Archive for February, 2008

Politician – 1. a person who is active in party politics; 2. a seeker or holder of public office who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles; 3. a person who holds a political office; 4. a person skilled in political government or administration; 5. an expert in politics or government; 6. a person who seeks to gain power or advance within an organization in ways that are generally disapproved.

Statesman – 1. a person who is experienced in the art of government or versed in the administration of government affairs; 2. a person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues.

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Obama’s presidential campaign has arrived in Philadelphia, and I’m amped about the elections coming right to my backyard! Last week I took another step to seal my residency in PA by registering to vote. Pennsylvania’s going to be an important piece in the election, particularly since our governor has publicly endorsed Clinton.

Tonight, I went to check out a voter registration kick-off event, hosted by Philly Students for Obama. Featured speaker was Kal Penn, who’s been volunteering for Obama’s campaign since Iowa.

I’ve been a fan of Kal Penn, through Harold and Kumar, and more recently The Namesake. It’s pretty incredible that this actor, self-proclaimed cynic, and registered independent has put himself out there for a presidential campaign.

The crowd, mostly composed of college students, was quite diverse, something I think has become uniquely characteristic of Obama rallys and events. Much like what I saw in South Carolina, Obama truly draws people from a wide range of backgrounds. And the man wasn’t even in town tonight!

Throwing in a bit of humor through his speech, Penn talked about how he got involved with Obama after hearing his DNC speech in 2004. Penn outlined the three main reasons drawing him to Obama — college grants ($4,000) for anyone who wants to attend college, being against the Iraq war from the beginning, and universal healthcare.

Penn also shared a moving story about the head of the Iowa Independent Farmers Union who told Obama volunteers that this was the first time he met a statesman. I don’t remember the last time I heard anyone use the term statesman to describe someone. I was drawn to Obama because of his organizing background, but I believe that statesman captures an additional element to his integrity as an elected official.

For folks in Philadelphia, click here for Obama’s Pennsylvania Campaign.

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A couple weeks ago, I received an email announcing a callout for photos of women who support Obama. My partner and I have a half-second cameo. 🙂 Click here for the final compilation.

Go Obama!

This week, Grace Lee Boggs featured some of my recent entries about presidential candidate Barack Obama in her Living for Change column of the Michigan Citizen.  Having been a movement activist for over 50 years, GLB has a keen sense of the pulse of our nation, and I have always appreciated her dialectical analyses.  Together the Boggs Center and members of Beloved Communities Network have been discussing the significance of Obama, the movement that surrounds his candidacy, and the potential for Obama’s campaign to spark actual change.

Below is the full text from Living for Change: Continue Reading »

Obama sweeps Virginia, Maryland and DC primaries!

On a side note, this announcement seems unethical…and desperate.

In the wake of Super Tuesday’s results of how Asian Americans voted, particularly in California, there’s been a flurry of activity among APIA bloggers to figure out what happened. In particular, Jeff Chang’s article does a great job of breaking down Clinton’s political machine.

To our community and allies, let’s not give up because for all the discussion about how Clinton has a more diverse campaign staff, we have to remember that when Obama first came onto the scene as a presidential candidate, many (including myself) didn’t think his campaign would become what it is now. I’m not surprised that many organizers of color signed up early in Clinton’s campaign because it was more established.

Name recognition played a huge role in what had happened. But there is a clear difference between Obama and Clinton. The New York Magazine recently described Obama’s campaign as a “white boy campaign“. Despite the usual spin on race and ethnicity from mainstream media, I find that this article’s analysis is incredibly off. Obama’s campaign is a break from the old way of politics. His campaign is about movement building, not name recognition. What electrifies me about Obama is that he is talking about transforming our politics and ourselves, not giving out quick, token favors to our leaders and figureheads. Professor Scott Kurashige articulates this important distinction in his recent post (long but very worthwhile to read in its entirety). Here’s an excerpt:

The Obama campaign is about transcending the “minority politics” mentality that carves us all up into “interest groups” and pushes the hot buttons that reinforce our sense of victimization and vilify the other side. Mainstream observers focus on Obama’s invocation of “hope” as a rhetorical device, which appeals to the common decency in all of us to both transcend partisanship and support an agenda driven by the discourse of change. No doubt this is part of the appeal he is making, especially as he seeks to fashion himself as someone who can unite voters in both “blue” and “red” states and also “change the way Washington does business.”

But I sense there is something much deeper to both Obama as an individual and his campaign, which has the potential to develop into a movement. Obama has a deep respect for what Charles Payne (in I’ve Got the Light of Freedom) has called the “organizing tradition” that sustained the Black freedom struggle in the South. He recognizes the debt we owe the likes of Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, and Rosa Parks, but more importantly the lessons we must learn from their struggles. If you are just a “minority leader,” then you’re not really a leader at all. If you are only fighting for your “fair share” of the riches controlled by those in power, you’ll never address the root causes of oppression. Above all is the sense that none of us can be free in America until we change the whole country. Obama speaks in poetry and he is writing a song of redemption.

