You are viewing blog items for October 2008.
posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Sunday, 26 October 2008, 12:29
If you think there is excitement in the UK about a change of political direction in the US then you can only imagine what is like over here. There are bumper stickers, road side signs and T-shirts everywhere. Today we left DC and headed up to Philadelphia where we met up with union activists from the AFL-CIO and the Barney truck, a converted lorry which is being used by the unions as a mobile telephone bank.
Our host for the evening was Lindsay Patterson, an Activist Corps Captain with the United Steelworkers (USW). He is one of 200 union activists who has been seconded from his job to work on the campaign to turn out members.
The union effort in Philadelphia is awesome. We were joined by the AFL-CIO’s campaign organiser who told us that over the last couple of months they had knocked on the doors of 80,000 members and phoned 100,000 numbers. “We are now doing the second round of contact,” she said.
And this is just the start. All the unions are gearing up to the final few days and the effort is going to be phenomenal. Two of our team attended a meeting of Political Officers of all the main unions, the final gathering before the election. Over $20m was committed to the final push.
One of the key points made to us today was the importance of confronting the race issue. After ignoring the issue for too long the unions had now changed their approach. “We tell people that they have to forget about him being black and should concentrate on the issues. We tell people that they have to make a choice and of course there is only one answer.”
Much of this change of approach originated from the speech given by AFL-CIO Secretary Rick Trumka made to the Annual Conference of the USW in August. It was a groundbreaking speech from a union leader to their members (
There is still 10 days to go and a lot could change but the mood amongst so many people, especially the young, is electrifying. While I have been wary of those who believe Obama’s election would signal a post racial politics there is certainly a mood by a great section of the population to move on from its past. None of the activists we met today believed that all the problems of race would disappear with an Obama victory but they all recognised the significance of the moment.
Posted: 26 Oct 2008 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments
posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Thursday, 23 October 2008, 23:27
Breakfast is the highlight of the day for many Brits visiting the US and today we went to what I guess would be described as a traditional American diner. The Silver Diner, adorned with glistening chrome, was just the place for us. Big portions, endless coffee and a jukebox on every table.
More than that, the place has gained national publicity for it's 'Blueplate '08' ballot whereby punters can cast their early vote by choosing an Obamalette or a McCainlette.
I went for Obamalette, though I was slightly concerned with the description on the Blueplate flyer. "Inspired by the candidate's favorite hometown food - Chicago deep dish pizza - this omelette features mozzarella, basil...." Pizza? Omlette?
Anyway, the food came and it went down a treat and I appeared to be in good company. In what I hope will be a good omen, the Obamalette is beating the McCainlette by two to one.
Indeed, it has become quite
posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Thursday, 23 October 2008, 11:44
Yesterday we veered off our intended schedule …because Barack Obama was in town. Well, actually he was 30 miles away in Leesburg, Virginia but given the size of this country that was as good as down the road. It was simply too good an opportunity to miss.
According to the media there were 35,000 people, literally standing in a field in the middle of nowhere – almost double the crowd the organisers had been expecting. People queued for hours to hear the Presidential candidate speak for 20 minutes. By the time he came on stage the weather was freezing but no-one was complaining.
Earlier in the day everyone went to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Everyone except me that is, as I was having to deal with the latest twists and turns in our Employment Bill campaign back home. More on that later.
Our group has now swelled to 16, with the arrival of two more people from the UK. It is great to have so many people out here but it is just increasing the logistical problems – not least because our van can only take 12 people!
Following the Obama rally we headed back into downtown DC to meet Chuck Rocha, the political director for the United Steelworkers Union. Over a fabulous Italian meal Chuck explained how his union was mobilising the vote in the election. We’ll be meeting up with Chuck and the USW folks again in our trip but one part of the discussion really resonated with me. In talking about how his union were dealing with the Obama race issue Chuck explained that they confronted it head-on. As Searchlight argues back home – you just can’t dodge the tough issues. The results over here is that internal polling shows that slightly over 70% of USW members are backing Obama.
posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Wednesday, 22 October 2008, 11:14
There's an interesting article by Conservative commentator Kathleen Parker in today's Washington Post about what she describes as the 'reverse Bradley Effect' - ie white Republicans who will be secretly voting for Obama.
Parker claims that there is a growing chorus of traditional Republicans and Conservatives who have been less than impressed with the direction of McCain's campaign.
She writes: "While some have minimized the impact of a Bradley effect in this election, we'd be wrong to discount it. Anti-black has morphed to some degree into anti-foreigner and anti-Muslim.
"Palling around with terrorists," as Sarah Palin said of Obama, gets to an underlying xenophobic, anti-Muslim sentiment. Using surrogates who strategically use Obama's middle name, Hussein, feeds the same dark heart.
