Posts Tagged ‘electoral politics’

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:

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Today was certainly a highlight of the weekend for me! At 9:00am, we arrived at the Columbia HQ to take park of a large faith-based mobilization hosted by Obama’s campaign. As an organizer, I remember how important, yet challenging and nuanced, organizing the churches can be. And as a buddhist practicioner, there was only so much I felt like I could accomplish, outside of building relationships with congregations that were open to inter-faith alliances. Obama’s “Call to Chapel” was exciting to me because 1) my partner is Christian and has helped me better understand the Christian faith, and 2) the mobilization was about simply meeting people where they were, rather than aggressive campaigning.

At the headquarters, I was happy to see a large crowd gathering and a charter bus pulling into the parking lot. Outside of some logistical delays, everyone that showed up was assigned a church to attend. My partner and I chose to go to Antioch A.M.E Church in Eastover which was located about 40 minutes outside of Columbia. During the drive, I saw how this part of South Carolina was truly rural, without much infrastructure between population centers.

 

I had no idea what to expect when we arrived at Antioch A.M.E. This was the kind of church that had a grave next to the building, with an address named after itself. How well would they receive us? Would they let us read Senator Obama’s letter? Did I look okay? All went well — Reverend Benton and his congregation welcomed us with open arms, and this Sunday happened to be dedicated to the youth members of the church, so we were lucky to have one of the children read Obama’s letter.

As an observer, I think that the “Call to Chapel” action was successful. Over the weekend, I had overheard many people who had qualms about taking part in this action, or who thought it was not for them. But I don’t think one needs to be Christian to take part in something like this. What better way to earn trust and build bridges than to go to the place that is the foundation of so many people?

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(Please excuse the shakiness of the video I took off my digital camera video function. I was really excited!)

A couple of hours later, we left Florence and drove 1.5 hours south to Columbia, where the state headquarters were located. There was a very different vibe here — there were a lot more people and a lot of them were from out of town. I overheard a conversation about a Danish couple and someone from Peru, who travelled here to help out because they believed that Obama would be a better ambassador of the U.S. to the world. It’s true, I’m finding that Obama really draws in people from a broad cross section of the country. People from all walks of life are entering the doors to offer their time, energy, money, cars, sofas, cell phones, and smiles for the campaign.

We made ourselves useful and made more phone calls, crunched canvassing numbers, and then called it a night at 3am.

I’m very excited about going to church tomorrow morning — it’s part of a church mobilization called “Call to Chapel” where Obama supporters are invited to attend church with South Carolinians, truly meeting folks where they are. I’m particularly interested at how the intersection and expression of activism and spirituality. This event has great potential, and I’m excited about seeing how the Obama campaign pulls it off.

Obama logoToday was the first day of our great South Carolina Democratic Primary Elections adventure. Our first stop was at rainy Florence, South Carolina after a tasty meal at Waffle House (one of my favorite southern establishments). In Florence, we headed to the regional headquarters and stepped into a hub of activity and excitement. Most volunteers at this location were young African Americans, and I soon found out that many of them came from Howard University and Hampton. Folks were friendly, and everyone was eager to help out. I immediately received a list of phone numbers to call and happily agreed to use my own cell phone to make these calls.