A poignant and moving blog posting

I had big, big plans for a riveting and insightful post today. I reserved this spot several weeks ago after consulting with my calendar and horse-trading with some of the other West Coast Wednesday posters over who would get the much coveted Wednesday spot this week. But here it is, Tuesday night, and I’m afraid, dear readers, that I’ve let you down.

I got nothing. Nary a plan. Shhh. Listen. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of dead air, of an awkward silence. It’s not for lack of interesting topics, for my quiver is full of those (so says me!). Nor is it a lack of ambition or motivation, because I’m stocked on both of those. Indeed, the blame can only fall squarely on the shoulders of our next President, Barack Obama.

I started volunteering for his campaign in early January, right after he won the Iowa caucus. This work has taken on surprising momentum and much of my focus outside of work. It’s taken up the lion’s share of my time. I’m far from bitter about it. In fact, I haven’t been more pleased with myself and excited about a project in years. I’ve been donating my technical expertise and some of my resources to making sure that Obama’s Precinct Captain program has the technical infrastructure (software, data, analysis) it needs to be successful.

My original plan, before Obama won Iowa, was to work for his campaign if he won the nomination. But after Iowa, I realized that I might lose the opportunity to work on his campaign if he didn’t win the nomination, and a key component to winning the nomination was winning California, or at least getting a good chunk of the 441 delegates at stake.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in someone’s living room with a bunch of other geeks, getting acquainted with the finer points of California’s precinct polygons and all the various demographic data we needed to slice, dice and mashup. Shortly thereafter, I was offering up my web server for the Obama cause. Next, I was staying up late at night to be sure everything was running smoothly.

I thought all of this would end when the dust settled after Super Tuesday (thus the 2/13 posting date), but last week proved to be merely the opening volley in what will be an intense, long battle that will stretch into March at the earliest. This weekend was encouraging, as Obama swept Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington State. Yesterday was another important theater, and again Obama walked away with decisive victories. But all eyes are on Texas, and many of the California Obama folks are on the ground there now, waiting for my associates and me to get the software they need to start canvassing.

All of this work has been thrilling. I’ve met and worked with some very smart and very motivated people. I’ve learned a ton about how grassroots politics works (and doesn’t work), how elections are won and lost, and how important it is to have useful data about voters, and how important it is to leverage that data. More than anything else, I’ve been reminded of how excited I can get about working on something I believe in. It doesn’t have to be politics; indeed the last time this happened it was my Master’s research, which had nothing to do with politics. But I’ve simply been reminded of the importance of being passionate about one’s endeavors.

It’s a shame I don’t have more time, because I would love to have some time to digest everything that has happened, and everything that I’ve learned, and discuss it with you. The technology angle alone on this campaign deserves a serious analysis — from the data visualizations to the widgets and plug-ins, to the grassroots coding efforts I’ve been involved in, to the cool videos and mashups being created. But all of that will have to wait until a later date. I’m back to work (fired up and ready to go!).

So I’ll leave you with a cheesy yet cool video (a video that has 3.5MM views, but cost the Obama campaign $0).


43 responses to “A poignant and moving blog posting”

  1. Scotty says:

    The thing that really troubles me most about a potential Hillary comeback is that she’s relying on Texas, a state that will go Republican regardless of who wins the primary there. Given this strategy, she has an awful lot of nerve to say that (I’m paraphrasing here) some politicians only care about winning the next election…

    Moreover, if you look at the big states that she’s won, (NY, CA, NJ, MA) most of them will go Democratic regardless of who wins the primary.

    Good luck with your work. I do find it a little weird to call one of the most well-funded and media-covered campaigns in history grassroots, though. When does that moniker no longer fit?

  2. Dave says:

    That’s awesome, Brooke. My roommate does GIS stuff for a labor-oriented third party here in New York, and from what he’s told me there’s some fascinating stuff to do and a lot of potential in applying technology to elections.

    Have y’all seen the McCain version of that Obama video? Seriously, click through and watch it.

  3. Beth W says:

    I support Obama and even voted for him whole-heartedly. But I’m embarrassed about it because I feel that my support has a significant emotional element. The video gets right to that and makes me cringe thinking, Cheesy celebrities, Is this a pepsi ad or something?

    Is it just me?

  4. Ruben Mancillas says:

    1) I admire Brooke for getting so involved and feeling so rewarded by the work for Obama.

    2) I will cry tears of joy if Senator Obama is our next President.

    3) I’m for Hillary because I think she is more likely to win and will be a “better” chief executive.

    # 3 is obviously in some dispute on this site, I get that, but I will offer that one of the things that makes me somewhat skeptical of Senator Obama is the almost, well, evangelical fervor of some of his supporters. It’s great because it’s for the good guys but that kind of searching for Neo nonsense is something I associate with the other side.

    I get the feeling like some folks would gnash their teeth and merely resign themselves to a(nother) Clinton presidency and that leaves me equally concerned.

    One of my favorite things that we discuss on the whatsit is identity issues and this is probably at the root of some of my issues. I enjoy trying to be cool. Who would have thought in 2000 or 2004 that supporting Hillary would feel so retrograde in 2008? You guys are supporting the new RFK and I ended up being a Hubert Humphrey guy?!?

    Or is Obama the new McGovern?…someone Hillary actually worked to elect, by the way.

  5. Dave says:

    I know I made an electability argument here a week or two ago in favor of Obama, but I actually think electability arguments are pretty weak. They always involve some theory of the strengths and weaknesses of the various candidates and a theory of what will happen in various hypothetical matchups and how that will affect various hypothetical segments of the electorate — with all these theories going on, the margin of error quickly becomes greater than 100%.

    In reality, the Republicans will nominate McCain, who has some definite strengths but is also old, disliked by much of the Republican base, and on the record favoring near-permanent involvement in a war that two thirds of Americans oppose. And he’s running in the wake of eight years of Republican rule that have left the current president with historically low approval ratings and the general public with an overwhelming sense that the country is on the wrong course.

    And we have two Democratic hopefuls who both have tremendous strengths as candidates, both much stronger than the usual crop of disappointing Democrats. They both have some weaknesses, true, but either of them should be able to mop the floor with McCain.

    I don’t see the point of feeling dire about the election just yet.

  6. Scotty says:

    Ruben, but isn’t what you’re talking about here indicative of all party politics, I mean the evangelical fervor? As most Americans are politically and economically situated in the center do the parties really differ in any significant way? Should they?

    Won’t both continue push a liberal trade agenda (which really began on Clinton’s watch) that will continue to put American manufacturing jobs on the chopping block regardless? Won’t both continue to spend billions of dollars on an already dominant military? Won’t both continue to support Israel no matter what it does? Won’t both back down to the automotive industry when it says that 30MPG is an unrealistic expectation?

    This leaves us with the Supreme Court as the big issue. But Republican presidents have nominated some of the most mainstream and even liberal justices.

    Regan: Kennedy and O’Connor; Ford: Stevens; Bush 1: Souter

    Perhaps this all comes back to the strength of the identity issue: despite the fact that I strongly believe what I’ve stated above (as evidenced by my refusal to drop my third party status to vote in the CA Democratic primary) I’m still way into Obama. I like the abstraction; at least this way I know that he can’t be blatantly lying. I mean what the fuck is hope anyway?

    I should state here that regardless of what I’ve said, I do believe that the Bush II administration is a special case of super duper evil doers, and that McCain, primarily because of his foreign policy stance, scares the crap out of me.

  7. Rachel says:

    Dave, that McCain video is incredible! I especially like the bit of “sign language” in the middle.

  8. Ruben Mancillas says:

    Scott, I’m with you about the practical policy effects of Obama vs. Clinton not being very great and with Dave about the electabiltiy issue being somewhat akin to fantasy basketball (warning: I think everything is somewhat akin to fantasy basketball) but I do hear many people using language about Obama that is surprising for a Democratic nominee.

    I usually see our side as the realists/pragmatists who might prefer a more aggressively progressive candidate but content ourselves that we’ll hopefully make incremental movements toward social justice as we defend the Supreme Court and Alaskan national parks from the holy rollers.

    But, as Beth W. points out above, people seem to be legitimately hopeful and excited that the Senator from Illinois can somehow substantively change things. So yeah, the evangelical thing, especially for the Dems, seems new to me. I duly voted (some of us pulled the correct lever) for Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, and Kerry and don’t remember folks getting anywhere near as worked up about any of them. Which may an argument for Obama, of course, but since it smacks of the type of myth making that the right typically engages in I don’t know what to make of it, wonder if it will have lasting value, and even fear about the inevitable letdown/backlash when Obama doesn’t have the magic wand (because no one does) to fix everything/change our entire culture after all.

    But the idea that hope is a less blatant political lie is not that all compelling to me.

  9. Jeremy says:

    I agree with you for the most part, Ruben. Although I think Obama is a much better candidate than our last few (super-duper smart and charismatic and, yes, a “historic” choice–unlike the wooden, bland Kerry or the dull old version of Gore), I’ve even found myself more invested in him than I thought possible–so much so that, though I actually liked Hillary quite a bit, I’ve found myself becoming disturbingly gleeful when she loses/Obama wins. Also, I’m getting totally sick of hearing her say, over and over, “We need a leader who’s ready on Day 1,” as if that day’s more important than the other 1,460 or, perhaps, 2,920. (By the way, our fellow fantasy bball playmate, Chris, said to me yesterday: keeping up with this primary season is even more fun than fantasy basketball. Don’t tell him I told you about this blasphemy.)

  10. Tim Wager says:

    I duly voted (some of us pulled the correct lever) for Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, and Kerry and don’t remember folks getting anywhere near as worked up about any of them.

    Right there with you on this, Ruben (and I even reluctantly voted for Mondale in ’84) . . . except for Clinton in ’92. Back then he was the kid who still believed in “A Place Called Hope.” There were a lot of Democrats really worked up in his favor, especially after 12 years of Reagan/Bush I. By ’96, well things had changed somewhat and he was the man in power, so it was a lot harder to get people into the sort of fervor of support that he’d had 4 years earlier and that Obama’s got going now.

    And “hope,” Scotty, hope is a thing with feathers.

  11. Jeremy says:

    Also, kudos to Brooke. And a hearty thanks, as well!

  12. swells says:

    I have to agree–I remember the tears of relief and amazement when Clinton won the first time and it seemed like there was hope in the universe. As for evangelism, I definitely felt it for Howard Dean–let’s not forget him. My hopes died with his unfair burial and have been cemented under ever since, until maybe, just maybe, lately . . . they grip down and begin to awaken . . .

  13. taryn says:

    This is so funny. A teacher I work with just showed me those videos today, and now here they are on TGW! My favorite part of the McCain video is the guy breathing into the paper bag at the end. Delicious.

    And for all the (recovering?) Mormons here, check out this site. My favorite is the postum nostalgia mug.

  14. Dave says:

    Do you wear the Obama thong under your garments or over, Taryn?

  15. Ruben Mancillas says:

    Great points, Tim.

    Three stories: In the summer of 1992 we drove through Hope and I bought my Clinton/Gore t-shirt from the campaign headquarters in Little Rock. I agree with you, it was a victory that we needed and Bill was/is pretty darn charming in his way. I still show my students The War Room and get all misty eyed along with Carville at the end. Hell, it was the first Presidential election I had ever won! (still is, unfortunately…don’t get me started about Gore in 2000). But for as much as we were excited at the prospect of victory I don’t remember the language including such words as “transformative” or “The One”

    In 1976 my elementary class prided itself on its current events curriculum, via filmstrip if I remember correctly, and I was excited about the prospect of a Carter win. Some of my friends and I would gather for lunch and discuss the finer points of Charlie’s Angels but I tried to turn it into a political rally. I was crushed when my buddy Tony said that he was for Ford despite my well argued policy points. I should have known better, I couldn’t convince him that Smith was better than Fawcett either.

    Sometime in the early 90’s I was driving down LeConte in Westwood and came close to hitting a dark haired man who suddenly crossed the street in front of my car. When I realized that it was Mike Dukakis, no doubt lecturing/having some event at UCLA, I was struck by how terrible it would have been if I had hit him and how sad it was that he was now scurrying between cars rather than having the Secret Service protection that in my alternate universe he would have as the President I so badly wanted him to be. I tried to convey all of this in the moment our eyes locked but maybe there were too many apologies to fit into that single glance.

    Jeremy-maybe that’s why our friend is in sixth place in our league…

  16. Tim Wager says:

    I love that the “Mormons for Obama” mug is NOT FOR COFFEE, PEOPLE. They should have beer-mug shaped “water glasses”.

    I saw Dukakis on Tavis Smiley last week, Ruben. It was a little hard to recognize him, frankly, so I’m surprised you ID’d him so quickly when he darted out in front of your car. He seems even further diminished than he did when Bush Père was done with him back in ’88.

    I remember not fully comprehending how Reagan could have won in 1980. Sitting in front of the t.v. with my father, I was very upset. He turned to me and said, “Well, it’s better that you have your ideals smashed when you’re young and resilient, rather than when you’re older.” I think this helped me reconcile myself to the travesty of Bush-Gore ’00.

  17. brooke says:

    #1. The focus on Texas and Ohio is understandable, because of the delegate count, but also what it says about each candidate. Obama has been chipping away at the traditional Clinton demographic, and he needs to do more of that in Texas. Clinton needs to prove she’s still a strong candidate. Both want some of the conservatives to prove they can compete in a general election. There’s an interesting analysis being circulated that unless Obama dominates in Texas like he did in the Potomac primaries, we could get stale mated in terms of delegate counts, which knowing how tenacious the Clintons are, they might be gunning towards, hoping then they can muscle the super-delegates to swing things in their favor.

    As for the grassroots moniker, I think it still applies. The campaign is very well organized, but the vast majority of people organizing and working on the campaign (precinct captains, specialists, techies, etc) are volunteers. Obama has taken in historic amounts of money (he’s on pace to bring in another $30MM in February), but it’s all small donations. According to one source, only 3% of the contributions are at the $2,300 max that Obama has set as his limit. So it’s an enormously popular and rich campaign, but still rooted in the grasses, so to speak.

    #2 I haven’t gotten to really dig into the GIS stuff yet. A few of the developers are working on that and I’m always jealous when I hear they are geocoding and such. But I’ve been too busy just trying to get the data and servers together, all the fun stuff is going to other people.

    #5 I agree – this is the best class of presidential hopefuls I can remember (I started voting in ’92). This is truly something, and whoever wins we’re way better off than we were in the last two elections (well, I love the new Gore, but the Gore of 2000 was lame).

    For the same reason I agree with Dave in #5, I have to disagree with Scotty in #6. I agree about the important Supreme Court repercussions, but another key area of concern is foreign policy and how the world views us. I know that our foreign policy has remained fairly consistent over the years (a favorite topic of Chomsky’s), but there are subtle differences that can be seen across administrations. Electing Obama as the next president sends a very different message our friends and ‘enemies’ abroad than does electing Clinton or McCain. Larry Lessig makes this point well in a boring video he made in support of Obama.

    #3,#4, #8, #10 Regarding the evangelical flavor and Pepsi-ad (well put, Beth) feeling. Yeah. It’s kind of cheesy and odd. But the giddiness is because of all the new voters and the fresh energy, and this not-so-novel but still refreshing idea that we can actually make change happen. In this way, it’s kind of nice to see lefties energized by a positive message, rather than sour grapes and anger at the Bush/Cheney disaster (which is reasonable as well).

    With all of this said, it really says something that Obama is able to motivate so many people to action. That’s inspirational leadership, and he’s got it. Bill had it too, and if he hadn’t been unraveled by his own character flaws, his legacy via Al Gore and Hillary Clinton might have more firepower. But the truth is it’s time to move on from that, and whatever Obama is and isn’t, he’s clearly very gifted, intelligent and charismatic leader. Surely he will be less of an idealist in office (who hasn’t been?), but aren’t you just dying to see what this guy can do for the country and the Democratic party?

  18. Dave says:

    $2,300 max that Obama has set as his limit

    This is the limit set by federal law.

  19. Beth W says:

    As a feminist and a woman, I can imagine the prospect of a woman presidential candidate to be inspiring and Hillary’s campaign has fallen short. I feel that in some way, I should be more supportive of Hillary because she’s a woman. And I know some people voted that way but I’ve never been able to get behind her. I saw her speak in ’96 and it was unmemorable. Much like Kerry, she would be okay, but nothing to jump up and down over.

    #4 I don’t see the fervor of Obama supporters to be any more evangelical than that of sports fans.

  20. brooke says:

    Dave, it’s precisely this kind of divisive, fact-oriented political trickery that America is tired of.

  21. Scotty says:

    Brooke, I love that you can keep your sense of humor even though you’re deeply invested in the cause.

    As for the percentage of volunteers for Obama, aren’t all national political campaigns run primarily by volunteers, and aren’t most donors the type of which you speak — small time I mean?

  22. swells says:

    Ruben: in 1976 I too got political and made up a campaign slogan I was very proud of: “We’re bored with Ford; Carter is smarter.” No idea what those ideals were based on, but I have to say I was already somehow right (er, correct) about politics. Forgive me if I still think I am.

  23. in 76 i made little liberty bells with slogans like “preserve our freedom” on behalf of gerald ford. sad but true. we also sang the oscar mayer song about jimmy carter all the way through his presidency: “my bologna has a first name, it’s j-i-m-m-y” etc., with the punchline: “’cause jimmy carter has a way with messing up the USA.” it wasn’t until reagan’s 2nd term that i realized how mistaken i’d been — as a what? second and third grader?

  24. Natasha says:

    I am not a feminist, by no means; I believe that a woman should create a warm home, be able to cook, do laundry and take care of children, not because she is obligated to, but because it makes life so much better. Yet I’d kick any chauvinistic butt out there and be as stubborn as I can on issues of feminism if I had to. I don’t feel that I should support Hilary because she is a woman. Although I am extremely proud of her, I feel that (at the fear of being stoned at TGW) she would simply make a better president. I have not heard much from Obama on small business issues and it certainly concerns me as I am a small guy, who gets affected by changes pretty fast. I am also concerned with Obama’s ideas on issues of national defense, economy, and foreign policy. It just seems that Hilary has more solid structure in her proposals. Brooke, maybe you know more about all this stuff than I do, since you have been working with Obama; maybe I am wrong. He sure seems to be charismatic, hence all the Evangelical fervor. I am excited about the fact that you were passionate about this thing though. I think it is most important to be passionate about something in life, otherwise life would simply be one bleak and uneventful string of circumstances.

  25. i should have explained: the liberty bells came complete with doorknob hangers and we distributed them through the neighborhood — as if anyone would have been voting otherwise.

    i also once was in a 4th of july parade as a tree holding a stopsign that said “STOP THE ERA.”

    yikes! what a benighted political childhood. i envied your election return story, tim, even though it was a sad one.

  26. Yet I’d kick any chauvinistic butt out there and be as stubborn as I can on issues of feminism if I had to.

    I’d say that makes you a feminist. Why run away from it? It’s nothing to be afraid of. So you believe women are human beings … is that so bad?

  27. Marleyfan says:

    When I was out of town last Saturday, my mom called from just as she was leaving the local Democratic caucus. she told me about being surprised when she ran into my seventeen year old son (a.k.a. Demosthenes) at the meeting. Mom explained that she has been leaning towards Hillary for a long time, but as the election nears, she’s becomes more and more swayed by the hope which Barrack presents, and was recently “on the fence”. As she and Demosthenes spoke, he explained the reasons that he will be voting for Obama; she said that the conversation was the deciding factor for her conversion. I had tears in my eyes as she told me that my son stood to address the precinct, and explain his reasoning; he was subsequently nominated as a precinct delegate. As you may be aware, a person who will be eighteen years old, by the general election can vote in the caucus (at least in Washington state). This will be an election he will never forget.

    #9: Jeremy, It’s ironic that you mention your friend, because as I read today’s posts, I was going to tell ya’ll that Demosthenes told me a few weeks ago that this election is much more interesting that any sporting events (other than the super-bowl commercials).

  28. Hey Brooke — while I’m making up for my full day away from the computer (Wednesday is one long teaching marathon for me) I thought I’d add a) I like this post a lot and am glad you wrote it instead of whatever else you had planned, and b) I know the video is kind of sappy, but I found it moving the first time I saw it, in part for the reasons you cite: it wasn’t paid for with dirty campaign money, it was creative, it was driven by fans and not by the campaign officials. I also thought it was damn clever, if leaning a little in the Starbucks direction.

  29. 27 — great story, bro.

  30. Natasha says:

    :) Bryan, you can’t just take a part of my sentence and paraphrase, what about all the cooking and cleaning I mentioned? Kicking chauvinistic butt, I think is more of a Russian thing, I still refuse to agree with Dr. Laura, a few years back, who thought that diapers should be split in-half. I think it’s about respect, help and understanding and not who does what.

  31. Natasha says:

    And that’s the exact butt I was going to kick, the one who thinks women are less than…

  32. what?? men can’t change diapers? i started doing it when i was about 7 years old.

  33. Natasha says:

    I met you too late, my life is ruined by misconceptions.

  34. taryn says:

    #33 – Are you sure it’s not ruined by all those dirty diapers and house cleaning??? Own your feminism, girlfriend! You can kick chauvenistic butt while you vacuum the living room! (Actually, if it were me… I’d make the chauvenist vacuum… but I’ve never been one for house cleaning!)

  35. Tim says:

    yikes! what a benighted political childhood. i envied your election return story, tim, even though it was a sad one.

    I don’t know, Bryan, sometimes, I wish that I had come to my political beliefs more on my own and perhaps against parental suggestion. As it is, I don’t know for sure if I hold my positions because I’ve reasoned them through or because I was so thoroughly indoctrinated at home.

    And, oh, the pain of being a child of liberals in the 70s and 80s! I remember how baffled I was when my 2nd grade teacher — whom I had really liked until that point — admitted voting for Nixon. Wow. I couldn’t understand it. Nixon. Was. Evil. End of story.

    Last story: I remember coming home all rambunctious after a long day out playing with friends, when my mother met my brother and me on the porch to ask us — in very hushed and serious tones — if we would keep it down and not disturb the peace: Ford had pardoned Nixon that day, and my father was very upset indeed.

  36. Tim says:

    P.S. Amazing story, Marleyfan! May Demosthenes have only richly warm memories of his introduction to taking part in the political process.

  37. Demosthenes says:

    Maybe I can play the “future of America” card all the way to the DNC!

  38. Dave says:

    Demosthenes — remind me to tell you about my trip to the RNC the summer I was 18.

  39. brooke says:

    Thanks to everyone for their stories about political activism. They are all pretty cool. It think my favorite is Demosthenes. So cool! Don’t you wish the DNC conference was in Hawaii now?

    And Bryan, I love the story about your early activism. It kind of reminds me of a Simpson character (Ned Flanders, age 10?) or that guy from Family Ties. I can claim no such youthful interest in politics.

    Dave – that McCain video is awesome. Did you watch the related videos? It gets better.

    Scotty – You’re probably right. I’ve never worked on a campaign before so I don’t have anything to which to compare this. This still certainly feels grassroots, but then again it’s going to feel that way until somebody mails me a check.

  40. Tim says:

    The Obama-is-many-things-to-many-people train is leaving the station. Get on board now! Tomorrow will be too late.

  41. Here’s another of the McCain videos Brooke mentioned. I like this one a lot.

    Tim, that link was all kinds of weird.

  42. Amy says:

    Bry, I so love you.

    Way off topic, yet related through your inspirational sarcasm: I’d forgotten how much we laughed in orchestra. We had a great time, didn’t we.

    Maci just emailed about some possible “get-together” plans after the reunion this summer. I can’t wait!

  43. E. says:

    #24 stoned at TGW