Sunday, February 10, 2008

Frank Schaeffer, Derrick Ashong, and A.N.T. Adaptive

A short post to pull together a few things that have been on my mind lately. Yesterday, I did another first: I phone banked for the Obama campaign calling Obama supporters in Louisiana to remind them to vote. I've always been terrified of talking to strangers on phones, but this was unexpectedly addictive--the feeling of connection with these good, ordinary people, calling in a state that I have an ancestral connection. I let my voice slip in to the slightest hint of the Southern accent that comes when I visit my grandparents who live near Alexandria, Louisiana.... "Hi, my name is [Talatu-Carmen]. I'm calling from Barack Obama's presidential campaign. How ya doin' today? I'm just callin' to see if you've voted yet today in the Loooziana's Democratic primary?" I talked to lot of children, "Momma, she wants to know if you voted? Yeah, she did" and a lot of answering machines with "God bless" at the end. It felt like calling home.

I only had one person who hung up on me, and everyone else said that, yes, they had voted. The most touching moments were the old people (at least they sounded old on the phone). One old man said that he was doing all right; he was just heading to the shower, but, yes, he had voted." An old woman with a Caribbean accent told me that she was at the poll right now. "I just love him. He's my boy." We talked a few minutes about how much we loved Obama, and she seemed almost disappointed when I said goodbye. After 40 calls (many of which had not gone through), I decided I better get back to my dissertation proposal, which I ended up emailing to my advisor around 12:45am.

I have, admittedly, been obsessed with American politics for the past couple of weeks, in part procrastination technique against finishing my proposal and in part fascination with what will go down in history as a very significant primary season, but I have been disturbed by the implication of those who are not supporting Obama that that those of us who do are merely supporting him because of insubstantial emotional reasons. That we support him because we get a high from his inspiring speeches or because "we've drunk the Kool-Aid" to quote Fred--and not because we have done any research on his positions. There is this assumption that Hillary (or McCain or whoever else) is naturally the most qualified candidate, but that Obama's charisma has disguised his inexperience and inability to lead. I've seen these condescending accusations both by Hillary supporters and in acquaintances who are hard-core Republicans. And to be fair to these people, there are plenty of folks going around saying they are inspired, who have not done their research. However, I am not one of those people, and neither are a great many of Obama supporters. (NOTE 8:17pm, See, for instance, this blogger's reasonable and well-thought out take on why he is voting for Obama and the possible drawbacks to Obama's candidacy.) On this blog, I have praised Obama's (and Oprah's) rhetorical abilities. I think such an ability is admirable and a good quality in a leader. It is one reason I am supporting him, yes, but it is certainly NOT the ONLY reason. It would be a patently BAD reason to vote if I didn't have other good reasons. To see his position on issues, see here. I don't stoop to insulting Hillary's supporters saying that they are supporting her only because she is a woman. Why is there this assumption that Obama supporters must have such simplistic reasons?

I do not agree with Obama on everything. I do not think he is the Messiah. I think he will make mistakes, as any president does. And I am worried when I hear certain supporters talking as if once he is president all will be well. All will not be well--not in this global climate--especially not after the past 8 years of irresponsible and even criminal leadership. There are long-standing structural inequalities both within the nation and within the world that need serious attention, thought, and change. And, as Obama has pointed out plenty of times, he can not effect change by himself. He will need his supporters to continue their activism after the election, to continue their volunteerism and their sense of civic duty. Obama, by himself, won't accomplish anything, but I do believe that Obama as the leader of an informed and impassioned populace, a candidate who embraces nuance and who is willing to consider multiple perspectives on a situation, will be able to help shepherd this complex and contradictory country in a new, more positive direction. I believe that he, more than any of the other candidates in this race, will be able to accomplish this.

