Sunday, October 12, 2008

Working an Obama Event in Philly

I don't have a digital camera. Don't even have a TV. I've volunteered at a number of events that I would like to have reported on... but with images? Better those who could demonstrate that a picture was worth... you know.

Worked an Obama event today. An hour or so last night, orientation. Got there at 7:00 this morning, helped set up chairs etc, then went to the cattle-chute: queue on its way to the security check... crowd control, that was my job. Non stop till about 1:45 when Obama began to speak. A LOT of people... puzzles me how some (very few, really, but disproportionate in the impression they leave) can be so angry and disrespectful of the inconvenience they cause others.. .but that went with the job description. Having teacher skills was a definite plus... aside from some rambling, the "difficult" encounters provided fruitful material for further thought.

Some great photos on the Philly event on a diary on Daily Kos. Here's the link while it lasts... the diary posts get scrolled off fairly rapidly.

24 more days till the election. 100 more days of Bush in the White House.

When I got home I went downtown and chanced on an anti-Palin rally at Broad and Walnut. Evidently she's in town and was expected shortly at the hotel there. Organized ( going by the t-shirts) by two unions, but a lot of bystanders and passers by were joining in. Within 15-20 minutes, went from a few hundred to, I'd estimate, two to three thousand people. The response was amplified by passing cars--honking horns, calling out the windows, V-for victory gestures. Open top tour busses--looked to be about half the passengers would wave and signal their approval. Quite an amazing demonstration.

I hope Alaska Sally caught a glimpse of it as she sped past in a convoy of black, window tinted, police escorted SUV's.

Didn't get so much as a glimpse of Obama. Could barely hear him. But that wasn't why I was there.

Persuasive canvassing tomorrow...

Now, time to think back... what did these experiences mean?

When I went in Friday night--just setting up the stage, the sound system... laying out the barriers, the street still open otherwise, went into the 52nd Street campaign office; they had a display of posters neighborhood kid's had done, markers and Crayons... they really tugged at the heart streets... most on the theme of "We LOVE you Obama!" You make us feel loved...

There were about a half dozen teens outside on the street soliciting volunteers... with these posters (done by much younger kids, of course) behind them, leaning against the walls. Stuff they were too old to put in such raw uncooked terms... but the way they would reach around to prop them up, caring for them... showed what they meant to them. "You make us feel loved..."

The stuff that you can document, that gets in the news, that fits into some statistical profile... all that stuff you can see and measure talk about objectively...that only begins to touch on the damage inflicted by bigotry... it's to the heart... that sense of being unwanted, feared, unloved by the greater world... that's at the center of this self perpetuating cycle. The responses that reinforce the bigotry of the majority, and in turn, goads ever more radical and often violent efforts at self-protective disdain and contempt of what are perceived as "their" values, "their" culture... I could feel that in the few very difficult encounters in my "crowd control" job... most (thousands-to-one most) were respectful and responsive and encouraging... recognizing this was not an easy job... many thanking me for doing this, sharing jokes... like, there should be a pin: we got Women for Obama, we got this union and that union... how about a button for Old While Guys for Obama!

... but those few difficult cases... all women, middle age or older... with HUGE chips on their shoulders... it was so clear, thinking back about the night before, those posters...

There is no more basic need then to know we are loved, and (can't have one without the other), that we are capable of love.... to quote Mr. Rogers... who, however people mocked him, was no sentimentalist. He was a genuinely wise man. Too be deprived of that, in either our personal and familial relationships... or in our social identity, is crippling, and It comes out... the pain comes back out, as a wish to inflict pain in equal measure.

That isn't an insight that can be made into a prescription for a cure.

There is no prescription, no script to follow that would not falsify the reality.

We cannot pretend to cure by "good thoughts and pure hearts" structural and institutional inequalities and built in injustices. But neither can we expect that any mechanist reform, however well intended, can bring us together until we are ready to recognize the reality of the "other"... one to one, many to many...and know, by discovering the truth of it in our own life experience, that--like Obama says in his speeches, over and over...not as an abstract principle, but experimentally, that the sum of what we have in common is always greater than our differences.

There were two or three really difficult encounters... and they stuck in mind, as the positive ones didn't. Why? Because these were the experiences that I could learn from.

I saw this on Daily Kos.

Hope or Hate
You Decide

I thought this was beautiful... there are qualities of the man in these photos you just can't fake, not over and over.

