Friday, August 29, 2008

Denver Diaries: Day Six - Making Connections

Photo: Mimi Kennedy and Tim Carpenter of PDA

Why the DNC
Is Like Going
To High School

By Carl Davidson
Progressives for Obama

This is my last day in town, and all the talk around the breakfast table is how and where everyone will watch or listen to 'The Speech', Obama's premier performance at Invesco Field. I decide not to waste time hassling long lines or working connections for tickets, since I can watch it on TV in nearby Boulder, where my partner is staying with family.

So I head for the church hosting 'The Nation' and Progressive Democrats of America. On arrival, I've just missed Rev. Jesse Jackson, but Ron Kovic of 'Born on the Fourth of July' fame and early member of Vietnam Vets Against the War is holding forth on his mistreatment at a past GOP convention. He then reports on yesterday's powerful five-mile IVAW and youth march. He did the entire length in his wheelchair. He can't praise the organizers highly enough, acknowledges that Obama did the right thing, but says to keep pushing on. He ends by asserting that we can't let the right have a monopoly on patriotism, so long as we remember we're also 'citizens of the world.' He gets a standing ovation.

I decide to walk the streets again. I want to take it all in, and reflect at little on what major party conventions are all about.

First stop is the lobby at the Sheraton. For a veteran organizer like me, working away 0n a variety on fronts for 45 years, all I have to do is stand there for 15 minutes and someone I know will show up. Sure enough, someone calls my name, and it's Brian Kettenring from ACORN, now one of their top organizers. I first met him when he was a young student ACORN worker in Chicago. He's been on the West Coast for years, but introduces me to ACORN activists from Pennsylvania, now my base area.

Brian tells me he's headed for ACORN headquarters in DC, where, half-joking, half serious, he tells me he wants them to let him set up a 'Department of Socialism' to discuss 'bigger picture things'. I tell him I've working on just the thing for him, the newly formed 'U.S. Solidarity Economy Network,' with an upcoming conference early in 2009. My trend in SEN is based on David Schweickart's 'After Capitalism' with 'Economic Democracy' as a 'successor system' enroute to a fuller blown socialism. It'll challenge ACORN, but it starts on the ground, where they are. He's very interested, and we decide to stay in touch on it. Plus I now have a new contact in Philly.

So there's lesson number one. Conventions are about horizontal networking. Completely apart from the official goings-on, this stuff happens everywhere. Multiply my short example with Brian by 100, and you get the idea.

From the Sheraton, I take an elevated walkway and run into a building with an inviting, postmodernist display on ecology, energy and related topics. It's aimed at DNC delegates and put up by a high-tech design outfit called 'Partly Sunny: Designs to Change the Forecast. Inside are dozens of displays of green and solar construction materials and firms to build the homes and offices of the future. When a young guide offers to help, I ask 'are any these outfits worker or community coops?' Some are, she answers, and shows me how I can find out more. This gets me thinking that almost all of these firms are what we call 'high road capitalists' and thus some of them possible candidates to pull into our solidarity economy networking.

Now 'Partly Sunny' is just one of thousands of corporate displays, presentations and parties going on all week. While this one is a small, relatively progressive example, all of them, bad guys and good guys, are going all out in the DNC events to draw the country's political class upward and into its orbit of influence.

Thus we have lesson number two. Conventions are about vertical networking and its more aggressive cousin, cooptation. There's a constant influx of newer and younger delegates, candidates, elected officials and party workers to be recruited. If you've been to college, think fraternity and sorority 'Rush Week', and you'll have the right idea.

I head back to the church because I want to catch PDA's summary sessions. Along the way, I run into a dozen people I know wanting to know if I know where they can get tickets (I don't) or telling me about the hoops they went through to get them.

This is lesson three. Conventions are about discovering the pecking orders in the various cliques, and how to turn them to your advantage, for good reasons or otherwise.

So I what do I conclude? Major party conventions are really a lot like high school and the socialization process we all experience in and through them. Learning all the cliques, all the pecking orders, where you can best fit in and suffer least, having a good time in the coolest clubs and extracurricular activities. You know, all the important stuff that goes on everywhere except the classroom. At the DNC, all the important stuff these days goes on everywhere EXCEPT on the convention floor and the 'big night' speeches. These latter events are actually, for better or worse, carefully scripted infomercials mostly far beyond our reach.

A corollary lesson: You can accomplish a lot here, but you better come in with a very clear idea of your core values, your own platform and your strategic orientation. If you don't, you'll wind up being part of someone else's platform and strategy. But if you do, you can make major gains.

PDA is a case in point. As I arrive for the final sessions, Dennis Kucinich is pressing impeachment, whipping out his pocket copy of the Constitution. Next, Steve Cobble, Leslie Cagan, Jaime Raskin (State Senator, Maryland) and Rep Keith Ellison, the Congressman from Minnesota who is also a practicing Muslim, and caused a flurry in the press when he was sworn in using Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of the Koran--all of them are on the platform, ready to follow up and discuss what it means to defend the Constitution and democracy in even broader terms.

Tim Carpenter, PDA's tireless chief organizer and John Nichols of the Nation are setting up the crowd. Tim is explaining how PDA has grown, in just four years, from a few dozen in 2004 to now over 140,000 members all across the country. Mimi Kennedy and Jodie Evans are also there, and add in on how the persistent and audacious pursuit of their 'inside-outside' strategy has succeeded and the turnouts to all the sessions this week shows they've made even greater gains.

PDA, of course, is hardly the only player in the progressive movement. I like much of what they do, and work closely with them back in Beaver County, Pa. But there's also room for improvement and other approaches and organizations, too. My point here is that groups ignoring and avoiding the political events and activities surrounding elections--and you don't have to support any candidate or platform to be engaged in them--are only shooting themselves in the foot.

I'm hardly a believer that basic social change is achieved by elections. But I'm a firm believer that change on this order must proceed THROUGH them, in the long march through all the institutions of our society, building the strongholds we need for the popular power and economic democracy that can take us even farther down the road. With that thought in mind, I'm headed back to Beaver County, Western PA, where I hear Obama and Biden are making a bus tour around the state. It's a very tight race there, and we'll soon see if this helps.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Denver Diaries: Day Five - Rage, Vets, Antiwar

Photo: 'Rage' March

A DNC Victory:
For the Iraq Vets
And 'Rage Youth'

By Carl Davidson

Progressives for Obama

I start the day early loading leaflets and joining Leslie Cagan, Judith LeBlanc and five other United for Peace and Justice volunteers headed to the Denver Coliseum on the North Side of town before 9:00AM.

We're going to the 'Rage Against the Machine' benefit for Iraq Veterans Against the War, organized by the Tent State kids and their allies, and we're expecting about 10,000 young people. It's a beautiful day-sunny, not too hot, blue skies with a few clouds, and the first range of the Rockies clear on the horizon. The concert is to be followed by a mass march to the Pepsi Center, led by the vets, to press their antiwar demands on the Democrats. Since there's no permit, and the Pepsi Center is restricted with 'protest pens' no one intends to enter, there's a sense of tension in the air.

Our UFPJ leaflet has a simple message: Join us Sept. 20 to knock on a million doors for peace. Get signatures on petitions, get to know your neighbors, get outside your 'comfort zones' into new neighborhoods and help us double the size of our movement with new names, addresses and emails.

Since the lines are long and organized, we quickly get out thousands of flyers. A brief rap, and most people say, 'Oh, this is cool. I can do this.' Some don't want to be bothered, interested only in the bands, and a few kids are rather spaced out early since no intoxicants other than the music are permitted on the grounds.

I get a 'workfare' pass into the concert with terrific seats. This means I'm on the security team for IVAW inside the concert and along the line of march. We get our special chartreuse armbands and blue wristbands, a quick training in nonviolent methods in dealing with problems. Then we're into the cavernous space, with a local Denver band, Flobots, which is decidedly left and high-energy hip-hop. IVAW speakers appear between numbers and keep the politics of the day clear and focused.

They have three demands: 'Out Now,' full benefits for returning vets, and reparations for Iraq. They have no great love for the Democrats who keep voting to fund the war, they're angry with Obama for not taking a harder line, but they see McCain as more dangerous, both to the world and to vets. They want militancy, but they insist on nonviolence for the day, and demand a resolute respect for their leadership and ground rules.

When "Rage" comes on the stage and gets itself and the crowd wound up, one thing becomes crystal clear. If you're interested in radical and democratic social change from below, here is one powerful engine for it. You dismiss, ignore or demoralize the high energy and critical force of these young people at your peril. This is a multiclass, multinational force of youth, and on this day, they are accepting the lead of the working class, even if it's taking the form of the politics, militancy, organization and discipline of the Iraq vets.

The beautiful thing is how well it all worked.

The vets marched in formation with cadence at the front, dozens of them in uniform, some in full dress with a chest full of medals. They wanted us to keep a short space for media behind them, then everyone else another few yards back behind a large banner supporting GI resistance to the war. No breakaways and no nonsense. If arrest situations came up, we had our instructions on how to keep those who didn't want to risk arrest still involved, but out of the immediate reach of the police.

I'd guess that at least two-thirds of the 10,000 Rage fans joined us, then we picked up other youth, a few workers, and even Convention delegates along the way. The banners and signs and costume were colorful, the chants imaginative and militant, and the energy infected everyone, even the crowds of bystanders, many of whom broke into applause.

I had one of the harder jobs, keeping people from breaking the front ranks and jumping the banner. But with the vets leadership, we kept the spirit both upbeat and disciplined. Denver's overkill police presence was everywhere, but everything remained civil. Some even felt some sympathy for them, sweltering on a hot sunny day in their new Black Ninja Turtle outfits, which must have been unbearable.

It was a long march, nearly five miles. One problem was keeping everyone hydrated, but cases of water kept showing up at critical points. The best energy was downtown Denver, with the cheering and applause from Convention delegates. But we all knew there were trouble spots ahead.

Denver's security rules meant you couldn't get closer to the Pepsi center than several hundred yards, and then you were to be put in fenced 'protest pens.'

The vets would have none of it. They hadn't risked their lives, supposedly defending the Constitution, to be treated this way. They were going to march until they were stopped and then we'd seen what would happen. As we got closer to the skirmish line, they stopped several times, and the vets took turns giving heart-rending stories to the press, which, by this time, was everywhere, and driving us nuts trying to keep them to respect our lines and discipline.

At the final stopping point, a decorated Marine told the cops they would get no violence from us, and we expected none from them. The three demands were read to Obama's campaign and the Democratic Party. The vets demanded a response, and were determined to wait for one.

So now we had the problem of keeping thousands of people, encircled by police and barricades, in an upbeat, but patient and calm state of mind.

One young Black kid from Denver of our security team rose to the occasion. He starts doing his raps, and those of others as well. The crowd loves it, especially when he gets on their case for not being too good at 'call and response.' So he starts an on-the-spot workshop on how we can all become better rappers.

Next two young African American women start softly singing an old church-based civil rights song 'Those Who Love Freedom…" The lyrics are simple and lyrical, and soon hundreds are singing it, over and over. For me, powerful memories come up from my days on Freedom Marches in Mississippi, when we sang this same song in the face of the Klan and cops. When I start to sing along, my eyes fill with tears from long-buried emotions. To hell with it, I decide, let the tears flow, and I sing along.

Finally, we get the word. The other side blinked. The Obama campaign's top veterans affairs people ask the Vets to send two reps into the Pepsi center to discuss their demands. Moreover, they want an ongoing series of discussions to make sure all veterans concerns are heard and dealt with. That's enough for IVAW to call a victory, even if a partial one, and work out a way to bring the day to a close. It's decided that we part the crowd down the middle, opening a path. The vets do an about face, march in formation though the crowd, and as they pass, to many cheers, we fall in behind, get back to the downtown area, and go our various ways.

I find a way to get to my car, then back to 'tent city' to secure our display in preparations for leaving. I meet up with my team in a Taco joint, where they, along with some of the new media people working with Laura Flanders, are watching Joe Biden's speech. I'll have to read it tomorrow, because given everything we've been through, right now it seems rather trivial.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Denver Diaries: Day Four - Arrests, Alliances

Photo: Dueling Demos in Denver

Exposing Rove,
The 'Big Tent',

Beat Poets, Vets

And Denver Streets

By Carl Davidson
Progressives for Obama

I start the morning by heading straight for the church hosting the week-long series of panels organized by Progressive Democrats of America and The Nation magazine. It's quickly turned into an intellectual headquarters and meeting place for leftists and progressives working the election in various ways, inside and outside the Obama campaign and the Democratic party.

A large crowd is gathering early. The buzz is all about the 100 or so young people busted and dispersed the night before by encirclement by an overwhelming police force combined with tear gas. Most of the city's citizens, let alone those just here for the DNC events, are more than tired of the massive police presence on what seems like every other corner. Add to it traffic foul-ups caused by blocked streets and triple cordons around critical spots, and the most common unifying words you hear are 'unnecessary', 'police state,' and 'overkill.'

I'll wait for the dust to settle for a fuller assessment of the bust. The deeper question is why the radical youth turnout was far less than anyone's expectations-despite a myriad of other well-attended progressive happenings around town. There are probably less than 4000 at the outside, not counting the 17,000 plus locals who signed up for the ticket lottery for 'Rage Against the Machine.

But it still needs to be said, off the bat, that the radical bunch last night had fallen into some serious 'Custerism', as in General George Custer. In planning their action, they billed it, quite openly, as an effort to crash and disrupt a Dem fundraising party at one of the hotels. But they had very few allies for such an endeavor, and were vastly outnumbered by the rather well-informed cops with all their new 'Homeland Security' toys. Needless to say, the only thing that got disrupted was their own project and a little nighttime street traffic.

Back to the opening session at the church.

It began with a fascinating and disturbing speech by Don Siegelman, Alabama's Democratic governor (1999-2003), who was defeated in 2004 by Karl Rove and friends having him indicted on false charges a month before the election, then tried and convicted in rigged trials, haul off to a maximum security prison-“Alabama's worse,” he says-where he is locked up in solitary for nine months. He's finally released only after nearly 50 states attorneys general sign an appeal to a higher court not dominated by Rove cronies, where everything is dismissed.

It's a fabulous introduction to the next speaker, Greg Palast, author of 'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.' He not only exposed the fascist machinations of Rove, he went on to offer an excellent exposure of election-stealing in general. His advice? Get ourselves well-trained so we can 'steal our votes back' and get an honest count.

Next is an 'Out of Iraq' dialog between Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Tom Hayden. Mc Dermott was an early opponent of the war, and offers insider advice of how to bring pressure to bear on your Congressman. Hayden expands on his remarks from the day before on how the left-progressives need to take issues like McCain's recent suggestions for a return to the military draft, and press it publicly in a way for the Obama campaign to take it further, to further isolate and expose McCain. Otherwise, he suggests, Obama could lose, since things are very tight.

Hayden has also been passing around sign-up sheets for Progressive for Obama's email group at every appearance. I keep an eye on the sheets, gather them up, and this morning we get another 250 or so.

At the break I decide it's time to hit the streets of Denver.

I want to check out 'The Big Tent', a site near the Pepsi center equipped for 1000 bloggers. It's literally a circus tent over a parking lot, but next to a complex of high-tech 501C3 organizations. Google is a sponsor, as are other third wave firms, and there's some serious money here-plus as a long-time 'cyberMarxist,' I want to be up on these things.

But I decide to walk the distance and take in the sights. Right off the bat, I run into dueling demos and bullhorns. Side by side are the 'Christian' theocrats denouncing abortion, gays and a long list of other violations of the Book of Leviticus, along with the 'World Can't Wait' kids with signs like 'Support Life, Smash Christian Fascism.' Both the local and tourists seem amused, and are snapping photos with their cell phones.

Further along I run into dozens of local African American button and T-Shirt sellers, all doing a brisk business with the widest variety of Obama mottos and slogans I have ever seen. Both DNC delegates and local Black workers seem to be the main customers.