Yet, as Obama admits, his work is not done. To have built an impressive biracial coalition in the North and South is impressive. So is having won both the Black and white vote in California, which really should put to rest the media’s endless drivel about that divide. Yet, we now know that a biracial victory doesn’t cut it anymore, for all that historic act has done is create new challenges. I wonder how Obama’s campaign is processing their drubbing among Latinos and Asians in California. Was it just a lack of time? Is it an idiosyncratic result of the Clintons unique appeal? Was it a failure of execution? Or do they need a better strategy rooted in a deeper understanding of Latino and Asian communities and new people to be a part of the decision making process? My sense is that it is mostly the latter. In the future, I’ll try to say more about what is shaping interethnic attitudes and relations today, especially to counter the mainstream media’s new sophomoric fixation on “Black/Latino tensions.” What should stand out, however, is that we need to know a lot more about interethnic relations and recognize they are not a sideshow.

Remember, it was the media that asked if Obama can “transcend race” — Obama never spoke these words himself because his message is not about colorblindness at all.

I’m confident the numbers will change and that more Asian Americans will change support for Obama’s campaign. In some weays, our “loss” in California is very positive because it is continuing the contest between Obama and Clinton, giving us an important moment to talk to our community, peers, friends and family members. We can really highlight what sets Obama apart from Clinton. I don’t think we are last minute at all — Transformation is very different from identity and coalition politics, which is what Clinton is solely relying upon. We’ve seen the upsurge in the last two weeks, where folks went to the poll en masse to change their vote for Obama. Let’s keep building and reaching our communities.

After I had written my last post on why Obama inspires me to re-engage with electoral politics, I recently came across these comments that he had said during his first senatorial campaign in 1995, when he was featured in an article published by an alternative paper in Chicago. I found these statements to be an important reflection, in his own words, of Obama’s approach, philosophy and vision for the role of elected officials and government.

What makes Obama different from other progressive politicians is that he doesn’t just want to create and support progressive programs; he wants to mobilize the people to create their own. He wants to stand politics on its head, empowering citizens by bringing together the churches and businesses and banks, scornful grandmothers and angry young. Mostly he’s running to fill a political and moral vacuum. He says he’s tired of seeing the moral fervor of black folks whipped up–at the speaker’s rostrum and from the pulpit–and then allowed to dissipate because there’s no agenda, no concrete program for change.

“…What we need in America, especially in the African-American community, is a moral agenda that is tied to a concrete agenda for building and rebuilding our communities,” he said. “We have moved beyond the clarion call stage that was needed during the civil rights movement. Now, like Nelson Mandela in South Africa, we must move into a building stage. We must invest our energy and resources in a massive rebuilding effort and invent new mechanisms to strengthen and hasten this community-building effort.

“…Now an agenda for getting our fair share is vital. But to work, it can’t see voters or communities as consumers, as mere recipients or beneficiaries of this change. It’s time for politicians and other leaders to take the next step and to see voters, residents, or citizens as producers of this change. The thrust of our organizing must be on how to make them productive, how to make them employable, how to build our human capital, how to create businesses, institutions, banks, safe public spaces–the whole agenda of creating productive communities. That is where our future lies.

“…The right wing talks about this but they keep appealing to that old individualistic bootstrap myth: get a job, get rich, and get out. Instead of investing in our neighborhoods, that’s what has always happened. Our goal must be to help people get a sense of building something larger.

“…The political debate is now so skewed, so limited, so distorted. People are hungry for community; they miss it. They are hungry for change.

“…What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer, as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them? As an elected public official, for instance, I could bring church and community leaders together easier than I could as a community organizer or lawyer. We would come together to form concrete economic development strategies, take advantage of existing laws and structures, and create bridges and bonds within all sectors of the community. We must form grass-root structures that would hold me and other elected officials more accountable for their actions.”

Full text below:

Continue Reading »

Sometimes there are moments that I don’t think it’s true. But it is — this moment that I hadn’t anticipated on happening has clearly come – we have a presidential candidate who not only engenders our belief in his ability and integrity, but pushes us to transform ourselves.

Obama has a subtle and beautiful undertone in all his messaging. He’s talking about all of us doing this thing called democracy together. He can’t get away from the spotlight and the adulation that many, myself included, project onto him, but I think he’s asking us to become something higher than ourselves.

Obama’s the first presidential candidate that has successfully built a campaign around Gandhi’s “be the change you want to see in the world”. This is where I love that his background as an organizer. It’s the first time I’ve seen someone effectively articulate the need for each of us to become engaged in the process, rather than spouting more politics-as-usual rhetoric. This is the kind of leadership this country needs.

Here are some things that I came across this past week that personally inspired me about Obama, his future presidency, and the potential that we can all become: