The New Organizers

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

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Issues, Colors, Home, Durham, Tuesday

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.

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The dread of door knocking

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