Friday, February 6, 2009

Everything is going to be okay

I do a lot of my thinking through conversation, and the last few days have been full of rich conversations. They all seem to be connected in one way or another to this thing that is happening to the world, this transformation and all that it brings, the joy and optimism, the fear, the resistance, the confusion.

Ah the confusion. The delightful feeling that everyone is as confused as I have been my whole life. That none of us can even begin to predict what the world will look like in five or one year. For once I don’t feel like an outsider, I feel like I am the middle of the moshpit with everyone else.

The reason I am so happy clappy is because I am certain that this transformation is headed in the direction that it’s been heading in since the beginning of time: Wholeness. Growth.

I had my doubts. I spent a few years in the cynical Adbusters crowd. In 2000, I found myself working on a high-level with Ralph Nader’s campaign. None of my work amounted to anything, but I got to travel in a van with the candidate in the last days of his campaign, and I spent election night with his staff at their headquarters.

I was attracted to Nader because he clearly spoke the truth, that the American 2-party political system had devolved into one party dominated by corporate interest.

I knew he wouldn't win. He lacked a positive vision and the angry/frumpy suit thing was off-putting to everybody but the hard core. I assumed Gore would win. Everybody did. But we thought that the solution to America's long-term prosperity meant strengthening the Democrats with an injection of far-left, socialist/collectivist values. None of us anticipated what actually would happen to move us forward. Nobody saw it coming.

Remember Barack in the early days of the campaign? No, you don’t. Unless you are Mike McCommon, the only person I know who stuck with Obama from the day he announced his candidacy. For me, I quickly dismissed him as the guy who gave a great speech in 2004 who was going to get 12% of the vote. He wasn’t radical enough. He was boring. Intellectual. He reminded me of John Kerry. No charisma. Remember those days? When we were all talking about Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and speculating as to whether Al Gore would enter the race? None of us saw it coming.

I don’t know when it flipped. Sometime before the Iowa Caucus in January.

In March I went to his rally in Portland. The first thing that struck me was the crowd, not the size of it – which was huge – but the make up of it. I had attended Clinton rallies, Nader rallies, anti-WTO rallies, Democratic rallies, and this crowd was different. It looked like America.

It was clear, watching him onstage that day, that Barack Obama had realized, This is not about me. He’s said the words himself, plenty of times, and I believe him. It takes someone with an ego problem to recognize someone who doesn’t have one.

This was not Al Gore, lecturing people who didn’t agree with him, this was not Bill Clinton – or Hillary for that matter – who think they deserve to be the president, because they can do it better than anyone else.

This was a guy in service to a simple and transcendent idea: The United States of America. Not the Good-People-of-America and the A-holes-Who-Disagree-With-Us-America, as it has been - from both sides’ perspective - since, I don’t know, Nixon? We elected an idea, an old idea, and the idea is: Us.

We thought we had to elect a Democrat, and instead we elected a democrat, a guy who believes he is servant to the People, who work out solutions based on discourse, not a guy who is convinced he owns the best idea and is going to politically manipulate the system anyway he has to in order to get it through. A guy dedicated to process, not outcome. Wow. Wow. People keep pointing to FDR and Lincoln, but I think his role models go back even farther than the that.

People keep asking me, So are you working for Barack yet? Not yet. What would you do for him? I also get asked a lot. Usually I say, I don’t know, anything that will help. But if I get the sense that someone is serious, I say that I think I could help him tell stories.

Our old stories have been shredded. That's why it's so mixed up right now. We've relied on these stories for decades, ordered our lives according to them. Work hard and you’ll get ahead. A home is your security. Save and stick with the market and one day you’ll retire.

We need new stories. Stories about what it means to be an American, what a good life is, what wealth is, what value is. Stories that reconnect us around real value and nourishment in our lives. Stories that center us in our own individual lives, and connect us to everyone else, all at once.

I’m going back to work now – busy! In some ways, I'm already working for the President, because I am working with people whose work aligns with his vision. People working towards wholeness, not separation.

Not sure what it will all add up to. Will I make enough money to support myself? Will I take a job? Will we move to DC? I don’t know. We’ll see. Faith is a big part of this thing too.

Love to all of you –


P.S. Today’s my wife’s birthday! Her mom and dad are driving up from Eugene, bringing ribs and spaghetti and meatballs, family recipes with roots in Roseto, Italy.

Tomorrow we're going to play football in the park, no kids allowed. Hope all of you have a wonderful weekend too.


Alice said...


I think that if Obama/Dems (or dems) were working for the people they would not be the party that does the most to prevent competition with new parties.

Obama will not meet with Ralph.

Best with your hope,

Anonymous said...

you don't know how to play football...

John Helm said...

I want to go to Roseto.

Tom Evans said...

I have been reading your blog, and what strikes me is your comments on being part of the Nadar campaign and wanting to inject some 'radical' leftist thought into the Democrats.
I have never really understood why in the States liberalism is considered left wing and socialism is considered radical.(Do you notice on facebook when it asks you what your political views are it doesn't have a preset for socialist: if it was designed by a Brit it probably would.) That is because in the UK we tend to have a polemic with the Labour party on the left who have socialist roots and the conservatives on the right. The Liberal Democrat party in the centre (who I always vote for) who are pretty much unelectable. Labour have been in power for ten years because they tried to modify themselves into social Democrats but the guy we have got in charge Gordon Brown is an socialist who would never have been elected as Prime Minister. I tell you after ten years of Labour government the collectivism is quite unbearable: boxes to tick, quotas to fill, diversity to be monitered etc etc. It is just as bad as the alternative I feel, as it tries to make society fit into a mold that has been designed in theory by the politicians rather than dealing with people as they really are. And the thing is, it's about to swing the other way as the conservatives are 15% ahead in the opinion poles. We have a saying in the UK: "Out of the frying pan into the fire". I wish we had an electable Democratic party. You are very lucky in the States right now.

Anonymous said...

So the question I’ve asked myself is “Is it the man or the moment?” And I know without a doubt it is the moment. Obama is just an expression of the moment – part of the climax of history we are moving towards. The feeling of connection towards each other is part of this and it will happen organically, and out of necessity, not by prescription.

I don’t think people want to hear stories dude. They want action. Things are moving downhill fast and people are really feeling it. Stories from politicians about what to really value and who we are as Americans is condescending when things are so broken. I suggest you read Frank Rich’s Op-Ed in the NYTimes from today and then tell us what kind of stories there are for Obama to tell and how he’s breaking all the old rules.

I'm Jelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
I'm Jelly said...

Hey Anonymous -

Agree that man/moment are inextricably linked; I'd say neither would exist without the other.

I read Frank Rich's piece and agree that Obama has some tough days ahead, that the culture of corruption seems to be disturbingly pervasive, that Geithner ought to resign, and that people want action.

Action, yes, and Story that contextualizes. You need both, and they need to be aligned. It's how FDR and Lincoln and Washington did it. Can't have one without the other.

So far, I think Obama is doing great, and I see him clearly attempting to align his actions and the actions of his administration with the story he's told since the beginning. I was thrilled that he worked with the Republicans on the stimulus package and that Daschle resigned even though they "had the votes."

It hasn't been perfect, but as someone who has been given a leadership position along with a mandate to shift/evolve an entrenched culture, I empathize with the enormity of his/our task.

Brian C. Setzler said...

I wish President Obama well, yet I think he lacks the requisite vision to bring about the real transformation our planet and society need. This is true of ALL mainstream politicians and Ralph Nader as well. Ralph Nader was never a Green.

The politicians we elect reflect the values of America.

As long as WE collectively believe war is solution, our political leaders will believe war is a solution.

We need 21st Century values: Peace, sustainability, cooperation, real democracy, transparency, responsibility, accountability. (aka Green Party values).

I believe Obama gets most of these yet he's trapped by the institutions that make our society stable and unable to innovate quickly.

We cannot get out of this mess with the same thinking that got us into it.

Obama is an incredibly bright and able leader. My hope is that he is able to evolve rapidly enough to help lead the necessary change. The current solutions inside the current paradigm will not lead to okay.

Hank Hosfield said...

I believe that Obama's broad appeal was grounded in his ability to inspire people to aspire to their better angels. Yeah, there's also that man of the moment thing, but I think he stirred in people new awareness about things they've been feeling coming on for some time, such as the failure of old models of prosperity and self-centered capitalism; an awakening that the acquisition of more did not lead to greater happiness and security; and built on the belief that we could all do better as a community. Obama appealed to me as a rare, transformational leader who could get people to make the hard sacrifices necessary to enact the change collectively and individually sought. I hope I'm not just projecting all of this on him, but I sense that he understands that true happiness and fulfillment come when we are able to give in more meaningful ways. We are going to be asked to trade greed for lives that are more purposeful and connected. I think the diverse groundswell of support that you witnessed at that Portland rally bespeaks a nation that is growing hungrier for this kind of change--in our world and within ourselves; a nation ready to get behind a leader who speaks to our bedrock beliefs that we are so much better than this.