Then comes a contingent of a dozen youth, dressed in black with bandanas, each carrying their own Red Flag, chanting, 'Revolution, the Only Solution! The looks range from bored to quizzical to amused-and the cell phone are snapping pictures again.

Finally I hit the 'Big Tent,' get credential and go inside. Google is offering free ice-cold smoothies in eight flavors-plus they have a machine that will put a free recharge on you cell phone or Blackberry batteries. And inside, indeed, are about 1000 bloggers working away on tables with free WiFi hookups. The implications for the future have my head spinning.

But rather than wait in line, I head for the nearest Starbucks for a large iced coffee, a favored addiction. I see two women, one whose face is familiar, so I wave her over to share the last remaining table. It turns out she's the Beat poet, Anne Waldman, old friend of Allen Ginsburg and now a professor of poetics at The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetry at Naropa University, up in the mountains not too far away. We have a great time discussing Kerouac's sojourns in Denver, and she leaves me with a recording of her own poems. How's that for serendipity!

As evening arrives, I get a call offering passes to a skybox in Coors Field rented by the Council for a Livable World and VETPAC. It's aim is to offer support and interviews with about six Congressional candidates who are both Iraq vets and supporters of Obama. So I go and talk to several candidates, along with some Military Families Speak Out people. When they get done with shredding McCain's betrayal of recent veterans legislation, there's nothing left. If these guys get their message out, it will help a great deal. It's all very real, down-to-earth and a good end to the day.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Denver Diaries: Day Three - New Media

Photo: Our Tent at 'Tent State'

Getting Inside
The DNC's Gated


By Carl Davidson
Progressive for Obama

Today I started off heading for the Progressive Democrats of America/The Nation sessions at the 16th and Sherman church downtown. The theme is 'Healthcare not Warfare'-the fight for single payer, with Tim Carpenter firing up the crown and Congressman John Conyers getting into a terrific speech.

But I get pulled aside by an old friend who offers an opportunity to get inside the highly secured Pepsi Center-dubbed 'the Can' locally-for an upscale lunch with progressive writers and editors. The affair is funded by Media Matters, a relatively well-heeled media monitor and fact checker operation that is very useful. I'll spare you the detail of how we got tickets, but my friend said, 'Hey, we're both progressive writers, we got books out, let's go for it.”

So we're off to 'the Can,' and find a decent place to park close by. Then we head through various mazes, bridges and chained linked enclosures, meeting up with checkers at various points, flashing our stuff and getting waved through.

At one checkpoint I run into Todd Gitlin, the writer and sociologist as well as an old SDS friend, who's headed to the same event. We catch up quickly, and in turns out he's chairing the meeting. Once we get past the final check, and up the elevator, I'm in air-conditioned splendor, compared to the sweltering previous day at 'Tent State' eating beans out of a can with lukewarm water from a fountain. Now I've got a wonderful buffet, waiters, and fancy starched and folded napkins in the water glasses.

Attendees are top writers and editors from the New Yorker and the Nation, influential academics like Cass Sunstein and Samantha Power, multimedia people and donors.

The goal of the meeting is very worthy. It's launching a new enterprise, the Progressive Book Club, designed to counter the Conservative Book Club, influential on the right and elsewhere as well.

Gitlin opens the discussion with a challenging question: Is the era of conservative right dominance over? This brings a range of responses showing that the book club is only the tip of the iceberg. The broader agenda is creating and/or building a new progressive cultural and progressive infrastructure for a new politics for the 21st century.

I chime in by noting that in my study of the right over the years, that the brightest of them actually used some of Antonio Gramci's notions of working in cultural and civil society to counter a perceived hegemonism, even if a decadent one, of the liberalism of the late 1960s. It's way past time for us to oppose their 'running it in reverse' and turning it around to build real popular democracy.

Others add to this, and soon we're off discussing whether there really are new progressive solutions out there to the whole range of political, economic and cultural concerns. There's no consensus on that point, but everyone is fired up on the initial concern. All agree it was a good meeting, and new contacts and projects are tosse around as we bring it to a close.

Now that I'm well fed, hydrated and cooled off, I head back to our radical makeshift tent city along the Platte River. Fighting a stiff breeze, I get the 'Progressives for Obama' tent in order and its signs and literature out. I'm open for business.

Soon enough about five young anarchists and radicals show up, some complete in black clothing and bandanas. They're not too hip on voting for anyone, let along Obama, but one figures out that I'm the author of the 1966 'Toward a Student Syndicalist Movement' paper, and the discussion gets far ranging and lively-ranging from Zen, to Beat poets, and election tactics in 1968 and 1972.

Then one kid whips out something looking like a Blackberry and makes a call. “Here, let's do an interview for our radio show.” He presses a few buttons, then tells me, 'just pretend it's a mike, and speak into it as I ask you questions.” It goes on for 15 minutes, and I lay out our approach, while he adds questions with his spin.

It's a good interview. “Give me your card. We'll have it on the air and one the net in a few days, and I'll let you know where to find it on the dial or how to I-Pod it.”

As one of the authors of 'Cyber-Radicalism: A New Left for a Global Age,' I feel like a proud parent. The younger crew here have picked up on things we merely talked about in the future tense, and they now are making them part of their daily lives.


Denver Diary, Day Two - Doing Outreach

Photo: Denver Youth Protestors

Debating Obama,
Issues, Building

Our Outreach

By Carl Davidson
Progressives for Obama

Just before 9am we’re head down Colfax though old Denver, reminding me of Kerouac’s descriptions in ‘On The Road’, seedy bars, strip joints, greasy spoons and the like. Our first stop is the Capitol rounds, where the ‘Recreate 68’ group is preparing its march. They have only about 500, and clearly aren’t going to cause a major ruckus.

We head for ‘Tent State,’ but the police super-control to the streets drives us nuts with their blockades and blocked off streets. We finally find a way in, and start setting up Right away the security team tells us ‘No stakes’ for the tents. Seems the cops think they’re weapons. My tent requires stakes, so I use them anyway to get it up, then pull most of them out. Takes us longer, but we get it done, and get our signup sheets and books out. The tent is crucial because of the heat and sunburn.

The final touch is our ‘Progressives for Obama’ sign out the tent and our Obama yard sign. This crowd has a lot of anarchist-minded youth and Green types, and we’re the only explicitly Obama tent among about 50 tents.

Right away the key tension arises. A couple of kids with green hair say ‘Obama? Progressives? What do they have to do which each other?’ Then thirty seconds later, a Black teenager on his skateboard, headed for the local skate park 50 yards away, slows down, reads our stuff, then give us a fist salute, asserting loudly, ‘Obama Rules!’

I explore the grounds. The most powerful table and display by far are Iraq Vets Against the War. About 30 are there, earnestly engaged is all kinds of discussions, with each other and passersby. Military Families Speak Out are there, with AFSC. The ‘Boots on the Ground display is going up near the entrance. I talk with the young organizers of Tent State. They’re putting up a ‘Resurrection City Free University’ teaching classes all week. Thousand of youth are lining up for free tickets to the ‘Rage Against the Machine’ concert.

We’re sharing our setup with UFPJ, so we take their leaflets on the ‘Million Doorknocks for Peace’ for base-building on Oct. 20 to everyone standing in lines for tickets. The kids ‘get it’ and snatch them up.

Then Medea Benjamin shows up with Code Pink’s filming making crew. She wants an interview and asks good questions about how the left can pressure Obama. “Stand firm against the war in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan,’ I conclude, ‘then go out a register large number of new young voters and get them to the polls, but with your own groups. Politicians pay attention to organized voters. I do several more radio, TV and press interviews throughout the day.

Tom Hayden comes by with some friends, as does Leslie Cagan. We try to figure out what happened with the first march. ‘No more than 1000,’ says Leslie. ‘t

They got to the Pepsi Center and a few tried to push further, bust didn’t do very well. Tom taks to the cops to see want they know. No major problems or arrests was the answer.

The Alliance for Real Democracy stages its marches in the afternoon from Tent State. They head to downtown Denver, but break up into four smaller groups of 100 or so, and basically engage passersby and Convention delegates into friendly discussions. “Almost every delegate I met was completely against the war,’ reported one. They return in batches, in high spirits, although everyone wishes they had greater numbers.

