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Campaign Journal: Tucscon Artists Convene and Create for Obama

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Karen Funk Blocher is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.

Aside from obsessively reading the news online, most of my Obama-related activity this week was left for the weekend. This was partly because I wasn't needed to physically make buttons at Pima County Democratic Headquarters. Barb and another volunteer made buttons as soon as the parts came in, concentrating on the designs with the most general appeal. "People buy them as fast as we can make them," Barb told me on Monday. The latest batch of 1,000 badge parts is already gone. When I stopped by on Saturday to get a selection of my own designs for an Obama-themed art show, there were fewer than 50 buttons left of any sort. That didn't stop me from coming up with several more designs this week, some of which haven't been made into actual buttons yet.

Buttons were the least of the exhibits at the Tucson Artists for Obama Exhibit & Reception on Saturday night, October 25th, with a possible exception of a painted pumpkin. More impressive by far were two photo collages of Obama and one of the O logo, the kind in which thousands of tiny photos are arranged to make a larger picture. Other exhibits included a full-sized, star-spangled painting of Obama, a pencil sketch of him, an Obama wind chime made from reclaimed metal, and a gallery of black and white photos of folks holding an Obama sign at a recent "Generation Obama" event.

My favorite piece of art was outside in the courtyard. Someone had painted colorful slogans, graffiti style, all over two painted wooden panels, about four feet by nine feet each. The artist then painted in a blue background, so that what was left spelled out one of Barack Obama's best-known quotes:

""I'M ASKING YOU TO BELIEVE. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington...I'm asking you to believe in yours."

Custom Obama T-shirts were being made, by an artist who donated the paints and stencils and most of the labor. Live music was provided by guitarist-singer Pablo Peregrina, including a rewrite of La Bamba as La Obamba, and an original song, You Rock My Vote, Obama. There was even a display of black history memorabilia, from a hardback of Uncle Tom's Cabin to a deck of Barack Obama playing cards.

On Sunday night, I went to a free concert at Old Town Artisans in downtown Tucson. Three hours later, I came away with an official union-made Obama-Biden button for John, two free DVDs about Obama from the Arizona Information Project, and a nagging doubt as to whether I've done anything this weekend that helps my chosen candidate even a tiny bit.

There were a total of seven musical acts in the five hour concert. When I arrived, Amelia Dahl was singing Fly Me to the Moon, backed by her light jazz quartet. Next up was the duo Sally and Pablo (Sally Withers and Pablo Peregrina). Pablo, the main musical guest at the art show on Saturday night, reprised his three Obama-themed numbers, this time with Sally on lead vocal. You can see their rewrite of La Bamba on YouTube.

Hip Hop artist James Ciphurphace followed with two spoken word pieces, as his young son shyly shared the stage with him. Then came Cinder Bridge, a keyboard and drums duo. Jacob "Roll" Acosta (say it out loud) sang and played acoustic guitar. Ticket to Tokyo was a Tom Petty-inspired rock band. The final act was American Android, another rock group. Aside from the opening act, which played standards, nearly all the music was original. Most of these musicians have donate their time at several concerts for Obama this year.

It was a beautiful night, with perfect weather, a pleasant setting and genial company. However, the event was sparsely attended, perhaps because this was Homecoming Weekend at the University of Arizona. I doubt that much money was raised for the Obama campaign, but perhaps that wasn't the point. Many of the attendees have spent the past several months (or longer) making phone calls, canvassing neighborhoods, organizing events, printing information flyers, burning pro-Obama DVDs, etc. This concert seems to have been a chance for campaign volunteers to have a little fun, connect with each other, and get fired up for the final push. One of the event organizers spoke about how she had never been involved in a political campaign before, and of all the friends she'd made working to get Barack Obama elected. Other organizers and some of the musicians expressed similar sentiments. There were probably fewer than a hundred people in attendance all told, but they seemed to enjoy the concert and each other, and the commitment to the cause was palpable. I had a good conversation with two of the people running the Arizona Information Project table, about whether responding to forwarded smear emails about Obama is worth the effort. I've refuted several of them this week.

Shortly before I left I spoke briefly with the woman who had brought the Barack Obama stand-up people had been posing with all evening. "I had fun setting it up in the passenger seat for the drive over," she said, "but only two people noticed." She had bought it in Flagstaff, of all places. Later she was in a shop in Sedona that carried life-sized stand-ups, including John Wayne. She asked if they carried an Obama one.

"What are you talking about?" the shopkeeper replied. "This is McCain country. His ranch is just up the road."

Okay, so Northern Arizona has a mixed reaction to Barack Obama, even now. That's not surprising. The whole state is probably like that. The few polls that have been conducted here lately show the race getting close. Few people really think Obama can win Arizona, but down here people are starting to dream of the possibility that John McCain won't carry his own state. Even if that doesn't happen, Obama may well carry Pima County, and his coattails should help Democrats statewide.

I've also been photographing homemade Obama signs recently at the Pima County Democratic Headquarters. The official ones are hard to get: another 500 recently came in to one of the local campaign offices, and they're already gone. Even if local Obama supporters have managed to procure a few thousand of them around, that doesn't put much of a dent in a county inhabited by a million people, especially if they're frequently stolen. In case you're wondering, McCain-Palin signs are no more common around here than Obama ones. The only presidential campaign sign I ever see that's actually stuck in the ground is one for Ron Paul.

Just a week to go! A volunteer called this afternoon and asked me to make phone calls this week. I didn't promise - the very idea of cold calling strangers fills me with dread - but I'm thinking about it.

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