As the campaigns roar on into the summer and head toward Labor Day, the Obama Campaign and the DNC hosted local platform meetings, where Obama supporters and anyone else who wanted to come could suggest issues they thought most important for the party to consider and the policy positions the party should adopt to address them. OffTheBus asked its members to go to these meetings and report back what they found. We're beginning to publish out the findings at the OffTheBus project blog "Under The Hood." Director Amanda Michel blogged out some initial findings yesterday and has today posted four of the dispatches we received. As she put it, "There are a lot of anecdotal reports out there already, but first-hand accounts straight from volunteers often provide greater detail and texture."
Indeed, if the point of the platform meetings was to develop a greater national sense of civic responsibility by getting Americans to talk politics with each other publicly -- something Obama has often repeated as one of the goals of his candidacy -- then it seems the meetings were a success, regardless of how much influence they may actually end up having on the eventual platform, a matter of no little speculation among attendees.
Chuck Lasker reported from his home in Westfield, Indiana, north of Indianapolis, just about at the geographic center of the state, which is industrial and demographically mixed in the north and rural and mostly white in the south:
Westfield... is at the very center of Hamilton County, one of the most Republican counties in the country, and the location of my home. It was in my home that a couple of dozen Republicans for Obama (RFOs) met last week to socialize. Yes, I said Republicans for Obama, a phenomenon similar to the Reagan Democrats of the 80's. While the GOP is denying we exist as a movement, the Obama campaign is prepping to support our group on a national level with a presence on barackobama.com as well as staffer support for meetings like this one.... The meeting began with a telephone call from Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Dwight D. Eisenhower, author of four books, most recently "Partners in Space: US-Russian Cooperation After the Cold War," and an outspoken Republican for Obama.
Mary Kenez attended a meeting in McCain's home state, Arizona:
This event was open to the public, but one needed to sign up for it. On July 19th when I first interviewed [the host], she said she expected about 40 or 50 people. By July 25th she had about 80 signed up. The tendency is always that fewer show up than the number who signed up. It's remarkable that nearly 100 people came. And it was a very diverse crowd.
When guests arrived, they signed in and received a packet provided by the Obama campaign. Among the items were three stickies. In the living room there was a chart with a list of issues. The attendees were asked to mark three issues (using the sickies) that are most important to them.
This chart greeted us as we came in. At time of photo it was not yet complete, because more people came afterwards. Some of the people had to park on other streets, because Downing str. was full with cars as a result of this event.
Note that the group in McCain's Arizona, which polls suggest is now leaning toward Obama, has placed exactly one dot after national security and a relatively thin line after Iraq, the Republican candidate's signature issues.
Chad Ernest reported from Portland, Oregon:
Everyone had the opportunity to vote on each issue up to three times to figure out which issues would be the focus. Out of all the issues that people felt were important, three issues trumped the war and healthcare and they were the economy, a unifying party statement and election reform.
One person walked out when he realized that his issues of drug policy reform and accountability of the Bush Administration were not going to be in the platform.
The economy plank was tagged as the "green" economy. The statement that was discussed and approved was "Offer green financial incentives to promote local jobs, encourage green production and reduce pollution. Enlist people into green public service. Support green education."
Jonah Lalas, from Houston:
A recent electoral map drawn up by pollster.com categorizes Texas as a "lean" Republican state despite being in the "strong" category in past elections. A recent meeting in Houston led by a Texas delegate and attended by a small group of local activists and concerned citizens convinced me that a major reason for that change lies with grassroots organizing.
Everyone fervently participated, at times expressing anger at the political system. With Houston being the city where many Katrina victims sought shelter, the tragedy in New Orleans and the federal government's inability to act came up as a serious topic. "FEMA needs to be held more accountable," stated Lloyd Gauthier.
When the topic of immigration came up, one of the participants reasoned that illegal immigrants take away resources from the rest of us without giving back. "We need to send them back," he concluded. "You can't just send millions of people back to their countries and they do pay taxes," Plechette Bampoe argued. She also cited the racism involved within our country's immigration policy. "You can't say to the Cubans, 'it's okay for you to come,' and not to the Haitians."
The topic that led to even more impassioned responses came under the topic of civil rights... "We need to stop being the victim," urged Bampoe, the only African American in management in her company. "Black people need to stop blaming something or someone for their situation and be more proactive. They have a choice."
Others commented on the apathy of black youth towards politics and their perceived obsession with rap music and BET. Monique Johnson added though that for a lot of black youth who may have grown up in a rougher life with fewer opportunities, their choices are more limited. "There are still institutional mechanisms in society that can hold you back," Johnson stated.
Note that the block quotes have been excerpted. Text may appear in different sequences in the actual dispatches.