"The most important thing we learned is that change is possible." -- Barack Obama speaking to OFA volunteers on March 23, 2010, hours after signing healthcare reform into law
"Hope is a four letter word." -- femlaw, writing on January 16, 2009.
Barack Obama ruined my life.
When I moved to California in 2005, I had a plan: graduate school, a new career in academia, and enjoying the lovely Bay Area life with my family. Being part of a political campaign was definitely not in the plan.
Along the way, I went all in on a big important Presidential election, volunteering at ever-increasing levels and finally joining the campaign staff in August of 2008. I thought it was just a detour and that in November I could leave it all behind, having done my part when it really counted. I was wrong.
We face another critical election where the outcome will determine if we build on the progress we have started or turn away. And I have just joined the paid staff for OFA in California.
Turns out hope is still a four letter word.
Coming to California was supposed to be my break from the world of politics. Although I had lived and worked for ten years in Washington, DC, the post-9/11 city was a dark place of metal detectors and duct tape and emergency evacuation routes. I lived alongside a government recklessly undermining our standing in the world and our safety net at home. I was happy to leave all that for walks in the sunshine with my young children, good coffee, and a giant reading list of books full of big and exciting ideas.
And it was even more wonderful and liberating than I imagined. I was, as one of my advisers remarked, "a kid in a candy store." That "kid" was a nearly 40 year old mother of two, energized with scholarship, stats classes and fantastic seminar discussions. But as I was studying historical social movements in books and articles I suddenly fell into a real live one. It wasn't just the campaign itself, or what became OFA. It was seeing the everyday people who came to work with me, people who never believed they had power or thought that politics mattered in their lives, discovering how to organize and be effective. I became a teacher not just of university or law students but of organizers, passing on old school community organizer concepts, and hard-nosed campaign tactics, and new online tools, and seeing the birth of a new political paradigm first hand.
And something else was happening as I wrote papers, took graduate exams, and planned my dissertation. I couldn't escape the urgency of the world around me. A war raged overseas, our constitution was under assault at home, our economy faltered and then nearly failed, our kids' public school weathered a storm of state budget crises. People close to me struggled with health insurance denials and job losses. My spouse went to work every day dedicated to environmental protection while powerful money fought common sense regulation. I had left my civil rights legal practice for graduate school because just litigating wasn't enough. After decades of assault on federal civil rights law we needed new ideas, new data and new theories to build a stronger political commitment to equality.
Suddenly, after we won the election, we had the chance to begin taking on all these things I cared about. And for a brief moment, I hesitated. On a conference call with the President-elect and fellow campaign staff the morning after the election, I heard him say he would need our help. But I wanted to go back to my studies. I assumed that there would be plenty of people ready to take up the fight, and that I would be able to step back and resume my plans. I didn't think I would be needed. My work was done.
And I watched in shock as otherwise smart people gave in to despair when the going got tough. I knew that was exactly the wrong thing to do. I knew from everything I had learned in research and on the ground that keeping up hope, sustaining a belief in your power to make a difference, and focusing on action is how you win. Most importantly, I saw an organization building itself on those principles - a standing field team for the President - that could remake Democratic politics over the long term.
I spent almost two years trying to balance my old goal of a serious scholarly life with the new opportunity standing in front of me. I would be digging through archives and looking at data one day, and find myself pulled into the healthcare fight or the Coakley campaign or a new organizing project the next. I felt constantly torn, knowing I couldn't commit myself fully to either path. It was nearly two years of grief and tears and excitement and engagement and deep confusion and conflict.
And so I learned there is no going back. Last week I went on leave from my graduate program for the semester and accepted a new paid staff position with OFA in California. After the midterms I will sort out the rest of my life. For now I am totally focused on our key races here in my adopted home state for Governor, Senator, and others. They will decide whether my kids' school has the resources it needs to thrive, whether my friends running small businesses can continue counting on the new health insurance exchanges, whether my children will grow up in the kind of world I want for them. OFA will be getting out the vote across the state using the same grassroots volunteer-driven tactics that we have been developing for three years now. I see the new people showing up to make calls and knock doors and get trained to lead locally, and the stalwarts who have been doing it all along, I see the early numbers and it makes me believe we can succeed.
It gives me Hope all over again.
Hope 2010 feels a lot different than Hope 2008. Tougher, deeper, more dearly bought. I have learned that change is possible. I have also learned how hard it is to achieve and what sacrifices it requires. I have learned it includes painful limits, agonizing compromises, and sometimes deep uncertainty and division over the true best course of action.
And I have learned I can't sit on the sidelines and watch the fight for it.
Maybe it is because I am a parent. Maybe because no one really can explain to you how the struggle and pain and joy of bringing a child into the world or into your life rapidly fades away, eclipsed by the struggle and pain and joy -- and responsibility -- of raising that child. But I saw this coming, clear as day, in January 2009, as I headed to watch the inauguration of the man I worked to elect. I knew that embracing the hope of that moment was risking great loss and disappointment. I also knew it was absolutely essential to fulfilling its promise. And so I wrote :
Yesterday, I returned to the city I called home for ten years. . . carrying something heavier than the overpacked suitcases, and holding something more precious than the embossed tickets. I’ve got Hope. Now I’m really in trouble.
Hope is not for everyone. It is only for those strong enough -- or desperate enough -- to embrace it. It is cruel, harsh and demanding. Belief in change will break your heart almost every time. Hope won’t let you sit on the sidelines. You can’t take the easy way out. The disillusioned can safely withdraw. The Hopeful are driven to engage.
Dreams? Don’t get me started. A clear picture of the world as a better place is a painful mirror reflecting the failures and limitations of the world as it is. To have a dream is to accept the fact it may not come to pass in one’s lifetime.
Here’s the kicker: Hope is what makes change possible. In my time out here in the ivory tower I have been reading the work of social movement scholars, and research on what draws everyday individuals to fight tough battles against the status quo. It seems very likely that Hope is an essential ingredient. Unless you believe things can be better, you cannot sustain the sacrifices required to make that happen.
In two weeks we kick off our final training push, building a bigger cadre of local leaders for our GOTV efforts who could make a difference in elections that are breathtakingly close. We will be executing the Vote 2010 plan around the state, focusing on those voters who came out for the first time in 2008 for Barack Obama.
If you live in California I need your help right here, and if you live in any other state there is an OFA field operation you can join. You can find those activities and even make calls and help online, all at my.barackobama.com.
Click here to apply for our Sept. 18-19 trainings in LA or the Bay Area, and visit ca.barackobama.com to find out how to engage in your area of California.
If OFA is not for you, but there is a campaign or a candidate who speaks to you, they need your help - your money, your time, whatever you can give.
It's too soon to give up hope, but not too late to fight for it.
I am the Training & GOTV Program Director for OFA California, but this is my personal blog. When I write here I speak for myself. My diaries and all the words in them are my own.
And can I recommend that anyone interested in writing or reading ACTION diaries between now and election day join our new Google Group? We're all action, all the time.
Follow the link in my sig line.
Want to see more action diaries? Join the VOTE 2010 Action Brigade.
by casperr on Wed Sep 08, 2010 at 02:15:29 PM PDT