This has been a very emotional campaign for me. There'll be times canvasing, someone standing at the door, hands white with floor--come from preparing dinner, I apologise for catching her at a bad time. "Oh no, no," she says. "Thank you for doing this!" ... I often find myself choking back tears--kinda overwhelmed with it all. Like when I got home yesterday--7 hours without a chance to sit down, dehydrated, almost lost my voice working to keep the line in order and everyone happy, calming down the overly excited... kinda scary, too--these big events. You see the Secret Service, their dark glasses, the guns strapped to their sides, see them staking out buildings, rooftops--there's so many people all pressed together. One incident get out of hand and it could turn into a disaster. And people do dumb things: climbing over barricades, pushing to get to the head of the line--which gets everyone upset.. .but then Obama begins to speak, the crowd settles down, and after the's over. And it's a success, and the crowd spreads out... a little girl with missing front teeth between her mother and father, hand in hand, beaming--telling everyone she passes, "I touched Obama! He shook my hand! I touched Obama." And it's over... and it's all right... we did it, everyone working together, staff, event planners, volunteers... doing this in cities and suburbs and towns in every state in country... thousands of people who believe in "Government by the Consent of the Governed" ... We the People...we did it. Ten, fifteen thousand people packed together, filling the street for blocks and blocks... and now they are leaving, passing through the button sellers and t-shirt venders... and its okay... everything is okay... and I sit down when I get home and the tears flow in relief and happiness... and hope.

Hope is not about the future. Hope is not built on speculation on what the future holds. Hope is joining in, joining together, taking hands with others, doing what you believe in... doing. The minute you begin to act, it's isn't about you anymore. From the moment you begin to act you know--that you are not alone, and never were.


  1. i want one of those: "old white woman for obama"; even a number of my favorite lefty radio hosts have made comments about how people over a certain age aren't for obama.

    did you hear by the way of that guy who has had tremendous results working with families, getting to read to their kids every single day?

  2. No, but sounds like a great project. I lived in an extended household until I was 12. Had at least two family members to read to me... every day, plus a near-by great aunt. Read to me long after I learned to read. The greatest sort of inherited wealth any family can give, or any kid can hope to receive.

  3. check this out. (you have to scroll down a little bit). it is so amazingly cool.

  4. Thank you! I'll definitely check this out. Ira Glass is amazing...

  5. It feels very strange, and very invigorating, to be looking again at American politics with a sense of hope (and I can't think of a better word for what I'm feeling lately, even if it sounds like I fell out of a campaign ad). I've spent the last eight years dreading everything the government's done, wondering what awful plan the Republicans could trot out next, but now it feels like something's turned, the culture's changing, and we might be headed toward another election like 1932: catastrophe looming, but a chance to fight against the odds instead of watching all our institutions fail us.
    I have some assorted pictures from Saturday's rally up on my Flickr account: I ended up working the lane leading up to the red ticket area, which was a challenge because everyone wanted to fill the empty space we were using to get people up to the front, but once Obama showed up I was in a decent place to see and hear him. Nice meeting you Friday night, by the way.

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  8. Kid Korovyov,

    Thanks for the pictures... strange feeling, being recognized on the street because of this blog.


    Geezers for Obama!

    I'll get back to you on the reading program, but likely have to wait till the weekend.

  9. p.s. the closing sentence in my comment above might sound a little corny -- but anyway, this is one of those times when being corny doesn't matter.

  10. [Jacob: this is my first comment. Did it come through?]


    "but now it feels like something's turned, the culture's changing, and we might be headed toward another election like 1932"

    This is an apt comparison, but the election hasn't happened yet and I must say that I feel a certain degree of anxiety when I hear people talking about an Obama victory as if it's already in the bag. (I'm not saying this is what you think; just this is how the passage reads. And I'm not mentioning this as a criticism, just encouragement to keep on knife's edge until the ballot boxes have closed.)

    I'm Canadian, BTW, and can't vote in it myself. But this election matters to everyone, and is being carefully watched all around the planet. Good luck to you, mes amis Americains.

  11. finn harvor,

    I don't think that was "corny" at all. Two weeks ago I worked the Bruce Springsteen event on the Parkway. I was on the line asking people to sign up so we could get information on where our supporters were, asking for volunteers. There are always tourists on the Parkway on their way the Museam of Art, the Rodin Museam, the Franklin Institute. I encountered a woman from Italy, a visiting class of Germans, several Canadians... and every one of the told me that they wished they could vote in this election. They didn't have to say which candidate.

    For better, and far too often, for worse, U.S. power has cast a shadow over the rest of the world.

    I do feel that, and that the time I spend knocking on doors and doing my small part in pulling off these big events, that I'm working for everyone... a citizen, not only of this strange, frightening, and sometimes wonderful country, but of the world.

    So there you are. If your thoughts were corny, I just squared them.

    Went to a mobilization meeting last night, preparing for the GOTV effort. At first I signed up for two shifts each of the last four days... then I got to thinking about it. What else could I possibly do for those last days before the election that would be more important?

    I couldn't come up with anything. So signed on for four full day shifts.

    You guys out there can't vote in this one... but I'm far from the only one of the ground troops who know you're watching... and we feel your support. It makes a difference.