all accounts, Marin County’s first official Obama canvassing event succeeded in much more than registering another Democrat to vote in the Feb. 5 Primary. Over 500 homes were contacted, resulting in conversations with over 140 local democrats about Obama’s position on ending the war in Iraq and whether or not they had made a decision on which candidate they were leaning towards.

Currently, based on this narrow sampling, it appears that most people in the section of County are still undecided; with 21% strongly supporting Barack Obama, 38% undecided, and less than 10% committed to another candidate.

Undoubtedly, the most encouraging outcome was the unanimous consent among participants that people are just aching to talk about what’s happened to America and discuss how Obama can set things straight.

“It was strange,” says one volunteer. “You’d knock on someone’s door, feeling really apologetic about interrupting them, but when they saw who you were they were just so happy to have a chance to talk about things. It was like they’ve felt so isolated for so long and now all of the sudden here was somebody on their porch inviting them to talk about it.

From another: “I didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t willing to listen to me, who didn’t want to know why I was backing Barack. Everybody seems really ready for change, really ready to believe in someone again.”

One volunteer recounts a story of a conversation she had with a woman who opened her front door with a huge bottle of Tropicana orange juice in her hand and a tense ‘why are you bothering me now?’ look on her face.

“Right away, you knew how busy she was. You could see right through the house to the backyard where three or four little girls were sitting down for lunch under this big striped umbrella. It was really bad timing. But when she saw my Obama hat and heard why we were there, she forgot everything else. She said she wasn’t ‘plugged in yet” but she wanted us to tell her why we were supporting Obama. She asked questions. We must have talked to her for ten minutes. If she was leaning towards Hillary when we arrived, I don’t think she was when we left. You could just feel how hungry she was to talk about things: Iraq and Iran, Healthcare, education, the war. The need for big change in America. Wow, that was an amazing experience.”

In this small corner of Marin, at least, the battle is strictly between Obama and his main rival, New York Senator Hillary Clinton. But, say volunteers, people who were leaning toward Hillary said they are just now starting to do their research. Hillary is what they know; Obama is who they what to discover.

“People still think it’s really early in the campaign,” says Ludke. “A lot of Californians don’t realize yet that the Democrat’s Primary is Feb. 5. That’s why now is the ideal time for us to start canvassing. Hillary hasn’t started yet. We’re the only campaign actively canvassing in California right now.”

A conversation ensues between Ludke and a couple of volunteers about the ‘grassroots’ organization of the campaign, with Ludke drawing a flow chart outlining the chain of command.

“But that’s not grassroots,” someone says. “That’s a traditional hierarchical business model. We want people organizing right where they live, working out of their cars. People should have access to Obama materials so they can just hand things out.

“But they can,” says Ludke. “They can just download things off the internet. They can purchase supplies online at the Obama store. You’ve got to understand that California right now has only one paid employee. We can’t afford to supply everyone with free materials.”

Jasper Goldberg, a student at nearby Branson high school and a member of Students for Barack Obama saunters over to the table.

“I have boxes of Obama stickers I can give you,” he says, approaching a group of women who are discussing investing in a stockpile of gear for CD6 volunteers. “How many do you want now?”

He plops a plastic bag of stickers on the table. Wallets emerge. None of these Obama supporters want something for nothing. They all want the same thing: something promoting Obama to give away for nothing. Goldberg shrugs, accepts proffered donations. Says he’ll use the money to purchase more Obama gear.

It’s after three and everybody’s tired, has places to go, but seems reticent to leave. Opinions start flying on Obama’s best speech.

Riverside Church. The Foreign Policy address at Des Moines. Selma. New York (Washington Square Park). Springfield.  San Francisco, last month when he introduced what instataneously became the infectious rallying cry of the campaign, “Fired up, Ready to Go.”

But as is always the case in these talks, someone always brings up where it all began, for most of us. And this time it’s Ludke who reminds us.

“For me it’s still the 2004 convention. I watched that speech and said ‘That man’s my president.”

a shift, perhaps?

Is it just me? An illusion? Or are some of you also sensing an ever so slight shift in the political current; dare I suggest detecting a miniscule tear in the tightly constructed, intricately oiled veneer of the sheer perfection of the Hillary Clinton roll out?