I stayed behind to secure the site while talking to people. Two local Chicano guys stop by. ‘Do I really think Obama will stop the war?, one asks. ‘I think he’s our best shot,’ I reply, but you never win anything at the top you haven’t organized from below. He nods agreement. “How’s your Mayor?,’ I ask, knowing he’s a progressive Latino. ‘He’s OK, but you know politicians. But what’s your goal here?” I tell him I’m trying to build organizations, independent, grassroots, they we can network, some we’re have something to pressure the White House on the war no matter who’s in it. ‘ I like that,’ he says. ‘I have some time. I can volunteer to help out. Really. Have your folks here call me’ He writes down his number and info, as I thank him.

By 5pm we hut down the tent and get ready to head to the big welcoming party at the Progressive Democratic of America/ the Nation church they taken over for a week. They having dozens of panels and workshops every day for the delegates and activists on key topics.

About 500 pack the church, all in high spirits. PDA is new and had grown rapidly in four years. Several Colorado candidates speak, as do many top figures—Jim Hightower, John Nichols, Lynn Woolsey, Norm Solomon. Tom Hayden did a powerful job stressing linking the economy and the war, and that they had not only to aim their fire at the GOP right, but at some of the center Democrats doing their work for them. He not only fired everyone up; he also had everone offer up their e-mails for ‘Progressives for Obama’ to widen out outreach. Not bad for a day’s work.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Denver Diary, Day One: Getting Organized

Photo: Ann Wright, Vets for Peace

We Push the
Basics of Organizing
In DNC’s

By Carl Davidson
Progressive for Obama

I rolled into Denver about 3:30pm and Saturday, August 23 after a 1500 mile drive from Beaver County, Pa. A last minute safety issue had be leaving my truck camper “Progressives for Obama” mobile office in the shop, so I made do, loading tents, table chairs, mobile internet setup and everything else needed to survive for a week into the trusty little Madza.

The sky was threatening rain as I passed by ‘Tent State” in the City of Cuernavaca Park. Hundred of tents, but no people. So I moved on to one of our first events, at the Cameron Methodist church in South Denver.

Tom Hayden is holding forth to about 100 people, going over all the upsides and downsides of the campaign. The crowd is most peace and justice activists, a few Democratic local officials, and young people, some skeptical of electoral politics. Tom is is good form, and explains the importance of the sheet going around you people to give their names and emails to our efforts, It get filled. His main points:

--The future is open. Take nothing for granted; everything we can do counts. Obama could lose it, especially due to the closeted racists who will used and excuse to depress his vote, plus those pushing his own centrism toward positions that demobilize his most active base.

--We can counter this through finding our issues, highlighting them—McCain’s threatening resurrect ion of the draft, McCain’s own corruption and elitism, and pressing both the campaign and the mainstream media to run with them.

--The most important task for us is to expand the electorate in the next six weeks. Several people note that they know many young activists who talk all the time bout the campaign. “If you do nothing else,” I say to the crowd, get them registered, and most important, get them to the polls. Keep a list. Don’t take it for granted they will go, plus you need the list to press what will hopefully be and Obama White house in 2009.”

Our message is well received. Everyone “gets it” that there’s no contradiction betweem working the campaign, building the movements around our issues, and building the strength of our own grassroots organizations.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Altering Obama's 'Centrist Dynamic'

Now That We’re
Behind, Turn

Things Around

By Tom Hayden
Progressives for Obama

The only good thing about downward spiral of the Obama campaign is that’s happened so quickly, which means there is a window of time to turn the race around.

It will depend on independent outsiders – progressives for Obama – able to change the dynamic within the centrist Obama campaign. An encouraging example this week was the video by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films on “McCain’s Mansions”. When it was disseminated across the internet, the mainstream media turned it into a question for McCain, who stumbled badly. Then the Obama campaign jumped all over McCain as an out-of-touch elitist.

That’s the model. Accepting the fact that this is a centrist campaign, the boundaries of the center must be altered through pressure. If the anti-war movement is not strong enough, if the fair trade movement is not strong enough, the center will drift towards the right. We have to carry the fight to McCain and the Republicans, leave our comfortable enclaves for the arena of persuasion, and gamble on that Obama can do the rest.

Show me a nominee, however, whose convention goal is to prove that he is a patriotic American, and I will show you a defeat in the making. Show me a candidate who calls his opponent an American war hero, and I will show you a candidate who is conceding the central qualities look for in a president.

All summer Obama has offended his most ardent supporters, and lost countless others, while spending too much time ingratiating himself with people who will never vote for him in November.

The result, according to the Zogby poll, is telling: McCain surged ahead by five points this week, a gain of fifteen percent. Obama suffered a reversal of nearly 20 points in his favorable/unfavorable ratio. The primary reason, Zogby, said is that Obama flip-floppng move to the center was perceived by his supporters as a move to the center.

The magic is tarnished.

No vice presidential nominee will bring it all back.

No mass rally in Denver will bring it all back.

The strength of the Obama campaign lies in its volunteer power and ability to mobilize both high turnout and new voters by the millions. Motivated by ideals and energy, they can be lost to disappointment like leaves off a tree. It appears that many of them withdrew support, at least for the moment, by Obama’s FISA vote, according to Zogby.

Only the renewal of a progressive spirit and platform can bring those voters back, and equally important, raise their volunteer energy. The next phase requires two separate prongs, outside and inside, and two messages, one that renders McCain unacceptable and another which draws Obama towards progressive stances that will help him win the election.

Progressives need to make crystal clear that Obama’s move to the center looks too much like a move to the right. It’s a good move to come out in favor of small Main Street businesses, for example, but not a good move to reverse a promise to filibuster FISA.

More important at the moment, progressives have to shake off their obsessions with Obama’s imperfection, and turn to the main challenge during the next 70 days, defeating John McCain, the Trojan horse for neo-conservative and Republican recovery.

The most important step that can be taken now is an independent progressive insurgency from the Netroots, YouTube, MoveOn, and the broad peace, justice, women’s, and gay/lesbian environmental movements, to the energizing of 527 independent committees to educate and identify voters by door-knocking, paid radio and television ads, funded with millions of dollars by unions and wealthy Democratic donors.

For his own campaign reform reasons, Obama has cast something of a pall on independent expenditures, leading to a drying up of funds for those committees and the channeling of most contributions to the campaign itself. At one point last year, for example, there was hope that tens of millions of dollars would flow to anti-Iraq organizing. In August, 2007, $12 million was invested in anti-war work in Republican districts, but the hope for permanent funding dried up shortly afterwards. Now the anti-war movement is mounting a “Million Doors for Peace” door-knocking campaign in September, a promising effort which will carry the anti-war message and build up a massive voter list. But it lacks the funding needed to maximize its scale before November.

An independent campaign would be best positioned to criticize McCain for his war-whooping support of the Iraq invasion since 2002, the three trillion war in war costs that could have been spent on health care and education, and the mega-profits won by the oil corporations as a result of the war. Obama’s narrower task is to build public confidence in his foreign policy experience by strengthening by arguing for a timetable while chiding Bush and McCain for dragging their feet on deadlines.

Obama should not retreat one more inch on Iraq, the principle issue that won him the Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton. No one, including Obama, should be fooled by the long-standing White House plan to pacify American voters with a peace promise at election time. Obama and the Democrats should take credit for this turn of events, and show Obama and Bush as offering a false promise.

Obama should tie his anti-war stance to our economic crisis, not follow the advice of those who prefer to forget Iraq and focus only on the economy. It is far better that Obama blend Iraq to the economic crisis by talking about an Iraq recession. If war costs are cut in half in 2009, that alone would mean $70 billion for public works and health care. If wartime tax loopholes for the rich were closed, instead of following Bush’s mad path of waging war while lowering taxes, that could bring in another $70 billion or more. If the US simply stopped burning oil in Iraq to drill for more oil to burn at home, our energy policies would be moving in the right direction.

