People power in the Age of Obama

This is the text of an email I received after the latest phone banking session in which I participated:
I thought you might want to know we made over 800 calls (!) last night, a very satisfying and record-breaking conclusion to our team's battleground test phone banks. And thanks to some diligent data entry people, we were able to get all our numbers in on time. I hope you are all proud!

So far California has made over 110,000 calls as part of this important test, and that doesn't even include the last couple of days. We have easily made more calls than any other state, proving California's value as a powerhouse export state in this campaign!

Thank you everyone for your huge contribution to this accomplishment.
OFA, of course, has paid staffers. No campaign can function without them. But no one at that Thursday phone bank was a paid operative. We were all volunteers, giving our time to make sure that 800 Nevadans who were sitting on the fence had a chance to hear our message. Some were truly undecided; a few rabid Republicans somehow made it onto our lists. We reached a few and persuaded them; some told us to never call them again. Such is democracy. But the driving force behind the Obama movement is the volunteer army that makes the calls, enters the data, and talks to people next door and across the country.

In my last essay I said that political work was too important to be left solely to politicians. In a representative democracy it is incumbent upon all of us to be political actors. Politics is the arena in which decisions of national and international importance get decided. And politics abhors a vacuum; if we're not engaged in the struggle, someone else will win by default, and we will probably not like the result. If we don't at the very least vote, 2010 will happen again and again.

Obama is trying to do many things. His major task is to defang the conservative movement and render it so marginalized that it can't impede the work in which this country needs to engage in order to not slide into the status of a 1930's banana republic. Infrastructure needs to be updated, research and development has to be done, and, yes, taxes have to be raised on the wealthiest both to fund all these initiatives and to close the budget deficit. That the right wing has more or less imploded since its victory in 2010 has been a boon to the rest of the country. But it's still there, and still has enough money and power to make any election a close-run thing.

Money is the Right's main weapon. Those in the 1% who don't believe in a commonwealth of citizens will spend a fraction of their assets in order to make sure that policies amenable to their keeping and growing their wealth unhindered by law or regulation are enacted. It's nothing for the Koch brothers to give $10 million to Karl Rove's Super PAC. For them it's an investment that promises even greater returns. It's an act that doesn't even require deliberation.

Although Citizens United did open the door to Democratic-supporting unions spending money in the same way that corporations are now allowed to, the fact is that the progressive Left does not have as much money as the Right. Our Super PACs will have money, but not as much as American Crossroads or Restore Our Future. What we do have is ourselves. And this is the other thing Obama is trying to do. As he said in 2008:
You see, the challenges we face will not be solved with one meeting in one night. It will not be resolved on even a Super Duper Tuesday. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. We are the hope of those boys who have so little, who've been told that they cannot have what they dream, that they cannot be what they imagine. Yes, they can.
That one quote encapsulates the politics of people power in the Age of Obama. Yes, every action he's taken politically has been with an eye to boxing in the Right into more radical positions so that the great middle of the voting populace sees it for the threat it is. But the Right is able to gin up astro-turfed "citizens' movements", like the Tea Party. The fact that the Tea Party has almost disappeared as an organized entity shows that it was just built by GOP power brokers for a specific purpose and a specific time period. The ordinary people who took part in it were the usual useful idiots for the 1% and the leaders of the religious Right. Conservative grassroots groups have very little staying power; but, like the hydra, when one head dies another pops up for another purpose, all greased with right wing money.

Obama is trying to change that dynamic. He can't fight the Right alone. He needs a movement that will continue even after he leaves the political scene. He's trying to upend the sense of ennui and resignation that has gripped American voters for decades, the idea that their voices are insignificant, that the country is run by people who couldn't care less about their needs and govern solely for those with wealth and power. He's trying to fight the cynicism which will destroy the Republic and truly usher in an oligarchy that merely has the trappings of democracy, without any of the substance. 

The 50 million voters who voted in 2008 and neglected to vote in 2010 have been given a master class in the results of apathy for the past 18 months. From Wisconsin to Florida to the halls of Congress Republicans have broken every promise they made to get elected in 2010. The job growth we've seen has been a result of President Obama's policies; House Republicans are very good at renaming post offices. It's those voters whom we have to reach, whom we have to tell "No, politics don't end at the ballot box, after one election." It's taken decades to get into the state we're in; it will at least take several years of concerted effort to get out of it. And our greatest weapon is ourselves. It's a true people power movement that Obama is aiming to construct. It's the only thing that can move a nation in the face of right-wing obstruction and pathology, and move the world.

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