Have you noticed anything? Tidbits here, there, trickling into media where just a few weeks back there was naught.

Am I the only observor who detected a hint of distaste over Clinton key-strategist Mark Penn’s association with Blackwater? A slightly rised eyebrow over the influx of cash from Billy’s buddies at his nonprofit Global Initiative? An illusion to impropriety over that nefarious Hsu’s $850,000 bundle? What about the near comic reappearance of the rabidly robotic Hill&Co. attack dogs, frothing and straining at the bit when questions surfaced over Clinton’s judgement in supporting the Kyle Lieberman amendment.

Then all that flack about ‘the pin!’ At last, they had him! Obama, squirming against the wall. Yet what ensured was an open discussion of the post-911-world partisan-ization of patriotism, with informed sources noting the frequency with which Mrs. Clinton substitutes haute couture accessories for the red, white and blue emblem on her suit ensembles. Color coordination, you know.

I mean, like overnight, the doubting Thomases among Obama supporters were barely recovering their footing when MSM pundits began questioning the veracity of the latest WaPo/AP poll which trumpeted a massive Clinton lead. Suddenly, pundits were asking the right questions. “What about what’s happening on the ground? How DO you account for this incredibe groundswell of support for Obama?”

Well, I have a suggestion. I think perhaps we are witnessing the re-emergence of dormant patterns of communication, a type of low frequency vibration which is slipping under the radar of corporate media watchdogs and their enmeshed special interest groups. Somehow, despite MSMs prediliction to play down information on when and where Senator Obama plans to speak, to distort or ignore his message, news of the Obama phenomena is spreading like a rumor of the next iPod release.

Perhaps the first inklings of a potential sea change emerged back in California last month when, just days before the Petraus hearings. Kos predicted the Senator from Illinois had missed his opportunity to launch a pre-emptive strike on the truthfulness of the General’s upcoming testimony. He called yet another set for our former first lady. Well, the outcry was near immediate. We knew beter. No way supporters was going to let this opp slide by. (The Obama team was planning something extraordinary on Petraeus, and a knock out punch came that Tusday in the form of a foriegn policy speech outlining a daring and innovative evolutionary approach to America’s role in theaters of conflict abroad. Chaulk a big one up for our side.)

This was also the weekend which will forever be remembered for the launch of the infectious “Fired up, Ready to Go” mantra, a rallying cry already as potent as “You gotta believe” in the New York Mets miraculous ascent to the World Series in the ’69 season.

But then there was Obama in New York City. Ten days of preparation. Phone banks coast to coast. 24,000 in Washington Square Park. Now as I’ve said before, 24,000 people gathering in any spot at one time in NYC is in itself news. But MSM, in its sheer audacity, strategically downplayed the event. I think that decision backfired.

It appears to me as if little by little since that evening, the stuffing seems to be leaking from the mannequin. Mind you, right now only recalcitrant threads are visible but nonetheless, the pattern is not rock steady.

Since New York, it appears as if the surefire policies of message control are becoming less effective. Barely perceptible glitches are surfacing in standard playbook protocol. It’s kinda like watching a run of Bill Walsh-Joe Montana 2 minute drills falling just short of the goal line because a new, unexpected variable has everybody a tad off center. Expertly executing ‘X’ no longer necessarily means that ‘Y’ will follow. Now Joe and Bill aren’t even mindful enough to recognize anything’s gone asunder, so they’re continuing with the same drill; maybe they sense they’ve lost flow but damned if it matters anyway. It’s no contest.

What I’m suggesting is that more and more of us are no longer sitting speechless in the stands observing The Champions making mincemeat of the underdogs. We’re starting to question the calls, to doubt the tally on the scoreboard. America is beginning to pause and say “Now wait a minute. Something’s just not kosher here.” In essence, we are no longer counting on the refs or instant replay. We’re starting to throw down our own flags.

In and of itself, this variable, this deviation, is so inconseqential that it is not perceivable as a factor. But the factor, nonetheless, is there. And it is multiplying.

