Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Guest Post: Backing Barack

Today's guest post comes from Karin Robinson who writes at Obama London on the most important election taking place this year - who'll be the next President of the United States - a war mongering, misogynist conservative or the most liberal senator the Democrats can muster.

I'd like to thank Jim for his very kind offer to guest post about Barack Obama. Greetings to all of you, and thanks for your patience!

I run an activist group (Obama London) with an associated blog and have been organising grassroots support and volunteer activity for Barack since September 2007. So what is it, you may ask, that inspired me to get involved for a candidate who was then considered a real long shot for the Democratic nomination? Well, call me weirdly idealistic but I was overcome by the possibility that in this extraordinary year, at this crucial time in world history, we could as a country potentially get behind someone who:

  1. Had the judgement to oppose this unneccesary war and to clearly foresee that it would harm our national security.
  2. Had the courage to declare that our official policy of non-engagement with hostile regimes does not serve our national interest – or that of the world community - and who is willing to stand against decades of cowardly received wisdom to insist, like John Kennedy, that "we will never negotiate out of fear, but we will never fear to negotiate."
  3. Has stood up his entire life for the underpriviledged and the disempowered, sacrificing lucrative corporate contracts to work as a community organiser in the poorest parts of the south side of Chicago.
Barack Obama's values and priorities match up with mine – and they match up generally with all of us across Europe who understand that health care is not a luxury but a basic right and necessity; that workers deserve protection, decent wages and reasonable benefits; that ending our addiction to fossil fuels is not a threat to our economy but our only hope of preserving prosperity in the long term.

Suffice it to say, I'm a fan. I not only believe he should be President because he is better than the alternative (although he is!); I believe he should be President because he is better than ANY major party alternative we have had to offer in my lifetime.

But enough with the gushing – what's this to do with you?

Well, the other element of Barack Obama's campaign is that he demands action from all of us. Remember, his slogan is not "Yes he can" or "He is the change you've been waiting for." It's "We can." "We are." In other words, if you care about these issues, it's not going to be good enough to say so, approvingly over a pint or while watching the news. You're going to have to take action.

Fortunately, the campaign has made it incredibly easy to take action – even for those of us seemingly stranded overseas.

Here are just some of the ways you can help*:

1. Give money. This is a grassroots campaign with over 1.5 million donors so far. We value a $5 donation as much as a $500 donation because we are trying to maximise participation. But if you can afford it, I'd ask each of you to give $100 today – that's only about £50 – as an investment in the future. Use this page – it's been specifically designed for Americans in the UK.

2. Register on the Barack Obama website. The website is designed for social networking and is intended to help link up supporters with each other in a manner very similar to Facebook. Also, by registering you gain access to all the online activism opportunities – you can join and create groups, create a fundraising page of your own, write and read blogs by your fellow supporters etc.

3. Phone Bank from home. Once you've registered on the site you will have the opportunity of actually calling potential voters and volunteers from your own home. The Phone bank tool is designed so that the campaign can identify the voters it most needs to contact and our volunteers, wherever in the world you are, can make the calls from the comfort of your homes, reporting back instantly to the campaign about the outcome of those conversations. It is, in short very cool. As we get closer to the election phone campaigns in critical states will be key to our victory.

4. Register Voters Here in London. We have an extensive voter registration and outreach program operating here in London. If you'd like to be trained to register voters here in the UK, drop me a line and I'll set you up with one of our forthcoming voter registration training sessions.

5. Call Your Friends and Family. It may sound simplistic, but actually one of the most effective things you can do for our campaign is to reach out to your Republican Great Aunt Gertrude, or your American dog-walker who doesn't vote, or your neighbor's daughter who is about to vote for the first time. It's far more effective for potential voters to hear about a candidate from someone they know than it is for the campaign to try to reach them. Don't believe me? Let me tell you about a conversation I had with my Dad on the day of the New Hampshire primary. It went like this:

Ring Ring Ring – start of voicemail. I begin to leave a message.

"Hi Dad, it's me just..."

"Hi Honey!"

"Dad, I thought you weren't home!"

"Actually, we're screening our calls. It's election day here and we keep getting these people calling asking us to vote."

"But Dad, you're going to vote for Barack Obama, right? Like we talked about?"

"Of course."

"Well what time do the polls close?"

"Good point – pretty soon actually. Tell you what, can I call you back later?"

Now THAT'S how you get out the vote.

Thanks for listening!

All best wishes,


* By the way, the below all assumes that you are a US expat. If you're an interested non US citizen but want to get involved as a volunteer, do drop me a line and I'll send you some further suggestions.


Jack Ray said...

haha, the more I read about Obama, the more I think you're wrong!

Jim Jay said...

