When I announced my intention to campaign for president of the sixth grade -- the same year my idol, JFK, was running for the White House -- my only choice was to run as a Republican.
Walter Brill announced early and, perhaps out of authentic party identification or merely because he detected the mood of the country (and of Kensington Elementary School) was running liberal, claimed the Democratic mantle. His slogan seemed unbeatable: "Vote Democratic. It's Systematic."
I was scared and thrilled about both campaigns. When I won by one vote, I felt concerned that Walter must not have voted for himself. But when JFK eked out his victory, I was ecstatic.
Today, along with most of my friends, I'm scared and thrilled about the prospect of an Obama victory. Scared because anything can still happen. Thrilled because, if the numbers hold, an extraordinary grassroots campaign will have morphed into a successful presidential campaign and a movement the likes of which we've never seen.
There's no doubt that amazing things are happening all over the country.
- Last night I co-hosted an Obama fundraiser that featured State Senator Sheila Kuehl and Torie Osborne, special assistant to Mayor Villaraigosa and one of LA's great progressive activists. After Sheila gave a brilliant overview of national and local politics, Torie made a passionate case for Barack, explaining that for her it was a no-brainer to give up a paying job she loved to become a full-time volunteer. When she encouraged us to go to Nevada for the final GOTV weekend, a number of our guests -- people who'd never done anything like this before -- began planning a Vegas road trip.
- A lifelong Republican I know just quit his job as a newspaper publisher to volunteer in Colorado full-time for Obama between now and the election, soliciting contributions from his fellow Republicans in that state.
- My sister-in-law, who lives in Indiana, threw an Obama party for her friends, most of whom struggle mightily to make ends meet. She collected nearly $1,000, much of it in fives and tens.
Torie's message was that for the first time in our lives, we have a chance to participate in truly bottom-up politics. Obama has run his campaign that way; anyone at any time can log on to the campaign website and get a list of people to call. If Barack gets enough encouragement and pressure from progressives, he'll be much more likely to govern that way. And America can forsake the phony, demagogic populism of McCain/Palin for a true populism, as defined thusly by Random House: "grass-roots democracy; working-class activism; egalitarianism."
As Election Day approaches, vigilance is a must. But we can accomplish a lot when we mix a dollop of anxiety with a much larger quantity of hope. I've found the anxiety eases with concerted action, and hope grows.