Wednesday, November 5, 2008



There's no way yet to say anything fully comprehensive or intellectually coherent in the very short period of time since Barack Obama officially became the 44th President of the United States last night. The event is far too monumental on a multitude of different levels for that. So I'll just say for the time being that Obama and his extraordinary staff led by 'the two Davids'--Axelrod and Plouffe--ran without a doubt the most intelligent, most disciplined, most politically sophisticated, and most mature campaign in American political history and it should serve as an important wakeup call for all progressives and radicals throughout this country and as a genuinely new template and strategic/theoretical paradigm for how to properly educate, organize, and mobilize millions of people from a truly mass-based grassroots perspective. The work that has to be done to transform this country has only just begun of course but if we're all truly focused on what really matters and are finally able and willing to reject the far too comforting illusions (and delusions) of cynicism, nihilism, solipsism, and self aggrandizing apathy that have paralyzed all forms of leftist political activity since 1968 then we really do have a chance--a chance--to create a fundamentally new society. Needless to say it will--as always--require a huge and unrelenting struggle on our part collectively to move this society in that direction but it's very clear to me that the election of Obama represents one of those very rare historical opportunities and most importantly openings to create and develop clear ideological, cultural, economic, and political alternatives to the dominance of a political economy and culture deeply rooted in and distorted by capitalism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. As even Obama himself always formally recognized the key to this change remains-- as it always did-- not with Obama himself or any other individual politician or 'leader' but with the masses of the American people. Revolutionary change and radical reform of any kind in society is based and can only be based in the general population itself. In a beautifully ironic and even necessary way this election reminds us once again of precisely that fact. It is indeed left up to us to see to it that we not lose sight of this reality and what it really means. So in properly holding Obama accountable and responsible we also have to remember that in the long run it is even more important for the rest of us to initiate and deliver on these changes. In the meantime heartfelt congratulations to President Barack Hussein Obama. His victory is well earned and well deserved...


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Obama supporters fight for every vote on the last weekend

by Chuleenan

This weekend seems to be the most intense for Senator Obama and for his campaign. He's traveling to the battleground states and everyday, I'm getting emails from his campaign asking for another donation--on Thursday, I got an email from Joe Biden asking me to contribute $100 because "we just learned that the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee had a $20 million cash advantage on October 15th."

Friday, 8:28 am I got an email from Barack telling me "We're saving some of the best seats in the house for 5 people who have given to the campaign before -- and who decide to make a donation one last time before Sunday at midnight." And the best seats were a trip to Chicago to join Barack and thousands of others on Election Night.

Friday, 2:36 pm I got an email from David Plouffe, the campaign manager and genius organizer, saying "we're seeing a surge of support in states we didn't expect to be close contests, including Georgia and North Dakota" and that Arizona (John McCain's home state!) was now considered a battleground state. Wow.

So Plouffe wanted a donation to expand the efforts in those states and I would get a chance to be one of the 5 at the big public event. I had missed the first email plea from Barack but I did read this one and I admit that the chance to be in Chicago did the trick and I donated $50.

I did see Obama when he was in Oakland in March 2007. At that event I noticed that the twenty thousand people who attended listened very intently to every word he said. I had never seen a crowd that size be so quiet. It would be fantastic to see him once again in person.

This weekend was an absolute frenzy of activity at the San Francisco phonebanking locations. When I arrived on Saturday around 7 am I saw that some people were on their way out and it dawned on me that those folks had been there all night!

The weather was really bad on Sat. It was raining pretty hard. I worked for three hours at the Market street office, which is the San Francisco Obama field office, and then for four hours at the Howard St. phonebanking location. I was a lead phonebank captain for the first three hours and was responsible for making sure that we had enough captains to manage all the different duties -- two captains to train phonebankers, one or two on the front desk, one on cell phone checkout to give phones to people who didn't have their own, two to pass out new phone lists with numbers to call, one to pick up completed phone lists. Luckily, things weren't too busy in the early morning hours so it was easy to manage but that changed aorund 10 am.