Some of the things that have fascinated me are the often very intelligent debates going on online--and debates that allow for the discussion of far more complexity than I've remembered in past presidential campaigns where positions of candidates often seemed to be summed up in soundbites. You can't do that with Obama. The reason people think he is a lightweight is because they are only listening to the soundbites. If they actually went online and looked at his positions, If they read his books and the legislation that he has worked on, it would be difficult for them to make such easy accusations. (And here is a remarkable clip of a young Obama supporter (Ghanaian-American musician and actor), Derrick Ashong, who completely bowled over one of those condescending critics who thought he was going to interview "your typical emotional Obama supporter." Completely off the cuff, Ashong responded to this "reporter's" questions about Obama's health care plan showing that he not only had a good reason to support Obama but that he understood the issue far better than the reporter did. I only wish I could be so eloquent.This is a MUST watch. )

I have also been impressed by the multiple facebook discussions on the Obama site. In just one example, there has been a serious and nuanced discussion on abortion on Obama's site--including plenty of Catholics who are pro-choice, athiests who are pro-life, McCain, Huckabee, and Clintons supporters and every imaginable position in between. Of course there are the people who try to shut the discussion down with slogans and cliches, but the discussion has not been shut down.

In part this has less to do with Obama than it has to do with the internet. I think part of the genius of his campaign is that his young supporters have taken advantage of their experience on the internet to campaign in revolutionary new ways from the viral Black Eyed Peas song to the grassroots fundraising of 32 million in one month from 224,000 new voters (including myself) to the 472,947 supporters (and counting, there seem to be about a 100 new sign ups every minute when I'm on there) on Facebook (compared to the 108,485 supporters [and counting much slower] for Hillary). The internet savviness of Obama's supporters compared to the others point to the the way Obama has appealed to a younger generation, while the older candidates practice politics as usual. Clinton has taken a few cues on internet fundraising from Obama's success, although not before she had to loan herself 5 million. (Did anyone else find that rather embarrassing?) The closest comparison in this change of political climate which coincides with new technology and generation I can think of is the televised debates between Kennedy and Nixon---there we go with the old JFK reference again....

Generational variances might also be seen in the widespread support of young evangelical (or other) Christians for Obama. Previously on this blog, I have expressed my frustration with the way evangelical Christians have been objectified and stereotyped in the past by so-called "neoliberals." Well, no longer. We are a populace as complicated as any other. We are also a population that is disillusioned with the way the previous generation fell in line behind ideologues like James Dobson, who conflates being Christian with holding certain cultural and political positions, and politicians who cynically used the "values" vote to gain power and became even more corrupt than those they replaced. We still hold to many of those core values, such as having serious ethical questions about the consumer society of America--a society that thinks it is all right to manipulate human life in such a way as to dispose of or create embryos on demand. I am one of these Christians, who has maintained my belief but disposed of the "evangelical" label because it has lost its meaning. I am one of those Christians who are disturbed by the ethical implications of abortion, stem cell research, cloning, and, yes, even in vitro fertilization, but also the callous way that politico-evangelicals have treated issues of poverty, war, class, human rights, have promoted xenophobia over compassion, profit over care of creation. I am one of those Christians who have realized we cannot afford to vote on a single issue, but who sees in Obama someone who encourages an open space where we can meet together with those who do not agree with us and try to find some common ground. This is the more practical position, much more so than standing at two opposite ends of a room and yelling at each other, which is what the previous partisan politics has felt like. Obama is not perfect, but, in opening that space for dialogue, I think he is our best option. Frank Schaeffer, the son of the legendary Francis Schaeffer and the filmmaker who made those documentaries about abortion with the endless pans of plastic dolls (had to watch them in an ethics class in high school), puts it much better than I could in his essay, "Why I'm Pro-life and Pro-Obama."

This post has turned much longer than I intended, but one last note. One does not expect to find the best hiphop one has recently heard in church, but that's what happened today. One of the musicians in our church today performed his testimony, and I had to go buy his cd (A.N.T. Adaptive) immediately after church. It was timely, relevant, and amazingly good. I have been hitting replay on the cd for the rest of the day. Take for example part of this lyric from the opening song "Ready."