To take the football analogy a tad farther, let’s revisit the Kyle Lieberman amendment. Hillary emerges from the huddle and makes the call “We’re voting yes on this one.” But in the bleachers, people are asking “What’d she do that for? Why’d she call for that play again? Makes no sense, unless she’s not aiming for the same goal we are.”

Do they really want to trust this lady with the football?

Now it’s not like the Hillary campaign is actually aware of this, but I think a growing number of us are aware of the vast disparity between what our eyes and ears and intuition are telling us and what’s being force fed to us. No, the Hillary Team right now is just too busy snipping stray threads off the mannequin to even consider the pattern might just be fatally flawed.

There is a limit to how long you can contain the facts on the ground, but ignoring 12,000 in Oakland, 15,000 in Phoenix and 20,000 in Austin, doesn’t quite match up to deeming as a “nonevent” 24,000 New Yorkers jammed into an historic small Greenwich Village park to see and listen to a candidate for the 2008 Democratic Presidential Nomination.

No, that particular crowd created an energy so intense it surpassed the need for media coverage. It ‘outed’ them, revealed their true colors.

In this new inter-connected world of jet travel and blogs and text messaging and youtube videos, something like this happening in New York is viral; it’s all over facebook and flick’r and youtube and myspace and twitter and technorati. Somebody tells somebody else on a bus or a subway or a commuter flight and then they’re telling their friend who is telling their friend whose friend saw Obama at a rally in New Hampshire and has been talking about nothing else since. Has her whole family and neighorhood excited. She’s converted her teenagers and Uncle Charlie and the guy from Triple A who jump starts her Dodge Dart every two months

The Obama Campaign and the Rainforest: Communication Theory

Experts in the field of animal communications assert that animals are adept at using their physical environment to ensure the maximum audibility of their signals. The Bornean tree frog, for example, communicates within its species by slithering into a tree hole and adjusting the frequency of its call until it hits the one note that makes the hole and the tree resonate. It plays the tree, like a musical instrument.

It appears that tropical rainforests are like symphonies, where each particular species communicates on its own unique frequency, aware of timing, spacing and tone to insure communication.

The survival of the New Guinean Cassowary, a colorful, large, and flightless bird, is directly related to its remoteness. Recently, a scientist decided that the only way to find cassowaries was to listen for them. But capturing the cassowary call wasn’t all that easy. Not only do they call infrequently, but they speak within a spectrum that is below the range of human hearing. Frequently, humans feel a cassowary’s call rather than hearing it. In fact, the cassowary’s call has been compared to a mini earthquake.

This strategy for communicating works for the cassowary because the low-frequency of its vibrations enable it to remain incognito to prey accustomed to operating in the worlds of sounds and images. Not only that, but low-frequency communications travel farther, so cassowaries regularly chat long distance.

In another study relating to animal communications, a Stanford scientist discovered that elephants use foot stomping to communicate with each other over distances as far away as 20 miles. In 2002, Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, a Stanford biologist, traveled to Namibia, Africa, to investigate her theory that elephants communicate via an outflow of low-frequency seismic vibrations. They signal to one another when they are in danger, seeking a mate, or passing on information about food and water.

Apparently, the human brain has adapted over time, converting most of the space once used for sensing vibration for use by the more immediately powerful senses of sight and sound. Yet O’Connell-Rodwell notes that “traditional instruments such as the didgeridoo of Australia, talking drums of West Africa, and the stomping dances of Native Americans all produce signals that have the potential to be carried through the ground over long distances.

“These instruments could have been important communication mechanisms similar to smoke signals, but at much greater distances than smoke signals could be detected,” she says.

Just recently, reporter Bryan Miller journeyed on a triple-deckered tugboat down the Congo from Kinshasa. Some 700 kilometers and seven days later, he arrived at Mbandaka to transfer to a large barge en route to Ndobo. Describing the barge as a floating refuge camp, he recounts how hundreds of villagers had already crowded aboard and set up camps, anticipating the tugboat’s arrival.

“How did they know we were coming,” he asked the captain.

“The neighboring village told them,” the captain replied. “With drums.”


So, how do you explain the momentum of the Obama campaign? True, virtual communication networks are a big part of it, but I can’t tell you how many Obama supporters I’ve met who don’t read blogs, have only logged in once to barackobama.com and have no idea how to navigate the site, let alone join a discussion group or listserv.

