November 6, 2008

Yes, I Can Too

I did some serious soul-searching today as I sat and watched the election results pour into my computer . It all happened so fast and without fanfare. All the little red states suddenly turned blue, McCain gave a concession speech, Palin was returned to her rightful place of obscurity, and Barack Obama became the first African-American President of the Untied States of America and apparently our new messiah.

Even while hounded by doubts and insecurities, I was excited. For the first time in my life, I felt different about politics. I could hear die hard left-wing revolutionaries shaking their heads at my naiveté; I know that this president elect is not much more than a carefully crafted puppet, designed to ease America’s pain and rage, but like everyone else, I need something to believe in. The last eight years have turned me bitter.

Even as I felt my enthusiasm grow, I couldn’t help but think back to Naomi Klein’s book No Logo, in which talks about how Wall Street hijacked youth culture in the nineties to sell their products, transforming the very concept of alterative into mainstream commerce. By branding counter-culture values like environmentalism, personal freedom, and youth culture, corporate American suddenly made consumerism cool. This was a major factor in the rise of globalization and the way multi-national corporations do business. One can’t help but see the parallels in this campaign.

Klein says of branding,
If they were going to turn lackluster products into transcendent meaning machines- as the dictates of branding demanded- they would need to remake themselves in the image of nineties cool: it’s music, styles, and politics.
This is what I feel the Democratic Party has done with Obama; they have created a brand based on our collective need for change. He is perfect in every way. The market research crew over at the DNC has done their job. They have created a brand that is hard to refuse.

Wikipedia says this about brands,
Some marketers distinguish the psychological aspect of a brand from the experiential aspect. The experiential aspect consists of the sum of all points of contact with the brand and is known as the brand experience. The psychological aspect, sometimes referred to as the brand image, is a symbolic construct created within the minds of people and consists of all the information and expectations associated with a product or service.
If we substitute Barack Obama with a product, I hope we can see that we are in the midst of a multi-million dollar brand experience. This symbolic construct has been created within the minds of people and consists of all the information and expectations associated with change.

I am not, however, writing this post to rehash my doubts. I am writing this post because despite my reservations, I want to admit that even I was swept up by the fact something in the air today feels different. Even if his promises of change and hope are a carefully crafted ruse, then at least this campaign and this president is moving our conversations to the left. This shift is no small feat, and deserves applause. The DNC is talking a gamble, by giving us what we clearly want, and it is up to us to make sure we collect.

A majority of people in America have at least awoken to the fact there is a political system in place, and it would behoove us to pay attention to what it is doing. I hope that now that these conversations have begun, we do not shelve the momentum until the next election.

I like to think of myself as an open-minded person, who is willing to concede when the need arises. My wife and people who know me well would argue that I am an obstinate stubborn, bully, but I am here to say that I have been listening to what people have been saying.

I read the comments from my last post:

whatever you think about obama- americans are changing. i hope that his words are backed with action- but at the very least, i know in my heart that a large number of americans believe in change. the change at the top matters less than the change at the bottom and for whatever reason- obama personifies that change for many, many people. i have hope- not that obama will save america- but that americans will save America

He's promising something that he *can't* provide. I know that sounds like splitting hairs, but the distinction is important to me because it subtly shifts responsibility. If Obama is choosing not to make change, then I could spend all my time standing around pointing fingers. But if he *can't*, then I'm forced to ask who can. And it turns out that the answer is "I can" and I don't have time for standing around pointing fingers, I've got some gardens to tend and some neighbors to bullshit with.

Obama HAS ALREADY BROUGHT MASSIVE, EARTH-SHAKING CHANGE just by being the first black president.

Actually, take a minute to picture President Nader, and what he'd accomplish. NOTHING. That guy'd get nothing done. Everyone would hate him. No one would follow him. He'd be the worst president in history. POLITICS IS ABOUT COMPROMISE.

It is that last line that really put me over the edge. I can appreciate that America is nowhere near ready for the truly progressive society I envision. The values that I cherish are still years away from entering mainstream conversations in American politics. I know that the battles I want to fight must be fought on a daily basis through: conversations, grassroots work, volunteering, work in our classrooms, and in every aspect of our lives. No candidate for any office will ever bring about true change. We as a nation must search our souls and slowly work together to move closer true change. We must not only examine our political leaders. We must re-evaluate our very culture and our economic systems.

This collective national transformation has nothing to do the whims and power of our two-party system. It has to do with the intensity with which we move forward at this time in our nation’s history. If anything Barack Obama, whether intentionally or not, has initiated this shift.

It is important to state the fact that, even if it is only surface-level, this change in the collective American consciousness is historic. The least I can say is that we are no longer focused on the ignorant ramblings of neo-conservatives and the religious right. At least for the moment they have been made irrelevant.

Rob Kall does a great job of putting things in perceptive when he says,
The religious right was put in its place yesterday. If the Republican party learned anything, it is that America is sick and tired of right wing extremism. I expect to see a strong rise in progressive and centrist religious leaders.
While they may roam the halls of power for years to come, on the surface, out in the open, we are finally allowed steer the conversations and demand more from our leaders. Whether they deliver or not is still up for debate, but at least on this day as the world is swept up by brand-Obama I want to let down my guard and say I am hopeful.

The journey to a truly just world will not come through the Democratic Party and Barack Obama, but without his opening of the door, the journey would have taken much longer to begin.