There are several other issues where an inside/outside strategy can work:

- on energy, the priority should be on conservation and renewables first, and only then will a new president and Congress be able to assess the actual need for fossil fuels and plan accordingly. People freezing in their homes under rising gas prices need weatherization, not offshore drilling. Only an energized and funded environmental movement can be trusted to make the case against the oil agenda while Obama twists in the center over drilling.
- On labor, the need for populist themes stands out. Labor and its citizen-action allies can campaign for greater democracy and safety in the workplace, tax loophole closures and the protection of Social Security, all measures dependent on a President Obama’s signature though not his passionate daily support on the campaign trail.
- On women’s rights, while Obama appears “thoughtful” over the moral dilemmas, only a powerful women’s movement can attack McCain for wanting to criminalize abortion and cater to the extremist anti-abortion movement.
- On the Supreme Court, while Obama muses over “balance” and “reason”, only independent social movements can make the clarion case that McCain has promised to stack the courts with more like the current right-wing majority.
- On foreign policy in general, progressives need to make the case for a greater commitment to Latin America as well as the Latino community here at home. The greatest democratic currents flowing in the world today are in Latin America. But the grinding poverty – 40 percent are born poor – causes the immigration crisis in which Latino migrants are exploited as cheap labor and economically as scapegoats for our economic problems. Bush and Cheney support “democracy” under American occupation and free-trade agreements in the Middle East and countries bordering Russia. They are cool at best, and hostile at worst, towards Latin America’s democratic revolutions because the region is opposed to the one-sided policies of the WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA, and the FTAA. Progressives and Obama have an opportunity to cement a coalition of the middle class, working class and the poor around protecting jobs here against sweatshops, and by promoting the best of FDR’s “good neighbor policy” towards Latin America.

These are only sketchy suggestions, but the point the way along sometimes parallel, sometimes overlapping, but never antagonistic paths for the progressive movement and the Obama campaign for victory in November and a more unified progressive agenda beyond.


What Are Our Tasks, Rather Than Obama's

Photo: David Sirota

Seizing the
Obama Moment:

Which Side

Are We On?

By David Sirota

The question of how progressives can seize the so-called "Obama Moment," as my colleague Bob Borosage calls it, is an important one - and it is critical that the question be asked right now - before the election, rather than after

Though the media's horse race coverage and the Left and Right echo chambers "win at all cost" psychology would have us believe that elections are ends unto themselves, our Founders envisioned them as means to ends - instruments by which the people's will is debated, politicians are pressured, and a mandate is crafted.

Luckily for progressives, America has aligned with us on economic issues, ready to sculpt a populist election mandate.

As a new poll by the Drum Major Institute shows, the center of American public opinion is far different from the center of opinion in Washington and Wall Street that says "centrism" and "moderation" is continuing the kleptocratic financial and trade policies championed by the Goldman Sachs twins, Bob Rubin and Henry Paulson. Unlike the Royalist Right, progressives don't have to manipulate the public with the kind of faux populism that packages, say, tax cuts for billionaires as a supposed panacea for the working class. We can offer the real thing: a real populist agenda for higher wages, fairer trade policies, universal health care, a better regulated financial system and a strengthened social safety net - and we can do that knowing the vast majority of America is with us.

But before we can assess an "Obama Moment" we have to know if this is an actual "moment," or whether this is a mirage, like the one when Bill Clinton promised to oppose NAFTA, and then rammed it through Congress "over the dead bodies" of the progressive movement?

If we are serious about developing the tactics and strategies to bring about real change after the election, we have to first know if Barack Obama is even with us. That is the great unknown at this theoretically transformative "moment." The question that the Illinois senator still hasn't convincingly answered is that age-old question haunting all economic issues: Which side are you on?

When I interviewed Obama two years ago for The Nation magazine, he seemed to yearn for an elusive Third Way on most major economic issues - a middle-ground that can somehow simultaneously satisfy the insatiably greedy corporate profiteers that populate Washington, D.C. and the vast majority of Americans who live outside the Beltway and are getting eaten alive. This likely stems from Obama's disposition as a conciliator and bridge-builder who eschews challenging economic power. Then again, it conflicts with his much-touted history as a supposed Saul Alinsky-style community organizer (Alinsky was, ahem, no shrinking violet).

And so while Obama indeed has a website full of nice policy proposals, Bob is right. He has yet to really take a side in what is (and always will be) a binary confrontation between capital and labor - a confrontation that capital has been winning for most of the last generation, as evidenced by declining wages, eroding health care benefits, and raided pension funds. In fact, a candid examination of Obama's campaign suggests that when the senator does give us a glimpse of his answer to the "which side are you on" question, he is telling us he's not on the vast majority's side.

For example, back in July, the media had a field day berating John McCain's top economic adviser, Phil Gramm, after his comments blaming the middle-class for the recession. Progressives (rightly) used the moment to point out the outrage of McCain ever appointing a top executive at a major investment bank like Gramm as his top economic adviser. Yet, almost no one bothered to question why Obama long ago appointed Gramm's boss, Robert Wolf, as his own top economic adviser.

Similarly, Obama's first major announcement after securing the Democratic nomination was his decision to hire Jason Furman as a full-time economic adviser. Furman's claim to fame is serving as the apprentice to Rubin (the man who jammed NAFTA down America's throat), and defending Wal-Mart's wage and union-crushing economic model. Furman quickly packed Obama's economic team with other Wall Street titans and neoliberal extremists, all but ignoring progressive voices from esteemed institutions like the Economic Policy Institute.

Even now, as Obama knows his major challenge is to win working-class constituencies, Bloomberg News reports that his campaign is "tilting towards Rubinomics" while the Wall Street Journal documents his campaign aides aggressively "trying to wrap themselves in business's embrace by wooing some of the best-known chief executives."

What this all means is that the messy, disorganized and all-too-deferential circus of progressive institutions - from labor unions, to D.C. think tanks, to grassroots groups, to the Netroots - has to move beyond Partisan War Syndrome, and into a movement posture. We must get out of thinking that the cure-all is the election, and realize that while elections are important, constant - and often confrontational - pressure against both parties has always been the only force that makes real progress. Whoever is president - whether it is Obama, the economic progressive; Obama the Wall Street sycophant, or McCain, the Bush clone - that transpartisan movement pressure will be the deciding factor between "change" and "more of the same."

Of course, the propaganda telling us to look only through red and blue lenses - to think only in caveman-ish Obama Good, McCain Bad terms - is powerful. You can't turn on a television, listen to a radio, or read a blog (except for maybe CAF's!) without a superheated - and often fact-free - partisan screed searing your face off.

But the process of maturing from Partisan War Syndrome to movement psychology should - theoretically - be aided by The Who's iconic song "Won't Get Fooled Again" ringing in our ears. On many issues in the 1990s (from welfare to Wall Street regulation to trade issues), the new boss - Clinton - was the same as the old boss, and the results of being fooled still scar our economy today. Though many younger people's sense of political history stretches only back to the outrageous Clinton impeachment, it is undeniable that the reactionary economic policies that are crushing our country were uninterruptedly carried out from Reagan/Bush through Clinton to the present - and getting fooled again this time around could take our economy over a cliff we haven't seen since the Great Depression.

Can progressives mature? It is a tough to know - and it brings up uncomfortable queries that ask progressives a version of the same question we must ask Obama: Which side are WE on?

For instance, can truly progressive groups in Washington match the powerful corporate front groups and faux "centrist" think tanks that get so much attention? Will labor leaders pining for recognition in elite D.C. revert to their quadriennial "thank you, sir, may I have another" attitude when it comes to presidential candidates' footsie with Wall Street? Or will they start making real demands on these candidates, White House Christmas lists be damned, knowing that these candidates are, after all, benefiting from the blood, sweat, tears (and dues) of unionized janitors, truck drivers and teachers? And will much-vaunted Internet-based "grassroots" organizations continue serving only as partisan mouthpieces, or will they actually start organizing pressure against both parties?