And, of course, the message also isn’t getting out by drumbeat or smoke signals or foot stomping. But there is no doubt that a sizeable chunk of Americans sense something’s happening. They feel it in their blood, sense it on their skin, understand it in their soul. They are finding nourishment. They are communicating.

There’s synchrnoicity at work in the appearances of huge numbers of people at Obama events across the country. An energy is being unleashed which seems to know no boundaries and resonate between and beyond people. It is an energy that is allowing us to reconnect with one another, to celebrate, to hope. To commit to do extraordinary things.

You don’t find this type of communication in newspapers and cable news and magazines.

But if you’re an Obama supporter, you recognize it innately, because it’s pure. It’s a core element, non-negotiated. Right now, at this point we are communicating with a man who is going somewhere and asking us to come along.

No doubt about it. The message is out there. It’s being picked up, interpreted and implemented by hundreds of thousands of Americans.

It has the markings of a veritable symphony. Find your niche. Sing your song. It’s not going to be easy. But you gotta put on your marching shoes and get to work. As Simon and Garfunkle once said, “We’re all playing in the same band.”

We’re all tuning in to that Middle “C.”

Prevailing wisdom: This is a campaign and a candidate doomed to failure. HRC is inevitable. It’s all over. Done. Nice try, but pack up your bags and go home.

Maybe you just had to be there. Rock Hill, South Carolina, Saturday October 6th. Over two thousand people hopped aboard the O Train. It was quite a ride. Barack Obama not only came to town, he went to town and an overflow crowd was happy to join him on the trip.

The throng, in the heart of Democrat-deprived Red State Dixie, was diversity personified. Black and white, Hispanic and Asian, young and old. There were folks dressed to kill alongside the rural poor wearing clean but well-worn clothing. There was no division of races in the stands, no great blocs of dark faces and light ones. The affluent sat alongside the working poor. There wasn’t an empty seat in the Northwestern High School gymnasium and the floor was packed. Event organizers had to turn disappointed people away at the door. Standing room only. No one seemed to mind.

I was with the “standees” for about an hour before Senator Obama spoke. Press credentials dangling around my neck, steno pad in hand, I talked to Democrats, Independents and a surprising number of Republicans. Everyone wanted to talk about this man, this campaign and the future of the nation. Words, phrases, like “charisma”, “sound judgment”, “speaks to diversity”, “the need to heal”, “diplomacy over hate- and fear-mongering” were repeated over and again. “Obama spoke out against this war in 2002 when Hillary and Edwards got fooled by Bush into giving him a blank check to go to war!” was a common theme.

Republicans were as disillusioned with Bush’s war as were Democrats and Independents. They’d had enough and they like Senator Obama’s stance on phased redeployment ASAP. “We need a change in the worst way,” one of them lamented, “and there’s something about [Obama]…he makes sense.” I heard, far more than I expected to hear it, deep concern  about the way the rest of the world sees us after 6+ years of this administration. They don’t want a Bush-clone in 2008. Conservatives were angry about the cost of the war. “Half a million dollars a minute–right down the drain!” one man snapped. Bush fatigue was thick as cigar smoke.

The Senator from Illinois spoke for nearly an hour. No podium, no notes. He spoke to the issues–war and diplomacy, health care and education, oil money funding terrorists and the bane of fossil fuels. The crowd was fully engaged, cheering, clapping; choruses of “Amen!” and “Yeah!” and “You’re the man!” punctuated his oratory. He got tough on parents and parenting, demanding that we step up to the plate and be responsible for our children. Every challenge for change was met with roars of enthusiasm.

And he dealt with the Big E: Experience. He’d had a little spat with Hillary, he said, about his willingness to meet with all world leaders–even the bad guys. After all,  Ronald Reagan never stopped talking to the “Evil Empire”.  “Naive Obama!” he declared, “Naive Obama will lose a propaganda war! Well, I’m not worried about a propaganda battle with some petty tyrant!…Strong counties and their presidents talk to their adversaries…we’re not afraid of any other country…Experience does not equal judgment! Age does not equal character!…[I should] wait longer? Why? To be more like the folks in Washington?”

