It fascinates me to watch information dissemination democratize under a new age of wikis, YouTube, and blogs. I think this phenomenon reflects and even directs a growing sense of empowerment of participation in current world issues. The average Joe Six-pack is given a voice via his keyboard and computer screen in his basement. The internet has greatly augmented public engagement in a variety of ways. Obama’s campaign is funded so successfully in part from his grassroots method of collecting small donations through his website and on the ground campaign partners such as MoveOn.org. Ornithologists have found the pictures posted by amateur birders on Flickr useful in conducting nation-wide bird surveys. The multipurpose interface of Facebook allows the young generation of busy voters and over-committed civic participants to easily post videos, join special interest groups and type political notes accessible to vast networks or people, while staying informed about events on campus and staying in touch with old friends at the same time. The accessibility to knowledge, news, and opportunities is unprecedented in our time and it would be a mistake not to use these tools to empower everyone with the chance at informed citizenship.
Growing up in Guatemala I had music all around me. I grew up with listening to music while washing the dishes, while taking a shower, while doing homework. I woke up to music and fell asleep with music. I believe there is something that only music can add to a moment, to a way of thinking, to a way of feeling and to society overall. Unfortunately I also come from a country where political races are largely characterized by the music accompanying each candidate and it is common to hear popular opinions like “I support this candidate because I like his/her campaign better, his/her song is too good to ignore and it’s always stuck in my mind, that’s why I’ll vote for him/her.”
I assumed that politics in the U.S. would be different and that songs would be a minimal part of it. However, thanks to a friend of mine, I came across a reggeaton song that made me feel like I was at home. Listening to the lyrics ‘cómo se dice, cómo se llama, OBAMA! OBAMA!’ with the reggaeton beat in the background surprised me and made me wonder how different are politics in the U.S. from those in Guatemala? So, after this song, I continued clicking on the list of related videos and found out that there is a variety of songs that endorse Obama’s candidacy, each adapted to different groups within the U.S.
She stands elevated on the stage with her legs slightly parted in her 5 inch black designer heels. From in between her legs, we see a young man staring up at her with his mouth open, dazed by what he is seeing. This is all that we see of her. A woman with no face, only killer legs and great taste in shoes. We see the young man, his face, his emotions, his longing gaze, and from the pink t-shirt that he wears we learn that these legs belong to, and have come to represent, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
This is an all too familiar view of Governor Palin. Throughout her campaign, media coverage has focus on her legs shoes, suggesting that there is more than the content of her speeches that the electorate should be paying close attention to and critiquing. This obsession with Palin’s body has moved out of the confines of “gentlemen’s magazines” and obscure blogs, taking root in mainstream media as illustrated by the Reuters image referenced above. Through these types of sexualized portrayals, the media is reasserting the political space as masculine, constructing Palin as a sexual object upon which masculine desire is freely projected. Relying on gender stereotypes and following trends of the male gaze, these images reduce Palin from a political agent, to mere parts of whole, showing her in an idealised sexual form, as a pair of legs, to be enjoyed and consumed by male spectators. In the click of a shutter, photographers around the country capture a moment of fantasy, and Governor Palin is transformed from a hard working, self-made politician to the VPILF, as she is so often described.
Ready, steady, go! That is how elections occur back home. I remember the day when news came out that Latvia’s new president is a woman politician in the parliament Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. I had never heard of her, and neither had the majority of Latvians. However, she turned out to be the best thing that even happened to Latvia and its people for a long time…
During her time as the President, Freiberga’s approval rating ranged between 70% and 85%, securing her place as very popular among Latvians. In 2003 she was re-elected for a second term of four years with 88 votes out of 96. These number among other things, including a huge flower crown dedicated to the President from the flowers or money dedicated to purchase flowers sent by people from all around the country, should show her popularity among the Latvians.
U.S. elections have been a topic floating around for what feels like an eternity. I am a little tired of the buzz. At the beginning of the year, I decided to get myself more ‘invested’ in the country that is offering me a truly great education which I am grateful for. I thought it was a neat and respectful way of expressing my gratitude and paying off some of the ‘debt’. I wanted to be seen as a genuinely inquisitive citizen who wishes to know what is going on in the fight for the White House without actually being American. Yet, I failed.
When I tell people that I’m taking a semester off of school to do organizing, I get a wide variety of responses. Sometimes it’s “really?” or “is that a smart move?”. I even heard from a friend that one of their friends reacted “Did you know that Timothy DenHerder-Thomas DROPPED OUT?”. I found that pretty funny! But probably the most common reaction is something like “so how’s the voter registration going?” or some excited comment about how young people are taking over American politics.
It often surprises folks to hear that I’m not organizing around the elections at all.
You see, why I think this election is vitally important is not because we’re going to elect Barack Obama to the White House. It’s not even the more politically savvy dream of getting Obama AND a filibuster-proof majority of progressive Senators AND an overwhelmingly progressive House AND a wave of local victories stretching all the way from city council members and Governors to referenda like the MN Vote YES initiative (please do, if you leave the option blank, it counts as a NO vote against MN conservation funding).
All of that is pretty cool, and I want to say kudos to the thousands of people across the country who are pouring their heart out to make it happen. Every time I’m up in the SORC hearing Molly Griffard scheming about how to keep renters from being disenfranchised, I think ‘Thank God there are so many amazing people getting this done”. While I don’t think elections are the defining point at which we make decisions about our society, they definitely play a big role in determining who we get to play ball with. So keep up the good work!
But the real reason I find these elections so exciting is because of The New Organizers
As Macalester students, we often feel trapped or disconnected from the outer layer of society remaining within our small campus community; the so-called Macalester bubble. However this bubble is one that may easily be broken via our liberal learning, we are in fact getting ready to be a part of complex societies. I, among a myriad of other Macalester students, aspire to be a cosmopolite. An ambition of mine is to become a contemporary citizen by acquiring broad analytical and critical skills. Such skills will help me become an active observer, allowing me to approach global events and crises from an educated, well-informed standpoint. I aspire to be more than a liberal, elitist hipster, I want to be a genuine cosmopolite. Die Zeit, Le Monde, The New York Times; all prestigious publications often present the same issues from diverse perspectives. Does an objective reality exist, or is objectivity subjective?
It is intriguing to think about this question when it comes to the presidential election, trying to understand if the media has been “objective”. In an interview with Matt Bai for the New York Times Magazine, Obama himself stated the extent to which the media affect citizens’ final decision, arguing that Fox News has influenced voters in polls. “If I were watching Fox News, I wouldn’t vote for me, right?” He later moves on to support he is being portrayed as “the latte-sipping, New York Times-reading, Volvo-driving, no-gun-owning, effete, politically correct, arrogant liberal. Who wants somebody like that?” It is clear to me that Obama wants to be more than a liberal, elitist hipster too.
I keep hearing from both sides that this election should not be about race. It should be about the issues. Well, where I come from, race is an issue. And I’ve just had a terrible thought about this whole thing.
Since it has gotten down to Obama and McCain as our two choices, it’s always seemed obvious to me who the better candidate is. If their skin colors had been green and pink the choice between these two men for president would not be hard for me. Iraq, the economy, health care, the environment… it seems that wherever they have divergent opinions, my own ideas and hopes fall far closer to Obama’s camp (I don’t agree with either of these guys on capital punishment or Israel policy, among others). Anyways, ostensibly this election has got nothing to do with race for me. Throw in their running mates and I can’t even hear an argument from the other side without literally laughing so hard that my eyes water. Then I get an awkward feeling in my gut.
It occurred to me recently that despite the number of times I’ve heard variations on the phrase “this election is the most important of your generation” it has never come across as condescending or cliché. I can only conclude that its truth frees it from such burdens; certainly all the signs point that way. Barack Obama’s “fierce urgency of now” has gripped me as thoroughly as it has every other liberal progressive and in so doing has created in me a terribly interesting monster.
I know – intellectually yes, but also in my gut – that to be successful we have to mobilize and organize and network on a scale never yet seen. I want to do my part. I need to know that I’m involved. I will help put Obama in the White House.
But I hate door knocking. I hate phone banking. I hate voter registration. I dread talking to perfect strangers with the goal of persuading them that my point of view is better. I dread these things and in doing them I’ve learned something incredible. Continue reading