How we answer these questions about ourselves - not the whims of Barack Obama or of the same Democratic "strategists" who have destroyed the Democratic Party - will decide whether this is, indeed, an "Obama Moment" that sees real change forced into legislative reality, or whether this election is merely a televised fiddler recital as America burns.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

McCain Team Help Start New Cold War

Photo: McCain, Scheunemann

Warning to Obama

Georgia Conspiracy:
Iraq War Neo-Cons
And McCain's Team

BY Tom Hayden
Huffington Post

Barack Obama and the Democrats are heading towards trouble in November because of a new Cold War with the Russians triggered largely by a top John McCain adviser and the same neo-conservative clique who fabricated evidence to lobby for the Iraq War.

This is not a conspiracy theory but a conspiracy fact, stated as boldly as possible before it is too late.

Because they are still mired in what Obama himself calls “old thinking”, the Democratic hierarchy and the mainstream media will have to be challenged to recognize the Georgia Conspiracy by the the faithful and clear-headed rank-and-file and the blogosphere.

Here are the short-term essentials:

--After border skirmishes similar to the 1964 Tonkin Gulf affair, on August 7-8, Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia invaded the autonomous breakaway region of South Ossetia with his US-trained army. The Russians responded with massive force, quickly routing Saakashvili’s forces.

-- McCain has traveled to Georgia, nominated his “close friend” Saakishvili for a Nobel Prize in 2005, and was the first American leader “to blast Russia” last April when Vladimer Putin issued a sharp warning against NATO membership for Georgia and the Ukraine, supported by the US. [NYT, Aug. 18, 2008]

--The Bush administration was divided along familiar lines, with the pro-Georgia hawks centered in vice-president Cheney’s office, allied with McCain. The former group were foreign policy “realists” while the latter were enthusiasts for spreading “democracy” from Iraq to the Russian border.

--Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s foreign policy adviser was “registered foreign agent” for Saakashvili’s government from at least 2004, when Saakashvili came to power, until May 15, 2008, when he technically severed his ties to Orion Strategies, his lobbying firm. At that point, Orion had earned at least $800,000 in lobbying fees from Georgia. [W Post, Aug. 13, 2008]

--Saakashvili, with Scheunemann advising him, campaigned on a platform of taking back South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

--Scheunemann was Georgia’s lobbyist when Saaskashvili sent troops to retake two separatist enclaves, Ajaria in 2004 and the upper Kodori Gorge in Abhkazia in 2006, over strong Russian objections.

--Saaskashvili tarnished his democratic credentials by sending club-wielding riot police against unarmed demonstrators protesting his abrupt purging of the police, civil servants and universities in 2007, a replay of Paul Bremer’s decision to privatize Iraq in 2003.

Until now Scheunemann has been less-visible but no less important than any of the top neo-conservatives who drove America into Iraq and now are lobbying for a new Cold War and a McCain presidency.

He was the full-time executive director of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. He helped draft the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act which authorized $98 million for the “Iraq lobby” led by Ahmad Chalabi which disseminated bogus intelligence in the lead-up to war. He also worked for Donald Rumsfeld as a consultant on Iraq. He joined the board of the Project for the New American Century.

Scheunemann traveled with McCain to Georgia in 2006. Seeking to repeat his 1998 Iraq jackpot, he lobbied for an unsuccessful measure co-sponsored by McCain that year, the NATO Freedom Consolidation Act which would have sent $10 to Georgia.

He claims to have invented the phrase “rogue state rollback” for a 1999 McCain speech, an echo of the right-wing Cold War strategy of rolling back the Soviet Union. He has been a paid lobbyist or consultant for such presumed beneficiaries of “roll back” as Latvia, Macedonia, and Romania, as well as Georgia. Not to miss another opportunity, his firm has represented the “Caspian Alliance”, a consortium of oil and gas producers in the region.

It is unclear at this writing what links Scheunemann, as Georgia’s paid lobbyist, may have to the Western oil interests who in 2005 built the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline through Georgia, a project intentionally designed to “bypass Russia” and implement an “American strategy to put a wedge between Russia and the Central American countries that had been Soviet republics.” [NYT, Aug. 14] The BTC consortium includes BP, Chevron, Conoco, and the state of Azerbejian. As conceived, the system also would attempt to link eventually with Israel’s pipeline system as well. [Ha’aretz, Jan. 17, 2008]]. Using the justification of pipeline protection, US Special Forces in 2005 trained 2,000 Georgian troops in anti-terrorism techniques. [Turkish Weekly, May 27, 2005] Scheunemann has been a lobbyist for BP America, and Sec. Condoleeza Rice, of course, has longstanding ties with Chevron, which even named a super-tanker after her.

But as evidence of the serious tensions within Republican circles, Schuenemann attacked Rice for “appeasement” of Russia over Georgia as recently as 2006. [Financial Times, Oct. 21, 2006] Now it appears that the Shuenemann-McCain faction has succeeded in pulling the US into an unwinnable military situation which is overflowing with political dividends for McCain and the Republicans.

In a nutshell, here is what should be said: the same Republican neo-cons who fabricated the reasons for going to war in Iraq are back, and now they have been paid to trigger a new Cold War with Russia that benefits John McCain. These are dangerous, expensive unwinnable games being played with American lives to benefit Republican politicians and their oil company friends.

These are not words you are going to hear from Barack Obama or anyone in the Democratic hierarchy. Looking back, they agree that the Iraq invasion was a colossal misjudgment. Privately, most of them feel that Georgia’s adventurism provoked the current conflict. But politically, they are pledged to be positioned as tough against terrorism and Russian communism, tougher than the Republicans.

This should be a red line for peace movement supporters of Barack Obama. We can live to fight another time on his proposals on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nor can we play into McCain’s game plan, not with the Supreme Court at stake and a stronger-than-Obama Democratic majority poised to take over Congress. But this new Cold War is now, heating up by the day, and Obama could be its first political victim. It is even possible that McCain, alerted to the complicated dangers at home and abroad, will propose a “diplomatic solution” after he has squeezed as much benefit out of the Cold War revival that he can, to be resumed after he becomes president and tries to incorporate the Ukraine into NATO.

Until a leading Democrat summons the courage and vision, the peace movement and netroots will have to lead the battle against this attempt to reward the very people who brought us Iraq with another lease on power.

First, it will be necessary for millions of people to re-educate themselves in the history and perils of the Cold War. Fortunately, we don’t have to repeat the communism/anti-communism debates that divided America and defeated Democrats for decades. No one defends Russia as a democratic example. The real question is as old as 1917 or 1945: can and should the US attempt to strangle Russia through reckless pro-Western privatization schemes combined with installing military bases – now including Pershing missiles – on its western and southern borders. And the question is as old as 1967: why was John McCain bombing Vietnam in the belief that it was a pawn of the Soviet Union? Why did our government and a majority of Americans fall for the same misleading pretext for that war?

The Republicans and neo-conservatives should be asked this puzzling question: whatever happened to your triumphal claim that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War by destroying the “evil empire”? Evidently they were seeking nothing more than Russia’s natural resources and complete subjugation by NATO. There was no limit to what their superpower mentality thought possible.

Among those who caused this current debacle too were the Democratic Party’s “humanitarian hawks”, who promoted the NATO military intervention in the Balkans with the dream of creating an independent Kosovo in Russia’s historic sphere of influence. That war would have been a disaster if the US [under Clinton] had sent ground troops. But Russia pulled back its support of Belgrade after three months of US bombing. That was perceived as Russia’s weakness and the birth of a new “uni-polar” world. Then came the giddy enlistment of former Soviet-bloc countries in NATO – the “new Europe”, as Rumsfeld hailed them. The Russians were clear in warning that they could recognize places like South Ossetia if the West could carve out Kosovo, but the superpower was deafened by the delirium of success. It was to be “the new American century”, a resumption of the march to the free-market millennium first announced on the Time cover at the beginning of the Cold War.

The initial goal of the principled rank-and-file peace movement should be to devise a persuasive message against the reckless adventurism of the resurgent McCain/neoconservative crusade and bombard the “realist” foreign policy school, from think tanks to editorial boards to senior members of Congress, with questions that widen the current climate of debate.

If Obama had a paid lobbyist for a foreign country on his Senate staff, what would the Republican outcry be?

If John McCain is above the special interest lobbies, why is he harboring Scheunemann? Is it enough to go off the Georgia payroll and over to the McCain campaign payroll during a regional war you helped set off?

