Sunday, May 18, 2008

Happier Than a Wonk in Washington

Can you see me in the crowd? I'm the one wearing a khaki hat and an olive green shirt.

This photo was lifted from the Oregonian's webpage and shows the multitudes who attended the Barack Obama rally in downtown Portland this afternoon. We even made ABC's World News Tonight, which claimed that 75,000 people were present, making this a record-breaking crowd for any political candidate. As one of the multitudes, I can attest that I have NEVER seen anything like this in my life. There is defintely something electric going on in our country. I can't see McCain getting this large of a crowd anywhere. This is history in the making. I even overheard frat boys telling people that they were "Obamacans" (Republicans who support Obama). A lot of people seem to view him as a kind of "Barack star" and in the age of YouTube, Facebook, Myspace, and "American Idol", I really believe that the young people are going to vote in mass for Obama. I even saw children as young as four all excited about seeing Obama. This truly is a phenomenon that surpasses probably even the numbers who swarmed Robert F. Kennedy forty years ago. It gives me great hope that our country has moved beyond race and will vote for Obama and his new style of politics. It's the end of Rove-ism and his brand of cynicism and dirty tricks.

I'm glad to have been a part of the multitudes. I remarked to Christine that I could almost imagine what it was like to witness the Sermon on the Mount. Obama spoke from a platform at the top of the hill and we were packed in tight over every inch of ground. People even watched on their boats on the Willamette River and some walkers on the Hawthorne Bridge stopped to watch Obama give a passionate speech about the end of the Bush era and the cynical politics of division. The weather was unseasonably hot (in the upper 80s with no cloud to block the rays of the sun) and I was dying of thirst by the end of it (we had to pass through TSA security to get into the fenced off area). But it was the perfect way to end what has been an incredibly political weekend. It can't get much better than this for me!

On Friday, I was supposed to volunteer for the Jeff Merkley for U.S. Senate campaign but after a stressful week at work, I had to go out with a couple co-workers for a Happy Hour social involving alcoholic drinks to unwind. I had a horrible tasting Virginia Mint Julip (the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby) and wished I had ordered a Mojito instead. But one drink was enough to get a little buzz before I headed off to Powell's Bookstore.

Bill and Chelsea Clinton were in Portland this weekend and had an event at a park in Milwaukie on Saturday. I couldn't go, because I already had plans with the Sam Adams campaign.

On Saturday, I attended the group phonebank for Sam Adams and made 104 calls to voters. I'm not a big phone talker (I take after my dad in that regard) so this was a bit uncomfortable for me at first. But I really want Sam Adams to become the next Mayor of Portland and was happy to make a pitch to people on why he needs to be elected. It was also fun to be with other committed volunteers who were making calls as well. And Sam even showed up to thank us for our work on his behalf.

The interesting thing I find about people is how many are so secretive about their vote. They really take that whole voting privacy thing seriously, as though it's a requirement about voting. While that's everyone's prerogative, the whole secrecy thing was to help people feel secure about voting that their choices wouldn't be known by the government. We see this in African elections where people who vote for the opposition candidates are harassed or even killed. In America, we have a tradition of political freedom and there's nothing wrong with being honest about who you voted for. When people are secretive about it (especially friends and co-workers), it's kind of odd to me. I'm very open about who I voted for (and tomorrow's post, I will reveal not only WHO I voted for in the Oregon primary but WHY). I have no shame in who I voted for or who I support.

It was good to experience a three hour session of phonebanking and leave messages for people. You never know if that one message is enough to convince someone who is still indecisive to go ahead and vote for your candidate. We'll see on Tuesday.

Today, as Christine and I waited in line (it was already several blocks long at 10 a.m.), we talked a bit to the people in line around us and we also received flyers from various volunteers on the many campaigns in our city. I didn't see anyone from the Sho Dozono campaign (Sam Adams' main rival) or any of the City Commissioner races. When I grabbed lunch at a nearby Quiznos, candidate John Kroger for Attorney General (I had missed his booksigning at Powells last week, to my disappointment) popped in to buy a drink. After leaving the Obama rally, it was like leaving a concert. There were many people selling Obama t-shirts, buttons and hats as well as candidates for the U.S. Senate and their volunteers. I saw Steve Novick but didn't get to talk with him. I was pleasantly surprised to see Jeff Merkley and waited to talk with him. I'm voting for him to face Senator Gordon Smith in the fall.

I asked him about the possibility of having a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" in our country after Bush leaves office. What he said in response was amazing to me because I thought about it myself. He had a problem with the "reconciliation" part, but he's willing to see the establishment of a "Truth and Prosecution Commission" so that those members of the Bush Administration who committed illegal or unconstitutional actions get some sort of punishment. That's what I want, but will it happen? I would love to serve on such a commission because I want to help research and compile evidence of the criminality of the current administration. I want the world and future Americans to know that Bush is the most criminal president we ever had and that his presidency will be forever known as the worst in our nation's history, a big black stain. Merkley also mentioned hearing about Bush supposedly buying property in Paraguay because he's seriously afraid of extradiction when he leaves office. I had heard that as well and I hope its true (that Bush is afraid...very afraid). I really want Bush to be the first president to end up in prison, and Chain-gang Cheney as well.

As Christine and I walked in search of a place to buy water, a guy tapped me on the shoulder and it was none other than Charles Lewis! It was good to see him out giving flyers to people and asking for their votes. He's the only City Commissioner candidate I saw out there and with the supposedly 75,000 people who attended the event, that's a lot of potential votes (of those that live in the city limits of Portland, anyway). I really hope he wins (if not a majority, then at least enough to put him in a run-off with a rival). His campaign is one that I hope to be a part of if Sam Adams clears the 50% +1 to avoid a run-off. I also hope to volunteer for the Merkley campaign this fall.

Like I said, I'm living in a dream! I never had this kind of experience when I lived in Georgia. It was hard to find a candidate I liked in which to volunteer for. The Democrats all tried to sound Republican in order to win. Oregon is the opposite. Even Senator Gordon Smith (with an over 90% pro-Bush policy voting record) tries to sound like a Democrat in his ads (his current ad claims that he's the true "change candidate" in the race...never mind that he's been in office for two terms). With so many good candidates to volunteer for and the kind of issues that are important to me (sustainability, affordable housing, living wages), I'm like a kid in a candy store. But since I hate cliches, let's just create a new one: I'm happier than a wonk in Washington!

Even "Saturday Night Live" was great in that it featured a skit starring none other than Senator John McCain. He was also the special commentator on the "Weekend Update" segment, where he joked about having great-great-great-great grandkids that were now reaching retirement age. He was funny in his statement to Democrats: "Please don't be in a rush to select your nominee!" He advised Democrats that he's perfectly okay if we don't choose our nominee at the Convention in August. He was willing to allow both Democrats to be on the November ballot! It was funny. McCain is no Bush, so I don't think he'll be a divisive president...but when we have a historic chance to break the mold of 43 white male presidents, I hope Americans will vote for history's sake rather than more of the same (what Barack calls "Bush's third term").

This all-political weekend was great. Even better is that Christine was willing to endure the heat and crowds to participate in what feels like a witness to political destiny. I'm more and more confident that Barack Obama has the gifts to take him all the way to the White House and make history for the Democrats once again. We were there, among the multitudes.

And to think that earlier this year, those of us in Oregon didn't believe that our primary votes would matter. Now, Oregon has the chance to put Obama over the top. He plans to declare victory when the results come in on Tuesday night. It's come down to this moment and I'm thrilled to be part of it. All pundit eyes are on us now.

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