I was shifted over to the Howard Street location where other phonebankers would be sent once it filled. Once that location started to fill up, it was busy. I was there with Kate, a phonebank captain who I've seen many times at the Market St. office when I dropped by to phonebank during my lunch hour. She's great at training people so she was training them and I was signing in people, giving them scripts, answering questions, and going downstairs to let people in. People would call me on my cell phone and then I'd have to come down to let them in and take them up the elevator. You needed an access card to open the front door and to use the elevator. The Market St. office was completely full so they were sending the spillover to Howard St. A volunteer was shuttling people to our location. Good thing we had someone driving their car because to was raining pretty hard much of that time.

Another location--one at Four Barrel cafe in the Mission district, was jam packed with 90 people! I worked at that location a couple weeks ago and I really can't picture where they put all those people. That must have been absolutely crazy.

I was on my feet for seven straight hours. My feet and my (still recovering sprained) ankle were sore by then end of that shift. I heard today that San Francisco made more than 37,000 calls yesterday!

Today I was at the Market St. office from 6:45 am to about 2 pm. It was a bit of an adventure getting to the office. When I got to the BART station around 6:05 am, I saw that the station was closed. I didn't realize that on Sunday BART doesn't start running until 8 am. Oops. I was going to be late for my shift if I couldn't figure out how to get into SF. I didn't know the bus schedules and I don't have a car.

Then I saw a young woman with a suitcase who arrived when I did. Clearly, she was in the same predicament I was in. So I asked her if she was going to SF and if she wanted to share a cab. She told me she only had about $3 cash on her. I only had about $25, which would not be enough to get us into SF. I told her was volunteering for the Obama campaign and needed to get to SF. She called a friend who agreed to pick her up and to drop me off in SF. The young woman, I forget her name now (too early in the morning!), was visiting the Bay Area. She lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio and says that she lives where there is a pocket of liberals who support Obama. I asked if she thought Obama would win Ohio. She thought it was going to be close and that it would be tough for him to win.

Today I was the lead captain at Market St. from 7 am to around 1 pm. It was really exhilarating to be there and see so many volunteers come in so early in the morning. My fellow captains were all very dedicated. We had a slightly larger team of captains and as the morning wore on we got busier and busier. By early afternoon, we had to start turning people away because we had no room for all the phonebankers! People were sitting on the floor. I think every phone bank location was maxed out. Sandy Sherman, the woman responsible for getting the phone bankers to come in, did an amazing job.

The SF office is so effective at making calls that the Obama campaign headquarters is now using it as its flexible rapid response phone bank. And that means that we get our orders directly from the war room in Chicago. They tell us which battleground state to call and when. So we switch states whenever they tell us to. The data is delivered to headquarters in real time.

Today we began by calling Florida from paper phone lists. Then we switched to Missouri using a different system called predictive dialing where a phone system calls for you and you enter the call codes using the cell phone key pad, for example, enter a 1 for someone who has already voted, 2 for someone who plans to vote on election day, etc. But that dialing system had some glitches and people were having difficulty getting through. People wanted to go back to paper lists but we weren't allowed to give any more lists out. Headquarters wanted us to continue using predictive dialing. So we wasted some time when people were sitting around waiting for the system to work properly. And some got discouraged and left, which was unfortunate.

The SF office is staffed entirely by volunteers. It is really astonishing. Some people are there nearly everyday and they're working many hours each day. I've heard that many of the positions in SF are paid positions in other states. These are very dedicated people and they are very nice to work with. Juli Uota, who schedules and trains the phonebank captains, makes everyone feel like they are making a real contribution. She and the other folks I've met seem to have the "No drama Obama" attitude. Things may get a little tense at times but there are no histrionics, which is remarkable when you consider that many of these people are operating on very little sleep.

My only regret is that I can't work more on Monday and Tuesday. I'll be there early Monday morning from 6:45 am to 9 am, then I have to go to work (my paying job). Then I'll be there again from 12 pm to 2 pm. Maybe I'll be back in the evening as well. On Election Day, I'll be there from 5:45 am to 9am. (I already mailed in my absentee ballot.) Thank God for daylight savings time so it won't feel like it's that early. Turns out it's good for my health too, decreasing the risk of heart attack.

Clearly, the Obama campaign is not letting up. Everyone is working until the last polls close. The focus is on getting out the vote. And that's what we're doing--calling registered voters in battleground states and reminding them to vote on Tuesday, asking them if they know where their polling place is, whether they need a ride to the polls, and thanking them for their support. I want to see an overwhelming electoral college win. I want to see that John King's magic map turn blue for real.