The crowd went wild, their response deafening.

Obama slowed the pace. “[Change] won’t be easy…I’m asking you to make the sacrifice–’cause none of it will come cheap…I’m asking you to make the hard choice…to be responsible…to hold your president and your government accountable…

The roar of approval, sacrifice or no, was ear-splitting.

“We can change the world!” Barack cried out. The masses responded in kind. The campaign mantra began: “FIRED UP! READY TO GO!!”  The Republicans I’d spoken with earlier were swaying and chanting with the Democrats and Independents for all they were worth.

The crowd enthusiasm for the candidate, for change and for one another did not dissipate when the rally ended. Every race, every income level, every age and gender left unified–chanting, singing, high-fiving, eager for a new day, a new political landscape.

Pundits and pollsters tell us Barack Obama is unlikely to win the nomination. But they’ve been wrong before and, if the stunning reaction of over two thousand South Carolinians is any indication, they may well be wrong again. 

politics … as usual

I received a letter from my liberal Senator Barbara Boxer the other day, asking me to donate more funds to her campaign to insure her victory in the 2010 election. Now while Boxer has more chutzpah than just about anyone on Capital Hill, I turned her down. Conditionally. In essence, I told her that I was ’sick and tired of being sick and tired” of politics as usual in Washington.

And then I spelled out in clear and uncertain terms what she would have to do to receive any more mullah from me: Publicly endorse Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic Presidential candidacy in 08.

The power of the purse strings. We might not have much leverage when it comes to how our representatives fail to allocate our tax dollars. We may not have control over the huge conglomerates and lobbyists stretching campaign finance laws to jettison their candidates into office. But there is a form of ‘bundling’ we can engage in. A million strong refusal to add any of our bucks to election coffers until our representatives announce that they, too, are ready for a sea change in America. A sea change led by the good Senator from Illinois.

Here is a copy of the letter I sent to Senator Boxer. Feel free to copy, amend, elaborate and augment as (and if) you see fit.

Dear Senator Boxer:

Before I contribute any more funds to your campaign, I need something from you! A public endorsement of Senator Barack Obama.

You have done an outstanding job representing California, but you will not have my support (nor the support of tens if not hundreds of thousands of Obama supporters) if you back Senator Clinton for the Democratic presidential election. As Senator Obama has said repeatedly, the time for change in American politics is now. I expect you to join him in this fight.

I especially recall attending Sen. Obama’s immensely successful fundraiser for your last reelection campaign. There’s a lovely video post of the packed event on YouTube; you were very excited and grateful, a most gracious and worthy benefactor of his 2004 Democratic Convention speech popularity.

Given the fact that Senator Clinton is funding her campaign with oil, pharmaceutical, mainstream media, and military contractor industry contributions that break all Congressional records, and are in no small part tied directly to her being the politically active Clinton, I see no reason to believe the Senator has any inclination to effect any positive change in Washington.

Here are my major concerns with the first Clinton administration:

1. Vigorous support of China’s entrance into the WTO despite ongoing human rights violations
2. Support of NAFTA, the WTO and economic policies which have outsourced manufacturing, resulting in economic devastation across America (most recently resulting in massive recalls of goods from CHINA due to insufficient quality control)
3. Contributing to economic devastation in Mexico and other Central American countries through unfair trade practices and relocation of US mega corporations to the region, thereby destabilizing labor organization and employment for rural Latin and US Americans especially, and throwing the US into the race to the bottom instead of into the lead for an equal playing field for workers on both sides of the border
4. Failure to render illegal offshore accounts of major US corporations resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in corporate taxes for America
5. Introducing the Telecommunications Act, which essentially has resulted in government (now synonymous with Corporate) control over virtually all mass media
6. The passage of the Terrorism Act, which resulted in exhaustive constitutional violations, as Americans were secretly surveilled by our government
7. Clandestine dealings with the Taliban on behalf of pipeline plans of mega-oil companies
8. Failure to address the Rwanda genocide because of commercial interests in using Rwanda as an entry point to exploit the natural resources of the Congo
9. Initiating education policies which paved the way for No Child Left Behind, a system which has virtually destroyed our public school system and any hope for advancement for millions of children
10. Backing down on the promise to open the military to openly gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers and a failure to deal effectively with any gay rights issues.

