11/13/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Santa Cruz: Grassroots Expectations High for an Obama Administration

Unless the body snatchers carry off a large percentage of voters in Santa Cruz on November 4, McCain won't get many votes here. A progressive community for as long as anyone can remember, Santa Cruz is decidedly Obama territory. The Democrats winning big here in 2000 and 2004 hasn't stopped supporters from engaging in the usual: phone banking, canvassing, attending debate parties, and fundraising. But it has allowed supporters to experiment with different kinds of outreach. First, some supporters are jumping into cars and heading over to Nevada to register voters. Back home, local elected officials and voters are jumpstarting the Obama notion of bubble up politics.

Take this past weekend. In the back room of a club in downtown Santa Cruz, with barely enough light to see one another, one-third of those attending walked with an urgency up to the standing microphone and waited patiently in line for their turn. Most were democrats. They came with intense concerns over the economy, voter fraud, and civil liberties. No one censored their comments or questions before they spoke and there was a lot of back and forth exchange between local Representative Sam Farr and the voters at the microphone. It was an intimate town-hall type forum of about thirty people. Voters wanted to know just what's going to change under an Obama administration--if Obama wins on November 4.

"A lot can get done in the first 100 Days," said Farr, the featured guest. While FDR's first 100 Days was brought up by way of example, we didn't outline the unprecedented 15 legislative proposals FDR passed. But most of us knew "The new deal that emerged in these 100 days was a result of powerful, chaotic forces at work in the country."

I was sitting on a black lounge near the back of the room and thinking Barack Obama better come through for these people. There was some real hope in the room based on Obama's campaign theme "change you can believe in" and in this bubble up notion of politics.

No one had groundbreaking questions or comments, but no one was expected to. You don't see much of either in the media or in political arenas either. What you did see were voters taking the first steps to take back their country. As expected budget questions dominated: "What was the rationale behind supporting legislation most Americans spoke out against?" Was there really no way to indict AIG executives? "Just how do I get my house back?" someone mumbled in the audience. Carol Long wanted to know what the Democrats were doing to prevent the Republicans from "stealing the election again as they had in 2000 and 2004." She was referring to a group who trained a chimpanzee to "subvert accumulation" in the Diebold machines.

One career militarist who had worked in Washington said, "without question the Bush-Cheney Administration is the most damaging, corrupt and incompetent we've seen in our history... However, part of the financial mess we're in is because both parties elected--and Bill Clinton signed it--to drop the Glass Steagall Act," which set up a firewall between commercial and investment banking. Republican Phil Gramm introduced it, nearly every member of Congress voted it, and Clinton put the final signature on the repeal>. Sam Farr, who had voted for the repeal in error, confessed he had not read the document before voting. He wasn't kidding. That's Washington for you. Blind voting.

So, let's put the whole mess of the past 8, 16, even 30 years behind us. Now what? What about that change? What will an Obama administration look like? What kind of New Deck? What's the Deal?

"Nothing less is at stake than our economy, our Constitution, our budget," said Sam Farr with forceful certainty. He projected an Obama administration of "fiscal discipline, transparency, and honesty." Taxpayers will now have stock in some banks. A lot of homeowners at risk will get a chance to re-negotiate bad loans. He bubbled over with certainty that under Obama, America would solve its oil shortage problems by getting more efficient vehicles. Using 30% less gas and oil on the road would keep our need in range and prices within reason. As for the economy, it's all about rebuilding a green America. Farr projected a convincing new horizon with green jobs and green investments as "the economic engine" to change the markets.

As a believer in participatory Democracy, I jumped into the dialogue too. I wanted to know what Homeland Security would look like under an Obama Administration. I got a better answer than I had hoped for. Farr wanted it more or less shredded. He believed, though, some of it would survive though dismantled and dispersed into separate departments. He also promised the last person at the microphone that he would formally speak out against the Patriot Act in Washington.

This meeting was the second of four Democratic Dialogues entitled "Bridging the Gap." According to Pat Emard, the brain of the event, the dialogues provide a platform and space for voters and politicians to solve problems, ideally without "sound bites and finger pointing." Later, Barney Bricmont, another organizer of the event, said he wanted to see the dialogues continue on a monthly basis. Carol Long, a member of a group that adopts politicians to keep them informed of the needs of citizens, said she would adopt Farr because she didn't feel she made headway with him. Perhaps Colin Campbell Clyde best summarized their value after the first forum: He thought the "conversational tone" of the dialogues helps democratize "our social relationships" and keep "politicians accountable" by asking on the spot questions of them. Such events, he said, keep politicians less isolated from the communities they serve.

Bubble up.