The Political Flight of Barack Obama: Rising Far Beyond the Lowly Expectations of White Supremacy


Frank Rich gets it right again and he remains one of the very few American political journalists who has been consistently accurate and prescient in his assessment of Obama and how many people in the media and the larger society continually misread, misinterpreted, and underestimated him from the beginning of his campaign over 20 (!) months ago. Of course that's not surprising given the extensive history of the doctrine of white supremacy in the United States, but Rich, to his credit, always saw through all the lies, doubts, fears, arrogance and condescending attitudes that nearly always attend the ascension of any African American male to any position of authority or importance in this country. Equally true is the eternal fact that underestimating black folks in this country nearly always work to our distinct advantage in the end precisely because it's so often relatively easy to greatly surpass such absurdly low and distorted expectations in the first place. Certainly Barack has and despite what others might falsely claim everyone knows it--even the people who despise, envy, or simply disagree with him...


November 2, 2008


Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
New York Times

AND so: just how far have we come?

As a rough gauge last week, I watched a movie I hadn’t seen since it came out when I was a teenager in 1967. Back then “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was Hollywood’s idea of a stirring call for racial justice. The premise: A young white woman falls madly in love with a black man while visiting the University of Hawaii and brings him home to San Francisco to get her parents’ blessing. Dad, a crusading newspaper publisher, and Mom, a modern art dealer, are wealthy white liberals — Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, no less — so surely there can be no problem. Complications ensue before everyone does the right thing.

Though the film was a box-office smash and received 10 Oscar nominations, even four decades ago it was widely ridiculed as dated by liberal critics. The hero, played by the first black Hollywood superstar, Sidney Poitier, was seen as too perfect and too “white” — an impossibly handsome doctor with Johns Hopkins and Yale on his résumé and a Nobel-worthy career fighting tropical diseases in Africa for the World Health Organization. What couple would not want him as a son-in-law? “He’s so calm and sure of everything,” says his fiancée. “He doesn’t have any tensions in him.” She is confident that every single one of their biracial children will grow up to “be president of the United States and they’ll all have colorful administrations.”

What a strange movie to confront in 2008. As the world knows, Barack Obama’s own white mother and African father met at the University of Hawaii. In “Dreams From My Father,” he even imagines the awkward dinner where his mother introduced her liberal-ish parents to her intended in 1959. But what’s most startling about this archaic film is the sole element in it that proves inadvertently contemporary. Faced with a black man in the mold of the Poitier character — one who appears “so calm” and without “tensions” — white liberals can make utter fools of themselves. When Joe Biden spoke of Obama being “clean” and “articulate,” he might have been recycling Spencer Tracy’s lines of 41 years ago.

Biden’s gaffe, though particularly naked, prefigured a larger pattern in the extraordinary election campaign that has brought an African-American to the brink of the presidency. Our political and news media establishments — fixated for months on tracking down every unreconstructed bigot in blue-collar America — have their own conspicuous racial myopia, with its own set of stereotypes and clichés. They consistently underestimated Obama’s candidacy because they often saw him as a stand-in for the two-dimensional character Poitier had to shoulder in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” It’s why so many got this election wrong so often.

There were countless ruminations, in print and on television, asking the same two rhetorical questions: “Is He Black Enough?” and “Is He Tough Enough?” The implied answer to both was usually, “No.” The brown-skinned child of biracial parents wasn’t really “black” and wouldn’t appeal to black voters who were overwhelmingly loyal to the wife of America’s first “black” president. And as a former constitutional law professor, Obama was undoubtedly too lofty an intellectual to be a political street fighter, too much of a wuss to land a punch in a debate, too ethereal to connect to “real” Americans. He was Adlai Stevenson, Michael Dukakis or Bill Bradley in dark face — no populist pugilist like John Edwards.

The list of mistaken prognostications that grew from these flawed premises is long. As primary season began, we were repeatedly told that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the most battle-tested and disciplined, with an invincible organization and an unbeatable donors’ network. Poor Obama had to settle for the ineffectual passion of the starry-eyed, Internet-fixated college kids who failed to elect Howard Dean in 2004. When Clinton lost in Iowa, no matter; Obama could never breach the “firewalls” that would wrap up her nomination by Super Tuesday. Neither the Clinton campaign nor the many who bought its spin noticed the take-no-prisoners political insurgency that Obama had built throughout the caucus states and that serves him to this day.