Senator Boxer, I count on your integrity to ensure that Hillary Clinton is not our party’s choice to resume power in the White House. Your constituents and the people of America rely on fearless leaders such as yourself to speak truth.


Senator Boxer’s office shot back an email informing me it was against Congressional ethics for her to engage in this type of polical endorsement request. I responded it was against my ethics to continue to support candidates who aren’t directly addressing the lack of ethics rampant within our elected leadership and requested removal from her mailing lists.

So Senator Obama is telling us this campaign is about us, right? So what do we do? We rally an unprecedented 24,000 in NYC. On ten days notice!

But if you live in New York and you weren’t anywhere in the vicinity of Greenwich Village last Thursday night, chances are you have no idea what went down there.

“Obama appearance No Story.” So reads the subject line in an mail from a friend in New York this morning, who reported no coverage of the event in the dailies or local news stations. (In all fairness, the NYT wrote up the event on “The Caucus” election page, Newsday did a short blurb as did The Post, and local tv had some footage.)

But I’m a former New Yorker; in fact, I am a graduate of NYU, and back in the day any crowd of 24,000 in Washington Square would have led Eyewitness News at 11, won a splash photo on Page 1 of the New York Daily News, and been all over the Today Show the next morning. Just to give you some semblance of reality: 24,000 in a downtown Manhattan neighborhood park is more than 1/3 the total capacity of Shea Stadium. In fact, a crowd that size would just about fill up the San Francisco Giant’s ballpark.

Folks across America are hearing the Senator and they are showing up: The Springfield 15,000, The Iowa 10,000, The Oakland 12,000. The Austin 20,000.

But the media is all about those poll numbers, Senator. I’m beginning to think Obama supporters just never go home, let alone answer the telephone. They’re too busy traveling from rally to rally, state to state, hosting house-parties, walking for change. God knows, they’re always too busy text messaging to answer a land line anyway.

I’d have to say judging from the turnout whenever or wherever across the country Senator Obama shows up, that so far he’s done a pretty good job of waking America up. The way I see it, most of our newspapers, radio shows and tv news stations just aren’t fired up yet. They sure ain’t ready to go.

Most of us will concede that no candidate has won the presidency in recent history without being first anointed by the corporate elite. And we’re well aware that in today’s America the average citizen feels about as powerless as a young child tossing rocks at invading Israeli bulldozers and tanks.

Assuredly, we have our grievances … and as the Senator says, we’re “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Right now, we have to cede them the polls. Nobody would listen anyway if we talked about how Angus Reid himself called the biggest secret in polling the “no response” rate.” Or if we questioned the reliability and authenticity of automated polling systems or called into question the conflict of interest that appears to exist relative to most polls and their corporate sponsors.

They just keep predicting all the hoopla will burn out pretty soon, as polls continue to coronate Clinton and turn a blind eye to any and all references to her questionable ethical practices and all that lobbyist money rolling in. Just yesterday, I heard Bill put a stop to an article due to be published in GQ discussing in-fighting in the campaign. Apparently, all he had to say is he just won’t talk with them anymore if they printed it.

Does anybody in the Obama campaign have that kind of clout? No, but we sure do try harder.

Roll up your sleeves and get ready to duke this one out. The real battle between Clinton and Obama is not being waged in the headlines of the nation’s tabloids, on the Fox Noise Machine or even on Keith Olberman. No, the Obama campaign is taking this thing out onto the streets of your neighborhood. You are going to have to open that front door and step outside.

We’re not talking states here, we’re not even talking Congressional Districts anymore. In fact, this campaign is honed down to pre-Precinct level. In ‘08, the race for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States is happening right in your front yard.

This is David v. Goliath; it’s The Little Engine that Could; it’s a real life rendition of The Heroes, an unfolding story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

So put your Obama sign out. If you don’t have one, make one. Let’s create a 21st century version of ‘the peace sign.’ Start tipping your thumb and index finger together and flashing the big “O.”