Is Scheunemann as reckless as Saakashvilishi and McCain, in his own way? Besides his work for the Iraq lobby and the Georgia government, Scheunemann was the lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and the Sporting Arms and Ammunitions Manufacturers, and just nutty enough to be arrested for possession of an unregistered shotgun in the US Capitol – after a duck-hunting trip, of course. [Washington Times, Feb. 5, 1997.]

Obama supporters should step up their criticism of his hawkish mimicry of McCain, and consider lessen their support though still voting for him, unless he distinguishes himself from McCain on the immediate crisis.

At the very least, Obama can stop going out of his way to celebrate McCain as a great American war hero, which only reinforces McCain’s strongest rationale for victory. And Obama’s surrogates might delicately suggest that McCain shoots before he thinks. McCain was the pointman pushing the neo-conservative war against “islamo-fascism”, centered in Baghdad, months before the Bush Administration revealed its intentions. While Obama urged caution about a “dumb war”, McCain was supporting Ahmad Chalabi’s “misleading assertions” about weapons of mass destruction and Iraq-al-Qaeda ties that didn’t exist. [NYT, Aug. 17]

The broad peace movement has to awaken a burning memory from below. Everyone recalls George Bush declaring “Mission Accomplished”, but does anyone recall John McCain standing on another aircraft carrier on January 2, 2002, yelling to young Navy pilots like himself during Vietnam, “Next up, Baghdad!” #

TOM HAYDEN is the author of Ending the War in Iraq [Akashic] and Writings for a Democratic Society [City Lights].


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Critical Task: Register New Young Voters

Photo: A rainbow of new young voters

New Ohio Law
Makes Voter
Registration Easier

By Philip Elliott
Associated Press Writer

Aug 13, 2008 - Never mind the last days of the presidential campaign. The busiest days for Barack Obama's campaign in this perennial swing state are likely to be a month before Election Day.

Ohio has created a window in the election calendar that would allow residents instant gratification — register one minute, vote the next. It's also given the campaigns of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain a chance to bank thousands of first-time voters during that Sept. 30 to Oct. 6 window.

The move will benefit Obama, who enjoys a 2-to-1 lead over McCain among 18- to 34-year-olds, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last month. If Obama's campaign were able to tap into college campuses with one-stop voting, it would add thousands of votes to his tally in a state where, in 2004, John Kerry lost to President Bush by only about 118,000 votes, putting Bush over the top in the electoral count.

Of the more than 470,000 students enrolled in Ohio's public colleges and universities in 2006, the most recent figures available, nine out of 10 were Ohio residents, the state Board of Regents said. To register to vote in Ohio, a person must be a resident of the state for at least 30 days immediately before an election.

Ohio elections officials say they are working out potential kinks, such as questions about whether a vote counts when it is cast or when it's counted. They also are trying to address potential fears of massive voting fraud, and what effect this influx is going to mean on vote security.

Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner on Wednesday issued a directive advising county elections boards that they must have procedures in place to allow voters who register to be immediately issued an absentee ballot. She said boards can delay voting if they have concerns over the validity of a registration.

Brunner said absentee ballots are verified once they are cast and counted after polls close Election Day.

Allowing voters to cast their ballots weeks before Election Day is a growing trend. More than a dozen states permit early voting, and more than two dozen provide an absentee ballot to any registered voter for any reason. The battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico allow voters both options.

In Ohio, Republicans are clearly not pleased with same-day registration and voting and have not ruled out a lawsuit against Brunner's office.

"You have to wonder, when they look at what they consider a loophole with such excitement," said Jason Mauk, the Ohio Republican Party's executive director. "That would suggest manipulating the process, and I think opens the door to suspicion."

The voting window, so far, is only being implemented in some counties — typically, urban areas or those with college campuses — leading Republicans to cry foul.

"The prospect of someone coming in with no ID and registering and voting is contrary to every sort of protection that legislators and lawmakers have built into this system for decades," said Kevin DeWine, a Republican lawmaker who is poised to take over the state party after the election. "The processes and the law and the systems in our 88 counties are not equipped to handle same-day registration."

People in Ohio can register without identification, but they have to show some sort of ID to vote.

State lawmakers accidentally made the window before the 2006 elections. Obama's campaign is eager to take advantage of it this year.

"This is one of many ways we'll be encouraging our supporters to skip the lines on Election Day and make sure their vote is cast early," said Isaac Baker, an Obama spokesman.

The move is likely to bring Obama to Ohio for nonstop campaigning that week. Also, television ads are expected to be in heavy play as both campaigns try to take advantage of the electoral oddity. And the early push could help neutralize any last-minute attacks by one campaign on the other.

Outside, independent groups also are looking at spending a lot of time on campuses that week. Organized labor and liberal activist groups see a chance to build their numbers.

Obama, 47, has been attracting a strong following on campuses, something his campaign has aggressively targeted. McCain, 71, has made attempts but has struggled.

Ohio has been a must-win state for presidential candidates during past cycles, but Obama advisers had been weighing a move to skip it. He lost 83 of 88 counties during his fierce primary campaign against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Some Democrats privately fear the map in the general election against McCain will look very similar.

Obama has trailed in support from rural voters and white, working-class voters. He hasn't campaigned in rural areas, despite advice from Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, whose aggressive rural strategy helped him win his job in 2006 and was repeated for Clinton during March's primary.

But Obama advisers now look at Ohio's campuses as a possible way to offset the losses.

It has Ohio Republicans frustrated. Traditionally, young people make a lot of noise about elections and then stay home. If they don't actually have to turn up at the polls on Election Day, then they might take a greater interest.

Mauk said if Brunner doesn't apply the "loophole" in all counties, lawsuits are an option Republicans have to consider.

The secretary of state's spokesman acknowledged the window exists.

"Instructions are being developed and being sent to boards of election across the state to make sure voting is consistent," said Jeff Ortega, Brunner's spokesman.

Its impact is going to be felt in non-presidential races as well. For instance, Ohio State University is the largest college in the country, with more than 52,000 students enrolled on its main campus in Columbus. Democrats are eyeing it as key to helping Mary Jo Kilroy win her House seat to replace Republican Deborah Pryce, who is not seeking re-election.

"There is no question that the huge effort to register and turn out voters at Ohio State University is going to have a positive impact on our race," said Brad Bauman, a spokesman for Kilroy.

Ohio election law for the first time will allow voters to cast a presidential ballot by mail for any reason. In the past, there were specific provisions by which voters could cast a ballot early. But the law was changed; this is the first national general election in which it will be in play.

In 2004, more young people cast ballots than any other time since 18- to 20-year-olds earned the right to vote in 1972. Turnout in 2004 was up 11 percentage points over 2000.

Even so, 47 percent of eligible 18- to 24-year-old voters didn't cast a ballot that year. During 2002's midterm elections, 82 percent of that group said they did not vote.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Women at the Bottom Need Our Unity Most

Photo: Rev. Valda Jean Combs

Sisters, We
Can't Sit This

One Out!

By Rev. Valda Jean Combs
WeNews commentator

(WOMENSENEWS)--Near the end of the primary season, some of Sen. Barack Obama's black supporters circulated an e-mail about boycotting the general election if Obama was not the Democratic nominee.

I knew this would never happen. Black voters are in too much trouble to sit this one out. There's high unemployment, sub-prime mortgages and a broken public education system to consider. Nonetheless, on a personal level, I knew I would be wounded deeply if Obama did not win.

Could I swallow my anger at what I considered to be racist jabs thrown by Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign? Could I overcome the pain of being confronted with the unequivocal fact that large numbers of primary voters were not ready for a black nominee?

Type rest of the post hereAnd what about the mainstream media that gleefully repeated every rumor and nasty innuendo about Obama and his wife? Politics divide. That is a given. I would love to say I could put aside my bitterness and put on my big-girl panties. I hope I could have done it, but we'll never know. My candidate won.

But we can all still be troubled by public rancor and downright ugliness. I saw it during the primary, but I must admit that I was so tuned in to the first viable African American candidate that I missed much of the sexism. I was so furious with Clinton by the close of the primary contest that I turned the volume down each time she came on TV.