That's interesting Jack - I'm going the other way. The more left criticisms of Obama I read the clearer I become that they just don't want to see the big picture.

Aaron said...

I'm not convinced about Obama.. he's a liberal, but there were better candidates - namely Dennis Kucinich. If only.... if only!

Jim Jay said...

I hear nothing but good things about Kucinich - but he's not actually in the race anymore so he's going to have to miss out on my support for now.

Rayyan Mirza said...

Thanks for posting this Jim! I became very enthusiastic about Obama after watching his speech at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in November 2007 (, and the Primaries were a real roller-coaster ride for me.

Kucinich is a brilliant Congressman but does not know how to inspire millions of Americans to build a better country, unlike Barack. I'll take a brilliant yet imperfect visionary leader over a fringe candidate who will never be able to implement his agenda, any day!

Jack Ray said...

yeah, complete red herring to bring up Kucinich, he was never competitive.

I suppose both of us are becoming more convinced Jim because that's how political prejudice works, most of the time we have a view and use almost everything to confirm it!

For me, I started out thinking that Obama's politics in the primary (whatever his Senatorial record) were in the centre, certainly to the right of Edwards, in about the same place as Clinton. Subsequent to winning the nomination everything he's done looks like a move to the right, and looks like a move to triangulate. In fact, fairly mainstream Democrat blogs like Daily Kos have commented as such (especially over FISA).

Now you could argue that this is what he has to do to win an election. After he's won it though, if this is the strategy, the same argument applies, he'll need to play to the Centre to maintain popularity. In fact, from the looks of him, he's so scared of getting smeared by the Right that he'll do almost anything to re-assure people that he's conservative.

For me, there's two ways to win an election. The first is to be an uncontroversial as possible, appeal to the widest possible audience and hope the voters hate the other guy (the Blair way). Down that road leads not just the perpetuation of the status quo, but the incorporation of many potential dissenters and radicals who might build a movement toward something else. The second is to recognise a feeling for change, come up with a radical plan to enact it and trust that you can mobilise enough people to overcome more conservative attitudes (like say '45 Labour, or '79 Tories).

Obama just feels like the former and I think a lot of people will waste a lot of effort getting him elected, just so he can spend his time tacking right to appeal to swing voters.

Sure, that's the game in American politics (it is here too), but I don't think people should be actively encouraged to participate in it.

(personally, I'd vote McKinney or abstain)

scott redding said...

His campaign will be seen as the deepest attempt so far to reframe the challenges facing American culture and economy, in a variety of ways:

1) He's using right-centre concepts (service, patriotism, "shared sacrifice for shared prosperity", America is special) and linking them to left-centre solutions

2) He's using new media in a very widespread fashion (1100 YouTube videos in a year, videos that regularly see 50 000 people look at them)

3) He's incorporating community organising into a 50-state attempt to win the election. It will be fascinating to see this play out in swing states over the next three months. The rhetoric is that the US election is entering a "summer lull" ... oh no, what's going to happen is voter registration drives in 20-odd swing states for the next 10 weeks, so that when town hall meetings/debates with McCain start happening, literally millions will be looking at Obama not as a TV ad, or as an African-American man, but as someone that their neighbours talked about at a community block party.

In doing so, he's rescuing the Democratic party.

This is a party that has only won three elections since 1964, both with governors from the South, with Clinton (especially in 1992)helped by Perot splitting the vote.

The community organsing thing will hopefully lead to, a) a renewed 50-state Democratic party, and b) an extra-parliamentary movement post-election that will help pressure Republicans and wavering Democrats to implement his agenda, i.e. avoiding the sabotage of the 1994 Republican wave that engulfed Congress.

The idea that, immediately, you can go from Republican dominance to something left of social democracy, without Obama in the middle, is unrealistic.

scott redding said...

An example of his reframing:

"Patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a place on a map, or a certain kind of people. It's loyalty to America's ideals ... Precisely because America isn't perfect, and our ideals demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy. As Mark Twain once wrote, 'Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.' We may hope that our leaders and government stand up for our ideals, and stand up for what's right. But when our laws, our leaders, or our government are out of alignment with those ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expressions of patriotism."

He goes on to call Martin Luther King a patriot (leading a movement to confront racial prejudice), and says that the soldier who first spoke out about Abu Ghraib was a patriot (recognising a wrong was being committed, that the Constitution was being violated).

Obama London said...

Hi Guys - thanks for the riveting comments; very thoughtful.