Once Obama wrested the nomination from Clinton by surpassing her in organization, cash and black votes, he was still often seen as too wimpy to take on the Republicans. This prognosis was codified by Karl Rove, whose punditry for The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek has been second only to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as a reliable source of laughs this year. Rove called Obama “lazy,” and over the summer he predicted that his fund-raising had peaked in February and that he’d have a “serious problem” winning over Hispanics. Well, Obama was lazy like a fox, and is leading John McCain among Hispanics by 2 to 1. Obama has also pulled ahead among white women despite the widespread predictions that he’d never bring furious Hillary supporters into the fold.

But certainly the single most revelatory moment of the campaign — about the political establishment, not Obama — arrived in June when he reversed his position on taking public financing. This was a huge flip-flop (if no bigger than McCain’s on the Bush tax cuts). But the reaction was priceless. Suddenly the political world discovered that far from being some exotic hothouse flower, Obama was a pol from Chicago. Up until then it rarely occurred to anyone that he had to be a ruthless competitor, not merely a sweet-talking orator, to reach the top of a political machine even rougher than the Clinton machine he had brought down. Whether that makes him more black or more white remains unresolved.

Early in the campaign, the black commentator Tavis Smiley took a lot of heat when he questioned all the rhetoric, much of it from white liberals, about Obama being “post-racial.” Smiley pointed out that there is “no such thing in America as race transcendence.” He is right of course. America can no sooner disown its racial legacy, starting with the original sin of slavery, than it can disown its flag; it’s built into our DNA. Obama acknowledged as much in his landmark speech on race in Philadelphia in March.

Yet much has changed for the better since the era of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” thanks to the epic battles of the civil-rights movement that have made the Obama phenomenon possible. As Mark Harris reminds us in his recent book about late 1960s Hollywood, “Pictures at a Revolution,” it was not until the year of the movie’s release that the Warren Court handed down the Loving decision overturning laws that forbade interracial marriage in 16 states; in the film’s final cut there’s still an outdated line referring to the possibility that the young couple’s nuptials could be illegal (as Obama’s parents’ marriage would have been in, say, Virginia). In that same year of 1967, L.B.J.’s secretary of state, Dean Rusk, offered his resignation when his daughter, a Stanford student, announced her engagement to a black Georgetown grad working at NASA. (Johnson didn’t accept it.)

Obama’s message and genealogy alike embody what has changed in the decades since. When he speaks of red and blue America being seamlessly woven into the United States of America, it is always shorthand for the reconciliation of black and white and brown and yellow America as well. Demographically, that’s where America is heading in the new century, and that will be its destiny no matter who wins the election this year.

Still, the country isn’t there yet, and should Obama be elected, America will not be cleansed of its racial history or conflicts. It will still have a virtually all-white party as one of its two most powerful political organizations. There will still be white liberals who look at Obama and can’t quite figure out what to make of his complex mixture of idealism and hard-knuckled political cunning, of his twin identities of international sojourner and conventional middle-class overachiever.

After some 20 months, we’re all still getting used to Obama and still, for that matter, trying to read his sometimes ambiguous takes on both economic and foreign affairs. What we have learned definitively about him so far — and what may most account for his victory, should he achieve it — is that he had both the brains and the muscle to outsmart, outmaneuver and outlast some of the smartest people in the country, starting with the Clintons. We know that he ran a brilliant campaign that remained sane and kept to its initial plan even when his Republican opponent and his own allies were panicking all around him. We know that that plan was based on the premise that Americans actually are sick of the divisive wedge issues that have defined the past couple of decades, of which race is the most divisive of all.

Obama doesn’t transcend race. He isn’t post-race. He is the latest chapter in the ever-unfurling American racial saga. It is an astonishing chapter. For most Americans, it seems as if Obama first came to dinner only yesterday. Should he win the White House on Tuesday, many will cheer and more than a few will cry as history moves inexorably forward.

But we are a people as practical as we are dreamy. We’ll soon remember that the country is in a deep ditch, and that we turned to the black guy not only because we hoped he would lift us up but because he looked like the strongest leader to dig us out.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company