Sound familiar?

Racism's Deafening Pain

I watch three news networks, including Fox. I read political Internet sites and blogs. I spend lots of time talking politics. However, it was not until Clinton's supporters began to express their grief and anger that I heard some of the egregious things both said and done. I wonder what made me so hard of hearing?

I'm still working that out. This political race has forced me to try and separate the ways I have experienced sexism and racism. A recent medical experience caused an epiphany.

I had a steroid injection in my back to help manage chronic pain. When I got home, I found that my shoulder hurt. When I called the nurse, she said this was common; that our brains can only process a certain level of pain. That the pain in my back was all my brain could bear, until that pain was relieved.

Is it possible the pain of racism makes it difficult to process someone else's pain?

The visceral, gut-wrenching pain expressed by Clinton's supporters is real, and at least in my case, has caused me to confront my own response, not just to the challenges of the primary campaign, but to sexism and racism.

I reject the notion that we should settle for racist or sexist remarks as acceptable political discourse. Each time I hear a talking head tell me about political races that have been nastier and bitterer, I am offended. Why should we accept that the lowest common denominator is the norm? Still, if we only feel the pain when it is our candidate (race, gender, religion . . .) we will never rise above our own stuff, and the promise of a fair and just society cannot be achieved.

Unspoken Agreement Among Women

Reflecting on the primary, I realize there was an unspoken agreement among the women in my circle that we could discuss politics in general, but not which side we were on.

It wasn't until the primary was over that I knew my own sister supported Sen. Clinton!

Among my friends, particularly white women, we sensed that our unity was too tenuous to support the issues this campaign brings to the surface. As committed as we were, and are, to our respective candidates, we recognized that the work we do together for the benefit of all women is too important to jeopardize.

Clinton sisters, I feel you. I know how it feels to lose. I know how it feels to have a dream deferred. I know how it feels to believe that your time has come, only to have someone else take your place.

In third grade I was bigger and taller than most of my classmates, certainly blacker. I remember standing in line for recess when I heard my teacher call me a "big, dumb nigger."

On more than one occasion I have walked into a courtroom in rural counties only to have the bailiff yell at me to get behind the rail, apparently unaware that lawyers look like me.

I recount these experiences not because I dwell on them, but because they shaped me. I could recite a litany of such experiences, but what I hope you understand is that I know how it feels when your dream gets kicked around.

Paying a Price to Sit Out

But if anger and disappointment cause some women to sit out this election, other women will pay the price.

Think of elderly women whose pension and Social Security checks can't stretch enough to cover food, medication and rising utility bills. Obama's plan eliminates income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 and cuts the cost of prescription drugs by allowing imports. Sen. John McCain's campaign senior adviser Taylor Griffin says, "Sen. McCain believes this is so important that we do not politicize this debate during an election season."

Think of youngsters like my 16-year-old daughter and her friends who, with the hubris of youth, fall in and out of love and make poor life choices. Supreme Court justices nominated by McCain will certainly overturn Roe v. Wade.

In my congregation, several young mothers are raising families on their own. Neither they nor their children have health care. McCain voted against reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides crucial coverage to children in many working families that really need it. Obama's plan ensures medical coverage for these families.

Obama has experienced the pain of growing up in the home of a single mother on food stamps. His Blueprint for American Working Women and Families includes paid sick days for low-income women and flexible work arrangements for working moms.

Perhaps the outcome of this election will not change your life in any meaningful way.

Perhaps you are financially stable and can't see how this election could impact your life. Maybe there's no threat that your job could go overseas, or the value of your home could plummet. Could be your daughter or son will never need to rely on a Supreme Court ruling for life or liberty. If that is the case, I hope you know how blessed you are.

My prayer is that you will consider the rest of us. The women and girls who suffer the slings and arrows of this economy and who flinch each time they see that the price of a gallon of milk has increased since the last trip to the grocery store. Please come home for our sake. We need you.

Related Stories
Spotlight on 2008 Presidential Election
Barack Obama Wins the Sojourner Truth Vote
Anti-Hillary Message Says 'Women Go Home'
Obama v. Clinton Puts Stretch Marks on Sisterhood


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Obama: The Man and The Machine

Photo: Obama with Mayor Daley

Obama's Complex
Relationship with the

'Chicago Machine'

By Don Rose
Chicago Daily Observer

Read the newest trash-Obama book, check Tribune columnist John Kass, hear some of my Hyde Park buddies and you get a picture of Barack Obama as a traitorous cog in this incarnation of the Daley machine.

Others still revere him as a pure and cleansing light, lasering through the old politics, beaming us up to Democratic Nirvana.

Both portraits are pure bulljive, depending on which surface of this complex, multifaceted politician glints in your eye. There is something of the "Being There" quality to Obama: He is so new and exotic and appealing that everyone has a personal interpretation of who and what he really is--a blank slate we inscribe with our own dreams.

This is largely because Obama never fully plants himself in anyone's garden. The columnist David Brooks had an interesting riff on this, pointing out, for example, that while he was on the University of Chicago Law School faculty, he never was of the faculty--never fully engaged.
He was involved in independent Democratic politics but never fully immersed--and as a state senator never wedded to the legislature.

Brooks cites other instances, then insightfully points out that this peripheral stance, only one foot planted anywhere ideologically or emotionally, is what sharpens his critical intelligence and exceptional analytic powers.

There is no doubt he is a progressive, reform-minded politician, although not every position he holds reflects that image. He is a liberal who believes to a limited extent in the death penalty--and while some call it a flip-flop, it is a long-held position.

He is a civil libertarian who voted for the recent Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), including immunity for miscreant telecom companies. It was as destructive to the Constitution as anything G. W. Bush ever proposed. It also was an actual flip-flop. Earlier, Obama pledged to filibuster against telecom immunity.

And so it is with the Machine.

Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate as an independent Democrat--as one must in Hyde Park--by winning the primary with no help from the regular organization. But, like all but a tiny handful of earlier independents, he never ran an "anti-Machine" or "anti-Daley" campaign.
He was welcomed into the Dem caucus, which needed his vote, and in return got help for his own progressive legislation. There's a long tradition of this trade-off, going back to Abner Mikva and Dick Newhouse, his progressive predecessors. A fellow Hyde Park "independent," Barbara Flynn Currie, not only joined the House caucus, but became surgically attached to Speaker Michael Madigan.

Obama also was mentored by one of the hackiest hacks, Senate Majority leader Emil Jones, in a relationship that eventually helped him win the U.S. Senate primary.

That race, too, was independent of the Machine--except for some black ward committeemen Jones lined up--but not "anti" the Machine, whose white minions were backing Dan Hynes, son of Daley's pal Tom.

Minimally, Obama had to reach détente with the regulars to win the general election--as Carol Moseley Braun and Paul Simon did before him. (Later Daley leaped at the chance to endorse Obama for president, just to keep him out of Chicago and any thoughts of the 5th Floor.)
Virtually all the independent progressives elected to Springfield or Washington paid little attention to corruption in Chicago.

When was the last time Currie mentioned it--or U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky?

Only Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. keeps at it--and that's because he still has his eye on the 5th Floor.

Obama endorsed several fellow independents, but never framed them as warriors against the Machine, as in the Harold Washington era.

When he endorsed a couple of the worst Machine hacks, including Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, it was less an act of obeisance to Daley than to the African American political base. But many read it as homage to the Machine.

Once again, though he has a cooperative relationship with the Machine, he keeps another foot planted with independents and reformers such as Mikva, Leon Despres and former Washington Corporation Counsel Judd Miner.

Yes, he is a politician with a good whiff of the old but still much of the new. His interrelationships are as complex as the man himself.

He is an extraordinary figure negotiating a dangerous political minefield on his way to the prize. He knows he will never make everyone happy in the course of that zigzag journey. He sometimes goes astray, as with FISA, but he has kept most of his personal integrity and progressive values reasonably intact.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's coalition included the nation's most corrupt urban political machines as well as the racist bourbons of the segregated old south. Yet he also managed to beam us up to Democratic Nirvana.


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