SixFifty

lessons from America

Hitting the campaign trail

I have ‘lucked out’ in many respects with this trip.  And one of those is that my time in Denver happily coincides (by complete chance) with an Obama campaign rally.  In 7 hours time I will have started my shift as a volunteer at the ‘Early Voting for Change’ rally in downtown Denver.  The man himself – Barack Obama – is going to be speaking, so this event is going to be huge.   So excited.

It is another early morning for me though.  Today I was picked up at 1030am to go to Boulder, Colorado, and join the fantastic Bus Project in going canvassing in Longmont.  Beautful weather and beautiful scenery.  The door-knocking was mainly for local races and ballot initiatives / state constitutional amendments.  The lack of people in on a lovely Saturday afternoon, coupled with the high rates of peole who early voted (ie already posted their ballots or voted in person at one of a number of special locations), meant it was quite frustrating.  The wealthy neighbourhood, backing onto a golf course, and the number of McCain-Palin signs, were also good pointers to not getting the most receptive audience.  More on my experiences, plus photos, in a later blog.

Likewise, you’ll get an insight into the volunteer training session I went to tonight.  i thought it was going to be a relatively small thing.  But over 800 people turned up, just to learn what needed to be done for the rally. It is an awesome organising programme that the Obama campaign has.  Fascinating seeing a little window into the whole process.

But for now sleep is a necessity; especially as expected I got off the plane and went out on the town (via someone’s house for dinner), and only made it home at 2am.  That’s one way to deal with jetlag I guess.

Advertisements

October 26, 2008 Posted by | On the Campaign Trail, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My Obama journey

A year ago – October 2007 – I was in Zambia for a British Council-run leadership course involving 200 people from across Africa. Barack Obama was a hot topic of conversation even then.  I wanted to take the opportunity a year on to email my African friends and let them know my experiences of supporting Obama and where that journey has taken me.  So on the plane over from London to Denver, I composed my thoughts.  Below is an edited version of that letter.  It is not the full answer to the “what drives you?”, “why are you so interested in this election?”, “why do you support Obama?” questions I am often asked, on both sides of the pond.  But hopefully it goes some way to explaining some of my passion and motivations.

Dear Interaction friends,

I want to share an exciting story with you: one which you have helped shape, which involves me being there in the stadium that historic night in August when Barack Obama accepted the nomination, and one which hopefully should culminate on 4th November, with the election of Obama. Inshallah.

Remember back to the ‘African Wall of Greatness’ exercise. One of the 3 bricks I created displayed the cover to Barack Obama’s book ’The Audacity of Hope’. As I explained at the time, I chose it for two reasons: (i) the way that phrase and what it means – the optimism and drive often despite the adversities – to me encapsulates the African spirit; and (ii) Obama himself – his values and politics, and also the positive symbol of achievement that he represents, for America(ns), and for Africa(ns). I recall some positive and quite emotional responses. Given that this was before a vote had even been cast in the primary elections, your knowledge and appreciation of Obama and hope for his victory was impressive; and it brought home to me what his candidacy obviously meant, and the power of that.

And I have taken those sentiments with me, on my Obama journey ever since. I have closely followed every little twist and turn of the election campaign; staying up late at night to watch live on screen the events unfolding, and tracking the conversations and first-hand experiences of activists via websites and blogs. Obama’s speeches, especially the ones during the Primary campaign, were moving and inspirational. It wasn’t just how he delivered them but the actual words; reflecting so much of the values and spirit of ubuntu, community, collective action and leadership that were integral to the Interaction programme.

The other aspect I have so enjoyed and been inspired by has been following, learning about, witnessing in action and finally taking part in the grassroots movement and new technologies that are driving progressive politics and the success of Obama’s campaign. It is humbling to see people get so involved, to see the process of – in Obama’s words – “brick by brick, block by block, calloused hand by calloused hand, we can change the world”. And it also fires me up: both to want to take part, and also to try and apply those lessons to my job and to political activity in the UK in general. To give you but one example from Obama’s campaign: the ‘50 state strategy’. Put simply it is about a commitment to campaigning and organising in every part of America, rather than targeting just a few states that traditionally decide elections. It is about saying to millions ‘your voice, your vote matters’; and that community organising and investment in people is worth it. That means a lot to me.

The more I have been following the Obama campaign, the more I have been fired up by it; wanted to follow it more; be part of it; learn from it; share my passion and learning with others; and be further enthused by people’s response. It’s been a reinforcing cycle that’s meant I have enthusiastically devoted ever increasing amounts of my time and energy to it.

The upshot is that this year I have been living my passion and my dream. Some highlights of that journey:

1) Hosting a ‘Super Tuesday’ party (the biggest election night during the period when the presidential candidates are chosen) . The date happened to fall during Module 3 [of the Interaction course], and so I organised a party in my hotel room and invited all the UK Interaction participants and trainers along. My enthusiasm for Obama was obviously infectious, as 12 of us squeezed into my room from midnight to watch the results and to learn, discuss, eat and drink. It was a case in point of “if you build it, they will come”.

2) Experiencing the atmosphere of the Democratic Convention in Denver.  Being part of the ‘Big Tent’ – seeing and learning from the activists and the netroots (bloggers) in action. https://sixfifty.wordpress.com/category/denver-diary/

3) Invesco stadium: Barack Obama’s nomination acceptance speech. As I wrote at the time: “I was there to witness history being made. I was there to celebrate Obama’s nomination with 80,000 Democrats (and a lot of media). I was there to stand up for change.”

And now …

4) US Elections trip – experiencing and participating in the final ten days of the campaign; hopefully ending up in Chicago – Obama’s hometown – for election night itself.  Canvassing (going door-to-door)  and volunteering at campaign events en route.

October 26, 2008 Posted by | global perspective, the world wants obama | , , , | Leave a comment