lessons from America

We the People – James Smith

After the meal at the We the People inaugural gala, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do a sit-down interview with one of the nicest guys I met all week – James Smith. Lucky in another way as well, as it was by chance that the whole thing happened. He had originally approached me to take some photos of him and I’d half-jokingly said yes as long as I could do an interview. Not only did he agree, but he even came looking for me after dinner so I didn’t miss my moment. And he was also okay with having Meghan filming away too. The downside to that was that my note-taking wasn’t as meticulous as it should have been, and I will have to go back to the video footage to add in a few more details I didn’t scribble down. But here’s the main part of the profile:

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James Smith is from Bay City, Texas. He was a precinct captain, including during the primaries. Having been involved in it, he was a fan of the “Texas two-step” – the unique process of holding both a primary and a caucus to decide the state’s allocation of delegates to the Democrat Convention.

He was keen to get himself to Denver, for the Convention, and managed to get a pass to the Big Tent, just like me. We had some fun recounting our experiences there.

He erected an Obama banner outside his front porch. When Hurricane Ike struck [in Sept 2008], despite the devastation around, the banner was still standing. That was a powerful moment for him, a sign that he was doing the right thing.

He was involved in a Labor Action Committee and also in setting up a group for African-Americans too. He didn’t just campaign in Texas either. He hit the road and travelled to various other key states to lend a hand too.

One of the main political drivers in his life is his wife, Joyce Black. She is christian-minded, a community activist and seeking to get more involved in local politics. He was looking forward to devoting more energy to supporting her campaigns, as well as some of the local committees that he was involved in.

James was accompanied by Celeste Flye, his wife’s cousin. Celeste works in the real estate business in Las Vegas. She had been slightly less involved in campaigning for Obama, but even so it was interesting to hear the passion in her voice talking about it and in her determination to throw herself into making change at a local level. She had already found an issue that affected her community and that she wanted to make a difference to: proposed cuts in prison services and in rehabilitation programmes because of a state budget shortfall.

Again, Celeste had been brought into the political process and motivated by her cousin Joyce. I would have loved to have met this woman, as she sounds an amazing person and was often and affectionally referred to by both James and Celeste.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We the People – Latifah Ring

Rather belatedly, here are some of the stories of the inspiring activists I met at the We the People gala in DC on the evening of the Inauguration.


First up, is Latifah Ring. She was one the fifty-odd award winners at the gala, chosen one-per-state and given a free ticket based on their stand-out volunteering effort for Obama during the many months of the election campaign.

She’s a Texan, was selected as an Obama delegate to the Democrat Convention (here’s her bio and pitch she made to be a delegate), and like so many got involved in many different ways and roles. At some point during it all, as a way of increasing the visibility of the Obama campaign, she had the great idea of collecting election-related t-shirts and sewing them into a quilt. She proudly displayed her efforts at the ball.

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So many people were clamouring to see the quilt and ask her about it, that I didn’t have a chance to ask her more questions at the time, and didn’t manage to find her again amongst the dancing crowds later.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment