Tuesday, March 24, 2009

“Take Back the Economy and End the War” in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, MARCH 19, 2009, NOON---Over one hundred protesters demonstrated on Montgomery Street in the City’s downtown Financial District, angry at the behavior of a bailed-out local bank and the international insurance behemoth AIG.

At issue was the fact that Wells Fargo Bank, after receiving a $25 million Federal bailout, has joined other financial institutions to fight the Employee Free Choice Act introduced by Bay Area congressman George Miller and Senator Ted Kennedy in February. According to Nick Flynn, a spokesman for the organizing entity, Change That Works, the San Francisco rally was one of 105 allied demonstrations across the country. Most of those at the rally were representatives of the Service Employees International Union, but there were also supporters from Unite Here (Local 2), Hotel Workers Rising and CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice).

Rally participants, many wearing purple and yellow “SEIU for Obama” t-shirts (one even wearing a priest’s black robe and collar), held signs reading “No War Except for Class War” and others supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, held aloft two giant-sized checks, labeled “Reality Check” . They chanted slogans such as “Banks get bailed out/People get sold out”. A low-key handful of police helped assure sidewalk and street access around the peaceful, well-organized protesters.

After forty-five minutes at the Wells Fargo Bank location, protest organizers led the group on a brief march to a building on nearby California Street, the second-highest skyscraper in San Francisco and the former headquarters of Bank of America, where the original group was joined by another group holding signs and chanting. At this second location, the protest shifted its full attention to a condemnation of insurance behemoth AIG and its controversial executive bonus program. Apparently, AIG maintains offices in that building and others in the surrounding blocks.

Protesters chanted, “AIG, you can’t hide/We can see your greedy side”. Today being a glorious, sunny day with temperatures in the 70s, a multicultural group of workers from inside the building sat on the building’s wide, distinctive, carnelian granite steps, quietly eating their lunches. When asked if the noisy protest disturbed their break, one group of young office workers shook their heads, saying “Of course not! We agree with them.”

One young woman in the group, commenting on the bonuses, suggested that “There should have been more research before they gave the banks that money. This whole thing was done without our voices”. A young man suggested that the fault for the country’s financial mess rested with the Federal Reserve Bank, “They should go to that building over there, the Fed. It’s their fault. They created this mess…all this “free” credit; they were taunting people with money and the idea that there would always be more money.”

Asked if the nation’s financial difficulties and the bailout controversy had in any way dimmed their support for the new President, the entire group shook their heads. They did not blame the current administration at all. Another member of the lunchtime group spoke up, “No, it’s not his fault. He just got in there. Let him do something first; let him work first.”

Emotions surrounding the crisis are not only impacting younger, low-level workers. One middle-aged, high-level financial executive, returning from lunch, said she understood the emotions behind the protest. “Workers and taxpayers, we have a right to be pissed off. It’s taxpayer money! Thank God we’ve got Obama. At least he’s smart enough and principled enough to find the middle road in all this.“

She continued, “I work with a lot of Republicans and frankly, I am a little concerned with the tenor of the conversation now. Democrats are happy with the new President’s efforts. But these people (her Republican co-workers) blame Obama for not having had a quicker, more complete fix, and they resent any solution that includes tax hikes, because they feel an unfair burden is being put on higher-income earners. They believe they’re entitled to their high incomes and bonuses, and transferring wealth to their families, and feel they should not have to support the rest of society, or as they call them those who ‘don’t work, won’t work or can’t work’. I’m different; for example, I have no problem supporting schools, even though I don’t have children. I just don’t understand their selfishness, if that’s the right word for it. This whole thing is making my work environment so stressful for me, I have to get away at lunch every day just to meditate and calm down.”

At the conclusion of the rally, as I walked the few blocks to public transit, I encountered the annual San Francisco protest to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Iraq War, led by Vietnam War protester Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame. As Mr. Ellsberg and several other protesters laid down in protest on the streetcar tracks of busy Market Street, effectively stopping traffic in all directions, like-minded demonstrators from Code Pink and Iraq Veterans Against the War held signs and softly sang, “We shall not/We shall not be moved…”

Jo Lawrence, a protester who emerged from the street, observed that this year’s event attracted far fewer participants than in years past. “I think it’s because people feel more hopeful because of Obama. Obama’s for change. Well, we want change now…(Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton is potentially more accessible than Condoleeza Rice ever was. Time will tell if she can make things better.” Also noting the economic impact of the war, she continued, “Forty-nine percent of our taxes goes to war. People don’t have basic medical care in this country. Why spend the money on war?”

Originally published inProtests Across Country Focus on Workers' Strife, Citizen Journalists Report in The Huffington Post, March 20, 2009.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TreeHug, by Gary Wilson

This photograph was taken by photographer Gary Wilson during a recent commission in Queensland, Australia. This poetic image expresses the cultural and environmental mix of modern-day Australia. We encourage comments on this piece. Gary's work can be seen at MindfulLight.com.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It Was Time to Wake Up, But the Georgia Electorate Stayed in Bed

In my December 1st diary entry, I questioned whether or not deploying Obama field staff and volunteers to Georgia would be a successful strategy to elect Jim Martin in the Senatorial runoff election.

Well now that the results are in, it is clear that the Obama magic cannot be transferred by long-distance to candidates in Republican strongholds.

Despite the masses of human and financial resources poured into his campaign, evidently Jim Martin's personal story and vision were not compelling enough to drive the Obama coalition to the polls. Despite appearances by hip-hop stars and civil rights pioneers, Martin's own star power paled in comparison.

Simply put, Martin's platform of anti-crime, child-protective legislation did not display the vision to entrance today's electorate. He did not exemplify the key values of Hope and Change which are so attractive to Obama supporters in the US and around the world.

Could voters truly relate to the idea that Martin's election was a life-and-death necessity, simply in order to give Barack Obama a Super-Majority? Did the electorate understand the need for a Super-Majority? Were voters really convinced of the urgency of this election?

In addition, Martin's campaign was not as clearly focused as the President-Elect's had been. Part of Obama's secret weapon in the general election, besides his oratory skills, his brilliance, his charisma and his magnetic vision, was his insistence that his supporters take advantage of early voting to boost poll numbers. Five-hour early voting lines were not unheard-of in Florida, North Carolina, and other "red", battleground states which were taken by Obama.
However, all the Georgia polls indicated that the early voting turnout was unexpectedly low in Democratic precincts. People, for whatever reason, were simply not sufficiently motivated enough to stand in the rain to vote for a man who did not really represent the Man who Represents Change.

Now Georgia Democrats will be left with the consequences of the loss.

Originally published in The Daily Kos, December 2, 2008.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Wake Up! and Get Out the Vote in Georgia

Obama "supervolunteers" across the country, encouraged by Obama field staff, are working hard to organize and energize Georgia voters to get out the vote for Democrat Jim Martin in the Senate runoff election on Tuesday December 2, 2008.

Using "Obama for America" organizing tactics and patented "Votebuilder" software, out-of-state staff and volunteers are fanning out across the State of Georgia, ringing phones and knocking on doors. But in a Southern "red" state such as Georgia, which, despite a high African American population, a large middle class and a number of large universities, voted solidly for McCain in the Presidential election, the potential success of this approach is still be to seen.

Since the week following the Presidential election, e-mail announcements have gone out to Obama campaign workers to seek their participation in the Georgia Senate race between Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin.

I have received such e-mail announcements from Sen. Barbara Boxer, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democratic Party and the Obama for America campaign. My local campaign team as well as the teams from cities in South Florida, where I worked during the general election, have been organizing phone banking parties and trips to Georgia, along with a community service project: the preparation of holiday gift boxes for the "Any Soldier" campaign.

In these e-mails, we are reminded that President-Elect Barack Obama needs our help "now more than ever". On the Sunday before the Tuesday runoff election, the Northern California field office sent an e-mail request for "get-out-the-vote" volunteers under the "Georgia for Change" logo. The highlight of this letter was a diary post from a Berkeley, California organizer, dispatched to Georgia for the election:

Update From Georgia: "Wake Up, You're Not in Berkeley Anymore!"

Like most worthwhile things in life, there have been obstacles at every turn: organizers have flown in from across the county and last night we stayed up until 3 am frantically assembling walk packets for today.

We've been asked to knock on 50,000 doors in 2 days, a nearly impossible task given the amount of volunteer enthusiasm in our precincts. After a couple hours of sleep (literally), I awoke to the sound of thunder and rain. Rain is fortcasted (sic) through Monday, which makes our goals that much more daunting.

I ran through the rain draped in a "stylish" garbage bag to deliver canvassing packets to freezing volunteers, I thought about my first Saturday of GOTV during the general election in Berkeley (which was also plagued by rain). During the general election, despite the rain, my East Bay offices made a record-number of phone calls that day.

But there were no records broken in this Atlanta office on Saturday.

As I told stories about the relentless volunteer base I left behind in California - making phone calls on the sidewalks because there was no more space to sit inside - a Georgia field organizer pinched me and said, "wake up, you're not in Berkeley anymore."

... if we're going to pull this thing off we still need your help. Please sign up for a shift to make phone calls to Georgia voters.

Your President-Elect needs you now more than ever.

She signed off with the words, "Still hopeful,..."

After reading this post, one wonders whether the Obama coalition can exert influence in this "red" state, given the weather conditions and the relatively un-fired-up, relatively not-ready-to-go Georgia Democratic electorate.

In my own experiences phone banking to the Peach Tree State, I found a lot of people who agreed to support Martin. Due to the quality of the Obama call lists, we only called Obama supporters, so our time was not wasted by arguing with people who needed to be convinced. Only one person, out of the dozens with whom I have spoken, was unwilling to speak with me ("I don't take political phone calls"). When it was explained to people that the Republicans are "counting on" them not to show up to the polls on Tuesday, people could actually be heard steeling themselves, resigned to let their voices be heard this time and to show up at the polls on Tuesday.

An example is that of two older ladies, both of whom expressed similar dedication to vote for Jim Martin. Despite their age, their health, the inclement weather and their inability to drive, both women seemed ready and eager to vote once more before the year ends.

From what clearly sounded like a white woman:
"Oh, I'm voting for the Democrat. I'm eighty years old. I don't walk well anymore because of my hip. But I don't need a ride. My granddaughter what lives with me, she'll pick me up and take me to vote."
From what clearly sounded like an African American woman:
"I'll vote for Martin. I'm eighty-one years old. But I don't think I need a ride. You know, I'll be at the church on Tuesday with the seniors! We get together, we'll have fellowship, you know, and they usually carry us to the polls in the church van. I'm going to check with them at service on Sunday and make sure. Or I'll ask my niece to carry me."
These octogenarians will make a real effort to go to the polls, but will younger voters, traditionally an unreliable bunch, go out of their way to vote for a candidate who lacks the "rock star" celebrity of Barack Obama? Do these voters understand the significance of this Senatorial race vs. the significance of November's Presidential election?

It has been reported that Republican celebs, including John McCain and Sarah Palin, have been summoned to Chambliss' cause, flying down to Georgia to rouse their base into action. Instead, the Democrats sent Georgia Congressman John Lewis. John Lewis is a civil rights pioneer and a well-respected legislator, but he could never be described as a political "star". The media reports that actor/rapper Ludacris will make an appearance on behalf of Martin, but despite his star power, one wonders about his ability to get-out-the-vote and to promote voter responsibility in the way Barack Obama has done.

Time will tell whether or not the "Georgia for Change" effort will pay off to secure a 59th Senate seat for the Democratic Party. And if the Obama campaign machine, fueled with volunteer energy, can stimulate the Georgia electorate to a new level of involvement in national affairs.

I have to admit that I hope Georgia Democrats will make a strong stand in the runoff election on Tuesday.

But, as the Georgia organizer said, "Wake up! You're not in Berkeley anymore!"

Obama volunteers perform data entry for
Martin's campaign

Originally published in the Daily Kos on December 1, 2008.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"We Shall Overcome" In Overtown: Helping Mattie Vote

On the campaign trail as a Deputy Field Organizer for the Barack Obama campaign, I encountered many women, in several states, of all ages, and from all stations of life, whose lives intersected with my own in a variety of ways.

During the last few weeks of the general election campaign, I traveled to South Florida, where I helped get out the vote in Miami-Dade County.

This is the story of one afternoon in one neighborhood, and of one woman whom I will never forget.

OVERTOWN DISTRICT, MIAMI, FLORIDA, October 24, 2008 -- I spent a hot Florida day in the low-income, "Overtown" section of Miami.

Following police abuse-of-power incidents, Overtown (formerly known as "Colored Town") was the site of back-to-back riots in 1982 and 1989, in which one person was killed, hundreds were shot, injured or arrested, and 27 buildings were burned to the ground. Today, the district has an 83 percent concentration of African American residents (vs. 25 percent citywide), and 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, with a 23 percent unemployment rate. This area is known for a high crime rate, redevelopment failure, and its invisibility to the political establishment.

I had been warned by an older male family friend not to go "running around" in Overtown, as he considered it a dangerous area where outsiders are unwelcome and easily recognized.

But this is a place where many had been disenfranchised in the 2000 and 2004 elections, and I was determined to enable these people to exercise their constitutional rights of citizenship. I was a child of the Civil Rights Movement. A voice in my mind called out "Yes we can!" and "We shall overcome!" People had died to ensure the rights of people from "Colored Towns" to vote; I would play my role in this legacy of political activism, unfazed by rumors of crime or scary stories from condescending patriarchs.

The Barbecue Rally

Early in the afternoon, my campaign friend and I attended a get-out-the-vote rally at the neighborhood's Youth Center, where union members grilled burgers and hot dogs for the kids and the neighbors. A DJ with a giant outdoor stereo setup played a sampling of music from African American, Trinidadian, Haitian and Cuban traditions. It was a mixed bag; the infectious rhythms jumped from one beat to another. From time to time, the DJ would pick up the mike and begin a rhythmic rap: "Ya got to vote, y'all! It's votin' time, everybody!"

People--men, women and children, mainly single mothers with children, or grandmothers with children--went crazy over the Obama buttons, Obama bumper stickers, temporary tattoos--anything with the candidate's likeness. I had packed a supply of campaign materials in the car and filled my pockets, which helped me to make new friends as I walked among the crowd to introduce myself and initiate conversations about the State's early voting process.

There was a certain subdued, serious resignation among the attendees, as though they'd seen this all before (had other politicians given them barbecue? had they made promises to these people that had never been kept?). Their eyes appeared veiled with a kind of dull sadness (was this a sad place? was enthusiasm uncool?). But my broad smile, my out-of-state visage and all the campaign paraphernalia I produced brought smiles to their faces, one person at a time.

One spectacularly beautiful woman, dressed completely in black despite the heat, stood out in the crowd. It was Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning, Oscar-nominated, Hollywood actress Alfre Woodard, attending the event with a cameraman in tow. Standing under a tree, she spoke at length into the camera, showing great passion as she answered questions from an interviewer about the importance of political action. Afterward, she stood alone, easily approachable and un-mobbed by fans.

Despite the music, the excitement of the children, the grilled food and the celebrity "photo op", it was unclear to me whether or not the event had actually encouraged anyone to vote. But as my car pulled out of the parking lot, women and their children waved to me, grateful for the campaign "swag" I had been able to distribute. Some cars in the lot already sported their new bumper stickers and many people had affixed buttons to their clothing.

Meeting Mattie

Leaving the Overtown Youth Center event, I visited the tiny, overstuffed, fastidiously ornamented, yet proudly clean apartment of a local woman named Mattie. This woman had been calling the Obama field office several times a day, begging someone to come help her complete and mail her absentee ballot.

Mattie "hadn't been feeling well lately" and had recently been hospitalized, so we went to her home, just to collect her one vote. I had no idea what to expect, but I had been duly informed by a volunteer dispatcher at the campaign office that we were going into to a "ghetto" area.

Driving up to Mattie's block in Overtown, in the shadow of Miami's bustling, downtown, high-rise, high-rent district, I passed block after block of empty and abandoned lots and under-the-freeway dominoes games, played by grown men with nothing better to do and nowhere better to go.

Eventually, I encountered one of the neighborhood’s only remaining businesses, a small corner liquor store, painted a bright, Caribbean-style yellow and green. On the corner, there were various congregations of young and old men and women.

Heavily made-up young women wearing skimpy clothing pleaded with a man leaning against the building (were these prostitutes? drug dealers? just ordinary ghetto teenagers?). Something appeared into his hand; the young women walked away again. Out front, a thoroughly disheveled, dangerously thin woman wobbled on her feet, as two carefully-dressed preteen girls tried to talk with her (how did these girls know her? was she their mother? their aunt?).

I parked my car down the block. Across the street, inside the rusty gates and unkempt courtyard of Mattie’s apartment building, several groups of young men wearing XXL t-shirts and twisted, dreaded and braided hairstyles, played cards in the courtyard and joked loudly on the balconies of the upper floors. Without a doubt, this was clearly a neighborhood full of grown men playing games.

We mounted the stairs to Mattie's second floor apartment. After a few knocks, a sad-faced woman of indeterminate age opened the door wearing a faded, flowered housedress and a red satin hair cap. Her eyes, at first guarded, brightened as she looked at me and my friend, standing there in her doorway, dressed in Obama t-shirts and blue jeans. To paraphrase a refrain from the campaign, we were the ones she had been waiting for.

She bade us to enter the dark apartment; it took a few moments for my eyes to adjust. She graciously cleared space for me to sit beside her on the plastic-covered sofa. This piece of furniture easily took up half the space in a tiny front room filled with plastic flowers, ceramic figurines, a nonworking television and an electric radio which blared news and talk from a shelf in the corner.

It soon became clear why she needed help with her ballot; her reading skills were limited or nonexistent (could she see well enough to read? had she learned to read in school?) and she had trouble holding a pen (was it due to her illness?). So my friend and I read aloud the various measures and propositions on the ballot, none of which she had yet considered.

Her only preoccupation, the only thing she wanted to ensure, was that we marked her ballot to vote for the person she proudly called, "my boy"; she wanted to vote for Senator Barack Obama as President of the United States of America.

"Do you think he's going to win?" she asked me in all earnestness, looking deep into my eyes as though she trusted me to know the answer. I promised I would pray for him, but only God could know the outcome of this election (would he be able to win? would the election be stolen from him? would my prayers for his success and his safety be heard?).

Eventually, her ballot was completely filled out. Then we double-checked it. Our task completed, we placed the ballot in its envelope and showed Mattie how to sign her name over the seal on the back. We promised to deliver her ballot directly to the post office. She smiled broadly and seemed to become more animated.

She asked us to wait a few moments while she telephoned another woman, her friend in the apartment complex, another woman who lived alone, another house-bound prisoner of this neighborhood. This other woman needed help, too. Could we pick up her ballot, too? Finally, unable to reach the woman by phone, she resigned herself to the realization that the voting was over, so the visit was over. We gently reminded her that it was getting late and we had many more votes to "get out".

She couldn't stop hugging me, repeatedly saying "God bless you! Thank you! God bless you!" as we struggled to make our exit. She smelled good, like soap and lotion. Then we were out the door, thrust into the bright tropical sunshine, even now beginning to fade into sunset. The radio was still audible from inside the apartment.

We reversed course, heading down the stairs, out the rusty gate to the car, walking the gauntlet of young men with nothing better to do than to play games, all day (what did they do at night? what must it be like to live here, day and night, year after year? exactly what kind of games were played here after dark?). One of the young men approached me. "Sister, do you have five dollars you can spare?"

I laughed and told him, honestly, "Are you kidding? I wish I did!" But later in the car, I said to myself and to my friend, "Five dollars? What is he---crazy?" (was he crazy? was I crazy for laughing at him and refusing his request?)

It was only much later, driving on the freeway across town, that we realized we had not instructed Mattie to write the date on the outside of the envelope, per the written instructions. (Would anyone notice? Would they pay attention to the enclosed ballot and count her vote along with the others? Would they just throw away the envelope? Or was it possible that the State of Florida would invalidate her ballot just because of a missing date on the outside of the envelope? Could they do that? No. Surely her vote would still count...or would it?) We grew quiet in the car.

Should we go back to collect the date on the envelope? I could imagine Mattie then, still sitting on the plastic-covered couch in her dark apartment, smiling at the memory of her nice visitors, listening to the radio for news about "her boy", turning the volume louder to drown out the commotion made by all the games being played on the block beyond her door.

Returning to Mattie's apartment was completely out of the question now; the sun had begun to set and the sky was quickly going dark. Mattie had voted; we would have to pray for the right outcome in Overtown.

Originally published in the online exhibition, Women, Power and Politics for the International Museum of Women

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

BASTA YA! UNIDOS POR EL CAMBIO! Florida Presidential Race Pits Older Generation Against Younger Cuban Americans

MIAMI, FLORIDA---With the race completed, it is clear that Cuban Americans influenced the balance of the South Florida Presidential election, tipping the scales more in favor of John McCain. But that impact was a reflection of a generational chasm between two groups of people: those who orient their focus toward events of the past, vs. those who face their vision squarely toward the future. While a sizable group of older, more conservative Cuban Americans supported the candidacy of John McCain, a steadily growing group of younger Barack Obama supporters were the children and grandchildren of 1960s emigrants from the island nation. These Cuban American Floridians were either born in the United States or immigrated as young children with their parents. They were educated in the US, in Florida or New York, and they embrace their cultural identity as Cuban Americans, not as Cuban emigres.

Julio gathers more signs to distribute in Little Havana

A few days before the election, Julio, a “Super Volunteer” for the Florida for Change campaign raised in a mixed neighborhood of New York City, summed up the situation this way: “All the Cubans I know, even if they don’t speak English, they all know to vote for Obama. All the Cubans my age and younger are voting for Obama. I drive all over Miami (in an Obama-decorated car) and people just honk their horns at me! It’s amazing! A police officer pulled me over. I was so nervous; I thought, ‘Wow, I hope I didn’t do anything wrong!’ He said, ‘Hey, where did you get your (Obama) flags?’ I couldn’t believe it! I’ve never felt this way since Jack Kennedy. When I saw him speak at the 2004 Convention, I felt this was like someone I had seen before: John F. Kennedy.”

This feeling is shared by many, not just in the immigrant community. But, among older Cuban Americans, instead of having an endearing effect, the comparisons with Kennedy have the opposite effect. They only alienate a distinct population with a historical gripe to settle.

According to Cuban American Obama supporter and media producer Mercedes, who emigrated to this country at the age of 9, “Cuban Americans are very loyal, so that’s one of the reasons why they have remained anti-Democrats and Republicans, because during the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy did not keep his word to support the troops of Cuban volunteers who landed in the Bay, and really, they were left to die, so ever since then, there’s been this animosity against Democrats”.

Furthermore, to many older Miami Hispanic residents, Obama reminds them not of John F. Kennedy, but of their old nemesis Fidel Castro, and his younger, fellow leftist Latin American leader Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, both of whom have made the education, health care and well-being of the poor a central part of their popular platforms. According to Mercedes: “both the Cuban Party in Cuba and Chavez said, ‘We wish Obama will win because we can better talk to him.’ But the minute (the) Castro regime said that, some of the ones that were on the fence went berserk.”

At polling locations, handmade signs supported this rabid anti-Obama fanaticism. The signs read, “OBAMA & FIDEL Castro Marxist” and “Cuba Got Change in 1959 Be Careful What U Wish 4”. Fears of another Castro-style Communist takeover, this time of the US, were palpable and painful. The equivocation of Castro and Obama was so complete in their minds, that many older people tearfully pleaded with younger family members to reconsider their political stance in light of the experiences of their elders, still rich in recent memory. These are the people who yelled, “Communist!”, “Go back to your country!” and various expletives at Obama volunteers conducting honk-and-wave visibility events, wearing campaign buttons, even catching a meal at Miami’s famous Versailles restaurant, a culinary and political hotspot on Miami’s SW 8th Street, also known as “Calle Ocho”. It was said by campaign workers that cars carrying Obama bumper stickers might be vandalized there, and it is a fact that two young volunteers, the Vazquez sisters, were verbally harassed by fellow patrons at the upscale diner for wearing Obama campaign paraphernalia.

Maria-Teresa and the Vazquez Sisters in Obama Field Office

But on polling lines and in Obama field offices throughout the Miami area, younger people readily offered their disdain for the fear and paranoia of their elders. This generation was eager to wear Obama stickers, campaign buttons, and to actively volunteer to educate their community about this new style of American presidential candidate. They manned Spanish-language phone banks, canvassed the streets of Little Havana, even supported donations of Cuban fast food to nourish the hordes of local and out-of-state staff and volunteers at area field offices.

As several younger people candidly admitted, many lied to their parents and grandparents about their choice of Presidential candidate to keep peace in their families, yet were openly proud to be able to make their own decisions in the privacy of the voting booth---and that choice was overwhelmingly for Barack Obama as President of the United States of America.

Mercedes eloquently explained the opposite pull of generational politics among this community. “The new generation is looking beyond old gripes. And we’re more open to solutions vs. old rhetoric. The Cuban Americans that are open-minded see Obama as someone with the vision, someone with substance, and someone who wants to bring people together vs. splitting them apart.”

Ironically, as articulate as Mercedes’ own explanations are, it appears that it is Barack Obama’s tremendous verbal eloquence, and the radiance of his promises, that arouse the most paranoia among Miami’s Cuban American emigrant community.

She explains: “Another thing: Cubans are very suspicious about what a great speaker he is, and they associate that with Castro, because Castro was a very great and engaging speaker. So, for Obama, some of them say, ‘He speaks so beautifully and he speaks so well, that we don’t trust him.’ So there’s this association and old wounds that never healed. Because everybody that came afterwards, nobody has done anything for Cuba. They come down to Miami when it’s voting time, and promise that this time, something will be done for Cuba, but nothing happens. It hasn’t happened in 50 years. The Cuban community has been sensitive for so many years to broken promises from both parties. But the Republicans have done a better talk; they have been smarter to promise what the Cubans want to hear, regardless of their real intentions. We believe that Obama will help all the people, because he has a plan to help, not just the rhetoric to promise help to win an election.”

Finally, I will share with the reader a community secret: there is another sort of resistance to Obama, seen among some older Cuban voters, that was often expressed in a surreptitious gesture, silently made in kitchens and living rooms throughout Florida, to widened eyes and slow nods of the head: that of the index finger of the right hand being rubbed back and forth across the back of the left hand. Some old traditions have not died in the new country. But a new generation’s attitudes have begun to meld with those of their non-immigrant cohort in the wider population. They view Obama’s biracial ethnicity as a promise fulfilled, not a nightmare in the making. A revolution, yes; but one which is welcomed and long awaited, like a warm, tropical rain washing away years of bitterness and regret.

"Vote Esperanza, No Miedo"

I helped register thousands of voters in California, traveled to Texas to campaign and watch the polls in the primaries, traveled to Florida to get out the vote and organize poll watching and voter protection for the general election. Over the past year, I served as a deputy field organizer and precinct captain, I have hosted house parties and local fundraisers, hosted voter registration events at public events and I have traveled a great deal for the campaign.
I worked to help voter outreach to the Caribbean American, Haitian American, Mexican American, Guatemalan, Cuban American and African American communities, and with young people and middle class families in several states.

Voting experience:
I voted early.

What I did:
I voted, convinced someone, shared info, donated, phone banked, canvassed, helped someone register, drove someone to polls, raised money, worked as a pollworker/monitor, helped election protection efforts. I published several pieces on the Huffington Post.

Originally published in Our Stories: Obama 08 on ColorOfChange.org, November 2008.

Monday, November 3, 2008

South Florida Early Voting Lines: Cesarean Sections, Nonagenarians and Sam Cooke

MIAMI --- (As told to the correspondent by husband-and-wife Obama Volunteers Pierina and Aramis in the Coral Gables office)

The last early voting hours for Miami-Dade County were 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Saturday and 1:00 to 5:00 pm Sunday. "You could feel the hope in the votes," according to an Obama volunteer named Aramis. At the Model City Library, early voters were predominantly Haitian immigrants and African Americans, with a sprinkling of Hispanics. Among the polite crowd of all ages, there were many grandmothers with lots of grandchildren. From time to time, the poll workers would pull the most elderly people and bring them to the front of the line, as a courtesy. While voters waited up to three hours for the number on their admission ticket to be called, everyone displayed mutual respect, calmness and an uncommon patience.

People stood for hours in the pouring rain, to vote. The line curved along four long, downtown city blocks. According to the volunteers who experienced it, it was like something out of a movie. Human drama unfolded in the line as the rain gave way to sunny skies, and later to dusk and darkness.

One woman had just given birth through Cesarean section at a nearby hospital. Instead of going home, her husband drove his wife and their new baby directly from the hospital to the Library, just so she could vote on the last day of early voting. She knew she couldn't come on Tuesday, so she stood in that line, just so that she could vote for Barack Obama. Her tiny, newborn baby stayed in the car with her husband; this woman was still wearing slippers from her hospital stay. She could barely walk in her condition, yet she waited stoically at the Model City Library to vote.

Late in the day, a young man played music on a boom box. Slowly from the speakers came the strains of Sam Cooke's 1963 song, "A Change is Gonna Come" and the scene became an indelible memory, a dreamlike scene from a film still to be produced.

As the song blasted on speakers in the background, an old woman, well in her 90s and using a walker, slowly approached the line, dressed in her Sunday best (although it was only Saturday): a brightly-colored, flowered polyester dress with big shoulder pads, earrings and a pocketbook. She was one of the last people trying to get in line before the five o'clock cutoff time. Entering the library required ascending a long, inclined wheelchair ramp. The old woman had brought two people to accompany her, perhaps her grandchildren or her great-grandchildren. One walked on each side and one behind her, in case she fell or needed assistance. She walked slowly and methodically up the ramp to take her place in line, as the lyrics to the Sam Cooke song echoed off the concrete walls of the library courtyard.

As a sign of her advanced years and the effects of osteoporosis, her body was folded over, almost in a 90-degree angle. Yet she was focused, looking straight ahead, as though she wasn't about to take her eyes off the prize. The way she was walking, stoically, steadfast and with purpose, it was as though she was holding her head up high. Even though her body was stooped over, her spirit was in the clouds. With this vote, she would make history. Slowly, step-by-step, she walked toward the future; yes, after a long, long time, a change was coming.

"A Change is Gonna Come", by Sam Cooke, as performed by Otis Redding.
Video montage by handlinsd on YouTube.

Originally published in the Huffington Post, November 3, 2008.