If the opening of this door is the only significant event of this election, then we have already made huge gains. If Bush claimed his 2004 was a mandate for the Republican Party, then this landslide is a mandate for progressive politics. Whether or not the Democratic Party will live up to these expectations will be determined in the next four years. I for one must be cynical, it is in my nature, and think they will wait for the momentum to dissipate and continue with business a usual, but that will be a huge mistake. For now, I too will wait and see.

If all of these people in the streets of America are truly ready for change, the maybe we are closer to a revolution than the DNC thinks. If the Democrats let us down, again, hopefully they will have something substantial to reckon with.

I am not sure if I have come out and said it, it is hard for me to make concrete statements but I am sure I have friends that will be overjoyed to hear me say:

Thank you Barack Obama for opening the door to a new era in American politics. I hope you can work your way out from under the weight of a system that has grown out of control and lead us to a more just and peaceful future. The hopes of a generation are on your back. Don’t let us down.


  1. whatever we believe about the democratic party- and i chose to leave it this year- i believe obama is sincere in his beliefs. he believes he will do the job he says he will. whether he can- will be up to us. it will be up to us to be involved in hounding the reps we have now into getting things done- and it is up to us to bring big corporate to its knees by refusing to play their games anymore. we, the people, have an opportunity to change the country. obama is the catalyst.

  2. at last a sober view

  3. Funny you should mention Naomi Klein...after reading your last post, and agreeing unequivocally with every point of the Green Party's ten key values, I thought to myself, "I read Dissent; I'd vote for Nader or for Naomi Klein (though isn't she Canadian?), but the reason I don't is because neither of them is going to win."

    Let me back up. I don't think Obama is our saviour and I voted for him because he's the best we got. In his open letter, Nader says that "reality consumes" hope every day -- which I agree with -- and this is why I don't vote based completely on my ideals; I vote for the person who comes closest to my ideals and who can actually be elected. John McCain beats my ideals in the world we live in. I guess that's the real in realpolitik.

    The fact that Obama can rally so much attention, and get so much participation out of our consumer culture-obsessed society is amazing. And Jabiz, I don't want to hit you below the belt, but I suggest you reflect on both your lack of participation in this election and your relationship with consumption before criticizing the hypnotized American hoi polloi.

    But I'm with you: I hope Obama can live up to what he has promised us. I'm excited and will be critical; possibly skeptical but never cynical.

    Thanks for posting my video.

  4. I love this post, J.

    This quote jumps right out at me:

    "It is important to state the fact that, even if it is only surface-level, this change in the collective American consciousness is historic. The least I can say is that we are no longer focused on the ignorant ramblings of neo-conservatives and the religious right. At least for the moment they have been made irrelevant."

    Hear, hear.


  5. What is this garbage? Bah! Harrumph!

    Just kidding... That was a really well-expressed and thoughtful (and thought-provoking) post.

    I think I've been sort of losing my temper when making comments on here leading up to this election because I felt like you and some of the commenters on here were getting kind of out of touch with reality. When you can look at a self-made half-black community organizer with remarkable intelligence and charisma who has the ability to inspire millions of gloomy people and say "eh, who cares, another worthless corporate drone", I start to worry about people's sanity.

    A big part of being a good leader is being inspirational, and Obama, whatever he might actually accomplish, however messed up the system is, and whether or not it's branding, can inspire people.

    He might be only a figurehead in the end, but he's one who I won't be ashamed to see nailed to the front of my ship. Or whatever. Thanks for acknowledging that you see that his election is a positive step in some ways. I agree that he probably won't be able to miraculously change the country around, but within the scope of what one President can do to inspire people to improve things, I think he'll be OK.


    this was unfortunate

  7. Isn't it said that the best leaders pull out the best in others, and inspire all they lead into their better natures, best performance? I am a registered Independent but voted for Obama. Why? Because he found a way to tell us all that we could be a better people. He reminded us that we have it in us to do better. We as a nation need a leader that sees us, listens, and inspires us to act anew, to take responsiblity for change, for us to be the change we've been waiting for.
    On 9/11 I was waiting for /expecting my President to ask for my sacrifice, my help, my cooperation to shore up our nation in a crisis. Instead President Bush told me to go shopping!
    I reached for Obama because his rhetoric said that I will be seen as a valuable partner, worthy of contributing time and effort into improving the state of our nation.
    Now that Obama has won, I and we all, need to select areas that we see need change, and dedicate consistent time and energy to foster the change we want.
    We should all be amazed at the outpouring of protest in October when the Wall Street Bailout was proposed. We need that kind of involvement on every issue, and more pressure on our Congress so that the return to complacency so many fear does not take hold. We can but only if we TRY!

  8. I love this comment:

    Now that Obama has won, I and we all, need to select areas that we see need change, and dedicate consistent time and energy to foster the change we want.

  9. Anonymous12:59 AM

    It is precisely that 'something in the air' that I was talking about when I quipped that perception is a powerful force and has a habit of carrying reality in its backpack. The reaction of my non-american friends was one of joy - JOY. And not a joy born from the release of 8 year ideological tyranny - but a joy that they could welcome their American friends back into the human race; they realize that although many countries have pushed past the gender barrier in politics, very few have pushed past race. It is win-win my friend. I have been basking in the region's newpapers today - maybe it is a bit of valium for my battered soul, but it is something... and more than I had 2 days ago. By the way - I used NO Logo as a text in IB A2 - great book - the kids responded to her thesis and started to question their part in 'branding'.