Thursday, April 3, 2008

Power of Narrative, Obama

Update: July 15 2011
Obama has betrayed every expectation, proven himself to be a blind servant of the oligarchy

I've been canvassing on weekends for Obama, and got to go see him at a rally for volunteers last night...he has this story he uses to close meetings with volunteers.

The man a natural story teller. Maybe the best we've seen from a politician since Lincoln.

When he starts to tell a story there's a subtle change in his posture. He gathers himself in, his shoulders, thrust back when in full speech mode, relax. He walks back and forth across the stage as he speaks. He no longer looks out at the audience, no effort to catch someone's eye. As though talking to himself--or through himself--he lets himself become a medium communicating from a deeper and more private part of himself. There are pauses as he speaks. No longer any sense of being rushed.

This will take as long it takes.

Fifteen-hundred committed Obamaite volunteers make for a raucous audience. Everyone knows the stump speech. This isn't going to be an occasion for a new policy statement--or speech like the one at the Constitution Center. People crowd into the isles taking pictures... everyone seems to have one of those video camera phone. Through the routine part of the speech, the list of issues, why you're here, what we have to do... difficult to hear what he says. A lot of noise from the crowd... but once he gets into the story, the room quiets down... everyone listening now, and the silence of the pauses take on a kind of power.

The pauses, the silences, draw us together, draw us in.

This story... told I'm sure many times, starts out with a night early in the campaign. He was in North Carolina and had been on the road for days. He was missing his children and wife, bone tired. Got to his hotel room after midnight and was about to unlock the door when an aid tapped him on the shoulder.

--Have to be in the car by 6:00 AM


--You promised to meet city council officials at .... and it will take some time to get there.

.... next morning he wakes up more sleepy than when he went to bed. Opens the window to get some morning sun in his face... but of course it's still dark. And not only that--its raining. Pouring rain. Between the door of the hotel and the car his umbrella collapses. Water pours over his head and down his back. By this time, he says, he's wet, he's tired, he's mad.... altogether sporting a bad attitude.

At this meeting, there's maybe 20 people show up, but he's got to go through with it. Listen to the introduction... begin to speak... when people in the audience start pointing to something going on behind him... as though they want him to stop. He doesn't know what's happening, and when he looks around there's a woman, maybe in her 60's... about this tall (holds out his hand to indicate something under 5 feet)... and all of a sudden she barks out real loud.


No idea what she said. Found out later this was woman on the city council....has a reputation of beginning every meeting this way.

He starts to speak again.... FARDUP!

And then again... until she's doing this chant behind him, and he realized that what she's saying is...


Nothing left but to join in, so there he is, everyone in the room, back and forth. She says FIRED UP, and everyone answers, FIRED UP... and pretty soon ... he's feeling...much to his surprise...

Fired up!

Not tired anymore. Not asking himself, why am I here?

This is why he's there...

And that's what he's does now with his volunteers, in all their meetings... because you know, he says, the race isn't about Barack Obama. It's about you. You taking back your country. And that chant has powered the campaign every since... what brought you here. Because all of you know in your hearts... each one of you...

... that one voice, speaking out... has the power to change the world.

Even as I was caught up in the excitement of the gathering... impossible not be, I was observing... taking notes in my journal to preserve a particle of distance. I can remember demonstrations from years ago where it was either/or. I could let myself be swept away in the collective emotion, but only at a price. To continue to observe, to think, to preserve independent judgement, was to be cut off--to experience a deep sense of alienation--an acute loneliness in the midst of the crowd.

I didn't feel that last night. There was no contradiction. Though I could certainly feel around me the hunger for that loss of individual consciousness. Obama wasn't responding to it, wasn't answering to it. He retains a certain distance--an aloofness (something the press doesn't like). His most private moments are in those stories he tells, and it's the nature of a story that it returns you to your own center, that it does not violate the borders, but rather, requires you to remain true to your own center. I've never encountered anything quite like it... not since Martin Luther King. My cheeks were wet with tears... of amazement, not adulation.

I left wondering how he plans to encourage and develop this new constituency.. particularly the youngest... programs comparable to VISTA and the Peace Corp of the Kennedy-Johnson years. Realistically--that will be the most significant achievement of an Obama presidency--in effect, laying the foundation for policy changes in the next administration. I suspect that Obama has given this a lot of thought, and anticipate, after his nomination, to hear him speak to this concern. He so clearly understands the meta-issues involved in this campaign, that I can't imagine otherwise.

...and indeed, he's not waiting to take office to begin just such a program.

No comments:

Post a Comment