Joshua is dissapointed in the first 2008 presidential debate

27 09 2008

Last night I saw Obama debate McCain. It was the most anticipated moment to date, in an election that has been more expensive and hyped than any in U.S. history. On the heels of a huge economic collapse, with the most hated president in our history as a backdrop, I was ready for something interesting. I went to a friend-of-a-friend’s where they were projecting it onto a wall. We were armed with wine and popcorn. Rather than the standard debate drinking games (drink every time a candidate says “terrorism”! And for every 9-11 reference!, etc)  – we were all obliged to throw our snacks at the screen every time we heard something foul. We quickly made a mess.

I was really disappointed. It was boring. and despite what some polls say, I think Obama lost pretty clearly.  I saw him constantly playing into conservative frames, spending most of his time on defense, and frankly being too complex and nuanced for his own good.

McCain spent most of his time reinforcing the same message: that Obama is inexperienced and naive. Every chance he got he would repeat the same line over and over again: “what my opponent doesn’t seem to understand is…” “Mr. Obama is naive because…” Obama (mostly) retaliated with facts, not with messages that appeal to values or emotions.

Obama, you are smarter than that! You know that it doesnt matter if you are right, it matters if you are convincing.

Progressives across the spectrum keep trying to be right instead of understanding how to reach people and shape ideas.

Obama instead could have thought of one or two simple phrases tying McCain to Bush, and repeated them every chance he got. Just like McCain attached Obama to the meme of naivete, Obama must do the same kind of thing with simplicity, consistency, and clarity. Obama could have also stuck to what he is good at: telling stories, and focusing on vision. In the process he could have framed the argument, rather than simply playing on McCain’s terms and frames he was putting forward.

As I was ranting to some of my friends it dawned on me: the main reason I found Obama compelling was that he was playing politics in a smart, savvy way that actually could win. Maybe others are drawn to him for his politics. I’m neither drawn nor repelled by them, really. I know many other organizers who constantly bemoan Obama’s positions on the issues: his increasing warmongering, terrible plan for climate change (support for coal and nuclear), or talk about how “Obama is gonna let us down.” That seems a bit silly to me. Obama is transparent about his positions. He’s not a Leftist, never claimed to be, and I have no expectations of him to be. I’m not sure how he can “let people down” unless they aren’t listening to what his actual policy proposals are.

I do think it is strategic for progressives of all stripes to help Obama get into office to build strong movements, but my main personal investment in the Obamamania is just that for the first time in my political life I see a presidential candidate who isnt a Republican who understands strategy and speaks to people’s values in a way that compels them to action. Someone who understands that if we just keep hammering people with facts, the way the Left always does, we are gonna keep falling on deaf ears.

If Obama doesn’t start getting back to the politically savvy and smart game of shifting ideas, then I actually will be dissapointed him.


This is Your Nation on White Privilege

18 09 2008

By Tim Wise

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white  privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of  it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you’ll “kick their fuckin’ ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

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Wise Up Dominion!

16 09 2008

The Beginning

We woke up at 3:30am, but few of us had slept the night before. You’d think we’d be groggy, but the adrenaline and excitement propelled us into action. By 5:30am two trucks holding steel barrels reading “good jobs, healthy communities: we deserve a clean energy future” and “prosperity without poison” pulled into the rendezvous point. My heart was pounding as I pulled a van full of concerned citizens and young activists to meet them, two more cars trailing me. A half hour later we all jumped out at the entrance to Dominion’s new $1.8 Billion coal-fired power plant in Wise County VA. Within seconds we had a blockade. Nine people were connected to concrete-filled barrels, two of which donned six large solar panels illuminating the sun in the background of a large banner reading “Renewable Jobs to Renew Appalachia.” Two more chained themselves to gates, keeping them closed. Our solar lit banner stretched out above the rosy smiles of visionaries young and old. It was a true privilege to work with such skilled organizers and help coordinate one of the most fluid, tight, and positive Nonviolent Direct Actions I’ve ever been a part of.

We watched the sun rise together.



I’m not from Appalachia. I’m here because I’ve been deeply inspired by coal-field residents who have spent their lives standing up for clean air and water, good green jobs and a better future for their families. And it’s made them subject to intense harassment and intimidation. Wise County citizens have been fighting this Dominion plant for over two years; they’ve spoken out at every public hearing, filed ever paper and lawsuit possible, and gotten 45,000 people to sign a “mile long” petition to the governor. And now many took the next step and invited friends from around the region and country to join them in solidarity for the first ever protest at this plant. Nonviolent Direct Action is about risking one’s own personal safety for the greater good. It is an act of courage that can come with some severe consequences. That people travel from all around to support this local struggle is emblematic of the world we are fighting for – one in which we look out for one another and support each other, even when that comes at personal cost. 11 of the activists today were arrested and are currently navigating their way through the labyrinth that is the U.S. legal system. We have a vigil setting up for them as I type this.


Alongside those (mostly young people) who chose to put their bodies on the line, came a contingent of cheering protesters of all ages, including a nun, ex coal miner, veteran, schoolteachers, and students. The positive energy was infectious: there was a sense of agency and empowerment shared among all of us, even as we choreographed an elaborate and potentially dangerous dance between police and Dominion employees. The action was courteous, respectful, and residents who were new to this type of action kept remarking about how it was a “class act.” The words “classy,” “beautiful,” “reasonable,” and “respectful” were constantly heard both from Wise County residents, passers-by in cars and trucks, and even the police.

It’s no surprise people were ready to take such a step – and to take it so seriously. Wise County has already had 25% of its historic mountain ranges destroyed forever to mountaintop removal mining. We’re not just talking about saving the environment here, we’re talking about cultural survival for one of the poorest regions of the country.

Click below for more story, pictures, & media links.

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Hating on Community Organizers

6 09 2008

Thoughts on Sarah Palin and “Responsibility”

For the last week I’ve been on a wilderness canoe trip without any phone or computer or cars or humans other than my partner. It was the first time I’ve been without contact to the rest of society in…as long as I can remember. It’s been a new attempt at finding balance in my life – something every organizer I know is desperately searching for, since organizing is a thankless endeavor that takes over your entire life, to the point where you eat, sleep, and breathe the work. The pressure of striving to do your best to have you work guided by a practice deep accountability to the folks you work with is a tremendous responsibility that doesn’t seem to be in the lexicon of our elected officials.

I just stepped in to a canoe lodge on the Canadian/Minnesota border, and the first thing I hear about the outside world is a vice presidential candidate dissing community organizing. I’ve heard a lot of really foul things come out of the mouths of politicans from both major parties. But this time I was actually shocked. Community organizing, whether on the Left or the Right is the lifeblood of this country and the engine of change.

Jay Smooth from Illdoctrine put it best:

And as shared on racewire, Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Center for Community Change, said:

When Sarah Palin demeaned community organizing, she didn’t attack another candidate. She attacked an American tradition —- one that has helped everyday Americans engage with the political process and make a difference in their lives and the lives of their neighbors.All across the country, in every state and every community, there are community organizers helping people find shared solutions to the shared problems they face. The candidates for President and Vice President should be working to solve our shared problems, too, rather than attack others who trying to do the same.

Yup. And as some friends of mine pointed out, we just saw what the Republicans really think of community organizing and peaceful protest, after turning the Twin Cities into what resembled a warzone, with tazers, mace, teargas, concussion grenades, mass arrests of bystanders and even media, rubber bullets, and the national guard. After that, snarky comments about organizers not shouldering responsibility don’t seem so bad, eh?

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