Friday, November 29, 2013

An Activist White House

I've been following Fast for Families on twitter since day one. Unlike a lot of "keyboard activists," these folks are showing their courage and commitment by putting it all on the line.
On November 12, faith, immigrant rights and labor leaders announced the launch of “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship,” taking place on the National Mall, steps away from the Capitol. Leaders and immigrant members of the community will fast every day and night, abstaining from all food—except water—to move the hearts and compassion of members of Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship.
I watched as union, faith and civil rights leaders visited these fasters in a show of solidarity. And then something interesting started happening.






And then this morning brought a couple of important visitors.


Gawd, I LOVE this President!!!!! Think about the last time we saw a POTUS provide this kind of support for an activist movement. I'll give you a hint...never.

Van Jones Weighs in on President Obama's "Race Report Card"

Given his background in dealing with the criminal justice system as founder of the Ella Baker Center in San Francisco, I was interested in reading Van Jones' assessment of President Obama's track record on dealing with racism. But I have to say that I came away disappointed.

Jones limits his remarks to three symbolic incidents when President Obama commented on race: his speech in Philadelphia after the Rev. Wright controversy, his beer summit after the police harassment of  Professor Henry Louis Gates, and his comments about Trayvon Martin following the acquittal of George Zimmerman.

I agree that these were all important moments. But is Jones really suggesting that we grade President Obama on these situations alone? Is the presidency really limited to the "bully pulpit" on issues that are this important to the country? Only someone who is removed from the everyday lives of people of color and has limited themselves to media critiques would think so.

I've been over this before, but any real "race report card" on Obama's presidency would have to start with his overall work on things like access to affordable health care and college loans. It is true that these things were not billed as race initiatives. But given the disparities people of color experience every day, any attempt to broaden access has a profound impact.

More particularly, President Obama would receive high marks for the work his administration has done in the areas of combating police brutality, addressing what some have called the "civil rights issue of our time" - the achievement gap between blacks and whites in education, tackling the school-to-prison pipeline, and developing a drug policy for the 21st century. But the list goes on...passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, the Pigford Farmers settlement, prosecution of reverse red-lining, and historic agreements with Native American tribes.

Then there is the work still underway on issues like voting rights, immigration reform, universal pre-K, and increasing the minimum wage.

Now that we've identified some of the trees, lets fly back up and take a look at the forest by reminding ourselves of President Obama's long-term strategy on racism. He ultimately knows that - as my friend Robinswing pointed out so eloquently - racism is a white people's problem. Every day that President Obama and his beautiful family demonstrate their strength, determination and grace under fire is another blow to the fearmongering racists. If he did nothing else, he gets an "A" on his report card for that one.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gratitude as the antidote to what ails us

On this day dedicated to thanksgiving, I'd like to resurrect something written a few years ago by Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican. The entire post doesn't seem to be available online anymore, so we'll have to make due with some excerpts I've used before.

To summarize, Nezua was looking for the common roots of the various "isms" the divide us.
I prefer not to dally too long dissecting the symptoms of manifested underlying ills, but prefer to look directly at those broad reaching paradigms or beliefs that inform them...Because if we all are truly interested in forming an ongoing conversation that cuts away the the husk of empty discourse and scoops out the Essential, we have to look not only at the symptoms of hate, violence, authoritarian rule, and oppression, but at the seeds that inform them and keep them entrenched, as well as socially acceptable. These vines are by now thorny and tangled and hearty, but the seeds were planted long ago, and the nourishment is delivered by all of us, and every day.
He finds those roots here:
... it seems to me that entitlement is key to nearly all atrocities, and that any threat to perceived entitlement will provoke hatred.
Entitlement is simply another way of talking about white male heterosexual privilege...those with the privilege are entitled to their central focus in our culture while the experience and perceptions of "others" are simply dismissed.

And so, what is the antidote? Gratitude.
And after all, what happens when we remove that sense of entitlement?

We grow humility.

What happens when you nurture a sense of humility in place of entitlement? You place your feet on the same ground as I...Entitlement is the antithesis of gratitude. And honestly, you are one lucky human.
Those of us with privilege often struggle with what to do with it. One response that doesn't do much to change things is that we feel guilty. It seems counter-intuitive to feel gratitude. But as Nezua points out - authentic gratitude is the opposite of entitlement. Recognizing that we have something we didn't earn strips away the assumption that we are entitled to it and opens the door for humility...and gratitude.

And honestly, I'm one lucky human.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The changing role of money in politics

For both liberals and conservatives, a common refrain we hear when a political battle is lost is that we can blame the role of money in politics. We've seen ample reason for this conclusion in the past. For example, when it comes to presidential elections we've seen the amount of money raised for candidates go from $162 million in 1980 to $2.3 billion in 2012. Of course with the SCOTUS' Citizen's United ruling, about $550 million of the 2012 total came from outside groups (ie, SuperPACs).

But I'm here to suggest that it might be time to challenge the conventional thinking about the role of money in politics. Things are changing fast in both political parties and technology is playing a BIG role in altering the landscape.

When it comes to the changes in political parties, Barack Obama's campaigns have ushered in a death blow to traditional thinking about fundraising. In the past candidates have relied on big donors to fund their endeavors. But President Obama showed that small donors in large numbers can beat that system.

In order to understand how that's done, its important to know that, when it comes to individual campaigns, donors are limited to being able to contribute $2,600 individually. When the relatively small number of people who can give that much have done so, they are finished with that particular campaign and have to look to other means of financial support. But when you mobilize millions of people to give $25 or $50 or $100, they can continue to contribute over the course of the campaign until they reach that $2,600 limit.

This is exactly how the Obama campaign was able to blow Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Mitt Romney's campaigns out of the water with the amount of money they raised. For example, in 2012 Obama raised $715 million to Romney's $443 million.

Of course Romney evened that out with outside funding where big donors can contribute an unlimited amount. In 2012, that meant over $400 million spent on behalf of Romney to $130 million for Obama. An awful lot of that outside funding was raised by SuperPACs controlled by Karl Rove. You may have read that big Republican donors were pretty angry with him because all their money didn't seem to buy them much of anything.

To understand why all of Rove's money didn't matter much in the end, you have to start with the reality that the only thing money can provide for those outside groups is to purchase media and direct marketing appeals. When it comes to grassroots activities for candidates, that money has to come from individual campaigns (where donors are limited to $2,600).

Money spent on media and direct marketing is an attempt to influence voters. But it can't be successful if voters aren't paying attention. And that's where all the advances in technology come into play. When it comes to direct marketing, the reality is that people are flooded with those kinds of things via snail mail or email. Most of us have become immune to all that and have systems in place to discard it all.

But technology is having an even bigger impact on the role of media in political campaigns. The most common way money is spent in that arena is on television ads. The first blow to the effectiveness of that kind of spending came with the proliferation of remote controls for TVs. Rather than sit through commercials, we started channel surfing. Then came commercial-less pay TV. And finally...streaming. One of the most important trends that few people are talking about was recently reported on Business Insider: Cord-Cutters and the Death of TV. Take a look at what is happening with cable TV subscribers.


This trend will likely continue as more and more people recognize all of the options to traditional television that are available. And with that, big advertising buys on television for campaigns will become even more meaningless. 

I believe we are at a crossroads when it comes to the role of money in politics and that it is the opposite of what the doom-and-gloomers about Citizen's United have been warning us about. All the money in the world that Karl Rove can raise is no match for the innovations in grassroots campaigning that President Obama demonstrated, coupled with the opportunities afforded us via new media. The question in front of both we the people and our political candidates of the future is whether or not we see what's happening and take advantage of this opportunity. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The 10 best

A couple of weeks ago the legend known as Chipsticks from The Obama Diary took to twitter in order to document the 10 best pictures of the Obama era. Unfortunately, even legends can be wrong. So I thought that my return to the world of blogging would be a good time to set the record straight. After all, its really important that we get this one right, isn't it?   ;-)





(Oops, how did that one get in there? Bad Smarty!)











So there you have it: the 10 best. We all agree on that...don't we?

Steps Toward Peace

Take a minute to think about how trust if formed. And then take a look at how that process is portrayed in one of the most beautiful scenes ever filmed in the 1979 movie The Black Stallion.

President Obama has cajoled the rest of the world to engage with Iran in the very first steps of that process. To see how that has happened over the last year, please be sure to read this account from the Associated Press.

Building trust is the key ingredient of the plan President Obama has followed from the beginning because it is the only way to ensure a peaceful resolution
In that context, our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table.
And so, yesterday Iran and the rest of the world entered into an agreement that will allow us to see whether or not it is possible to take those first few steps of trust...towards peace.