This tactic, denied but undeniable, has been effective with target audiences, some of whom can be viewed on YouTube entering a Palin rally in Pennsylvania. One cherubic older fellow totes a stuffed Curious George monkey wearing an Obama sticker as a hat."This is little Hussein," he says , holding the monkey up to the camera and cackling as he walks away."
She herself has bitterly attacked the decision to put Sarah Palin being on the ticket. Is she trying to tell us something?
posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Wednesday, 22 October 2008, 10:45
I think I’m in a state of shock. Killing time before we hooked up with Blue State Digital, the company running Barack Obama’s online operation, we wandered around the White House, taking the obligatory tourist photos. A few of us had dropped off the pace, when the huge security gates opened and a cavalcade slowly edged passed. Instinctively one looks. Laura Bush is looking out of the one of the cars. See catches our eye, thinks all is well and gives us a wave.
We later mulled over what we should have done. A gesture, a shout for Obama or even a wave back. We did nothing except stand there like zombies – more in disbelief with our own inaction.
posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Tuesday, 21 October 2008, 09:51
The Elephant in the room
“Barack Obama has been described as ‘post racial’. What on earth is ‘post racial’ meant to mean?”
My good friend and trip host Leonard Zeskind is shaking his head in bewilderment. For him, race is everywhere. No-one might want to talk about it but it is the elephant in the room.
We arrived in Washington DC yesterday afternoon. By ‘we’, I mean the 11 of us who came across from the UK – a mixture of trade unionists, faith group organisers and community activists. We hooked up with Leonard and another old friend Devin Burghardt, who are kindly taking us around for the next few days. In the evening we met up with another Brit and tomorrow we will be joined by two more. Organising such a trip for so many people seemed a good idea at the time….
Last night we went to the home of veteran immigrant rights’ activist Rick Schwartz and his wife Jeanette, who back in the early 1980s fled the political terror in El Salvador. With some wonderful food and the odd beer we were given a whirlwind introduction to the role of race in the United States and the state of the anti-immigration movement.
With 30 years experience, Rick spoke of the failure of the comprehensive immigration reform and the challenges ahead. He said that one of the biggest failures of the immigrant rights movement was a reluctance to accept that they were far weaker and less organised than the anti-immigrant movement. Many of the issues he raised struck a resonance with the debate back in the UK.
Interestingly, Rick spoke about the inroads by the anti-immigrant movement into the African-American community, a group traditionally at the bottom of the economic heap and so most fearful of newcomers. Jeanette spoke of her experience, as a Latin American, of racial identity. She said that many Latinos wanted to identify with whites as they saw African Americans at the bottom of the pile and that was not where they wanted to go. Leonard mused that perhaps American society would once again refigure around the fundamental issue of race – white v black – but this time with a chunk of the Latino/Hispanic population, just like the Jews before them, being incorporated into white America.
Leonard grew up during the civil rights era and so for him, and others like him, the Obama election has huge significance. Little over 40 years ago civil rights activists were dying trying to obtain the vote but now the country was on the brink of having a black President. However, he cautioned against believing that this was a sign that America had overcome its past – it was just that there were two competing Americas. On one side there was an alliance of progressive, generally younger people from different racial backgrounds who wanted to build a multiracial society, on the other was another group was deeply entrenched in the racist past. Even if Obama won, the battle over race and American identity would not be over. Leonard says that the racist Right is currently all over the place, partly because it has been unsure how to deal with the Obama phenomenon but also because the economic crisis now dominates the political agenda, so causing people who might still be deeply racist to vote for change. He believes that the Right is likely to re-organise and perhaps come back even stronger next Spring, probably over the issue of immigration controls and for the soul of a defeated Republican Party.
All this kickstarted a fascinating discussion about race, immigration and migrant workers, especially as the world teeters on the brink of recession.
I really think that race plays a far more seminal role in US society than it does over in the UK. I’m not trying to downplay our racial inequalities or tensions but simply that race does not form the very fabric of our society like it does over here. However, that makes the potential Presidency of Barack Obama even more amazing …if, in the confines of the ballot box, ‘race’ does not return to deliver a shock.
Posted: 21 Oct 2008 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments
posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Sunday, 19 October 2008, 11:07
The US Presidential election is electrifying politics, both in the US and abroad. It seems that the majority of people across the world, including 40% of Conservative Party MPs, want to see a change in US domestic and foreign policy.
Much has been made about Obama’s use of new technology, but is it just old fashioned community organising that could propel him into the White House?
And what about the role of race in this election? Obama now appears to be winning the support of white blue collar workers who hostile to him during the Democratic primaries. Is this correct or will last minute doubts about the idea of a black President cause an upset in the polls?
I’ll be looking to answer these and other questions when I visit the US later this week.