I'm sort of baffled by anyone feeling resistant to Barack because "he's a liberal but there were better candidates". He's a liberal full stop. And a liberal that speak the language that American wants to hear, at a moment in history when Americans are for the first time in a long time ready to reconsider liberal policies. Personally, I'm not looking for the perfect liberal politician - I'm looking for a principled liberal PRESIDENT. Kucinich has a lot going for him but one of the things he had best going for him was the luxury of not compromising. Barack on the other hand is looking to accomplish as much as possible to achieve progressive goals - and it politics that usually means cutting a good deal. This is the first time in a long time, however, that we've had a politician on the national scale who's been smart and effective about cutting deals that really do move us closer to a fair and just America.

OK, so I'm a fan. But that's why.

Jim Jay said...

Some interesting issues here. To specifically address Jack Ray though;

I started out very much opposed to Obama. Didn't trust him, thought his foreign policy statements ranged from weak to frightening. I'd also read some misinformation which, until I actually researched it myself and read and listened to what he was saying, I'd accepted at face value.

Then came the campaign proper.I started reading Obama's stuff (essentially to do research on weaknesses in his politics) and almost immediately I realised he was saying things no democratic candidate had said in a generation.

I think you're wrong to say he feels like a conservative - if anything the main concrete criticism of him has been that he inspires the feelings of liberals (US English) / or left (UK English) without backing it up with substance. Mark Steel wrote a brilliantly funny article to that effect a few months ago in fact.

But it's wrong. There is substance to what he's saying, it's not particularly ambiguous even. His policies aren't modest proposals but root and branch reforms. Significant change in US foreign policy for the better - something we've all been hoping and campaigning for for some time. Total over haul of the health system THE key social issue.

I'll be writing on this at more length and throughout the campaign so I wont bang on here - but surely its churlish to march for the the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and refuse to support the election of the one person who actually wants to do this who'll be in a position to implement the policy.

If you want the US to shift to the left in a real and significant way turning your back on the left reformist isn't the way to do it, even if you keep fighting for things that go well beyond his manifesto.

Aaron said...

He just reminds me of Tony Blair too much...! Sure, he'll be an improvement - but I would always hope for better. The broad left over here is supporting Obama of course against McCain... you'd be extremely hard-pressed to find someone on the left who would want Obama to lose!

Though I won't ever be happy with Obama because he is a liberal, a modern liberal perhaps but not a democratic socialist, so I kind of grudgingly give my support. But my support none-the-less!

Jim Jay said...

Hmmm, well Blair was always pretty upfront about what he was doing - it's just people hoped he was lying!

Blair and Obama are/were both very good in front of the camera - but the political content of what they're saying... it is quite different.

Plus Obama voted against the war and Blair... I seem to remember he was quite keen on it, still is for all I know. I guess I'm not convinced by the comparison.

Aaron said...

It's not so much policy, it's more the presentation and style part of it all. He's a progressive in some policy areas but regressive in others - so I'm not gushing with support as many other people seem to be.
I can see the attraction, but I'm just personally not bowled over, sorry!

scott redding said...

re: Jim's comment about Obama's early foreign policy statements on a spectrum of weak to frightening.

Obama has only travelled to Iraq once, and has spent only 24 hours in Western Europe during the past decade. He's also referred to Canada's PM as their "President" (albeit back in Aug 2007).

People aren't always supporting Obama based on how he's currently performing. They're betting on, in Salon's words, "the fastest learning curve in recent political memory."

Sunny said...

I think the original post is a bit uninspired because it already assumes Obama's support. Of course I'm an Obama supporter, but its important to keep re-stating why.

I think Scott Redding does a good job above - this isn't just about a candidate, this is about the Democrats coming back properly, and changing the political map of the US in a way that could mean the political centre shifts more to the left.

Obviously he has to be somewhat in the centre - the first tactic of the right was to paint him as a far-left militant. The National Review rating as the most liberal senator has been repeated everywhere since.

Jack Ray said:
"Obama just feels like the former and I think a lot of people will waste a lot of effort getting him elected, just so he can spend his time tacking right to appeal to swing voters."

I think that's wrong. This isn't just about policies, this is about reshaping the American election, about pushing a more progressive Democrat agenda forward (the Democrats are far, far more progressive than the Republicans) and redrawing the map.

For progressive/liberals, that is an agenda to support, even if you don't agree on everything. Voting Green - I'm sorry but that's not only a wasted vote but the guy is a signed up environmentalist. There really is no excuse.

Jim Jay said...

In fairness Sunny, although I don't disagree with your substantive points, Karin chose to emphasis what people can do to actually help get Obama elected which might be slightly less inspiring but is rather important.

One of the reasons why Obama is here right now and not Clinton is he combined inspiring politics with an extremely strong set of campaigning techniques.

Personally I think it's important for us not to just think about what goal we want but also how we help make that happen.

Sunny said...

Yup, I'll agree with that.