Get ready,
it's about to drop so heavy.
Bumpin in the Lex or the Chevy.
Make sure
system got this song on blast,
cause only the truth gone last.

The truth is
my nation is under attack
but not just because of the oil that's under Iraq
because of the fact that a lot of Latinos and blacks
will end up in jail maybe layin' flat on their backs.

The truth is
the rich get richer while the picture for the poor
is sitting there on the bottom floor.
No more health care. We can't get no health there.
Actin' like the sick people chose to put themselves there.

The truth is,
sex sales
so well that it has men buying sex from little girls with pigtails
Maxin' out their credit cards, surfin the net for porn
and the crazy thing is it's been accepted as a norm

The truth is
some kids don't eat every day but your dog do
I ain't tryin to dog you
I thought to address it from the booth
now ask yourself am I telling the truth?
Then holla at the youth...

Get ready, it's about to drop so heavy.
Bumpin in the Lex or the Chevy.
Make sure
system got this song on blast,
cause only the truth gone last.

The truth is
too many single moms seen the struggle
Gotta work all day and keep the kids outta trouble
while their baby daddy chillin' with his other baby mommas
Can we learn how to live without all this crazy drama?

The truth is
Martin Luther King had a dream
Racism is alive and well, just behind the scenes
Only forty-five years removed from civil rights
Even Rosa in her death sayin' we still gotta fight

The truth is
are you a Republican or Democrat, homo or hetero,
I'm asking you, you better know, Christian or athiest
I love you, now I'm hatin this.
Can't we come together, it seems like we're still debatin' this.
Throwin up a peace sign or maybe you can raise a fist
and kill all the injustice they get paid to miss,
like being locked up when you're innocent
looked at as guilty
the system is filthy

Get ready,
it's about to drop so heavy.
Bumpin in the Lex or the Chevy.
Make sure
system got this song on blast,
cause only the truth gone last.

etc. I don't want to quote the whole thing, but go to the website and listen to it/buy it. I wish the song he performed in church "This is my Story" were on the website, but it's even better than this one...

His performance is just one of those little reminders I have from day to day, whether reading theory on storytelling, listening to 2-Pac, or listening to those old speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. that make me alternately thoughtful and delighted in my faith. The inspiration may not be anything specifically religious but it suddenly strikes me as TRUTH--something that helps me understand God better and reminds me of the purpose of my own life--how it fits into the larger pattern.


esef said...

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot lift the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. You cannot establish security on borrowed money. You cannot build character and courage by taking away men’s initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”
— William J. H. Boetcker

The above from here (thanks to du Toit) succinctly encapsulates my entire life philosophy and shows why it's 180-degrees in brutal disagreement with those Democrats, particularly Hilly Clinton and Hussein Obama.

Talatu-Carmen said...

esef, i am an independant voter, not a Democrat, but i believe that you (and du Toit) are vastly oversimplifying the fiscal plans of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. If you could point out exactly where either of these candidates are "taking away men's initiative and independence" or "inciting class hatred," we can have an intelligent debate, but I find it difficult to respond to the kind of rhetoric that deliberately attempts to polarize---"brutal disagreement"; "Hussein Obama." I would argue that Barack Obama, in particular, is encouraging class dialogue and cooperation, rather than hatred. His health care plan also calls for individual investment but more affordable so that people can take the initiative and get the health care plan they want, while not going without it because they can't afford $200-1000 per month premiums. I can particularly relate to this as I am currently without health insurance, being in between the university plan and travel insurance. I called an insurance company to see about short term insurance, but it was just way too much for me to afford. I would like to have "intiative" and "independence" in this matter, but I can't afford it. So, I think there needs to be a balance between the two. And of all the candidates in this race, I find Barack Obama the most balanced, practical, and empowering.

Chxta said...

Great read. I don't have much to add since my interest in foreign politics is 'limited' to how it concerns Naija, but I don't think Obama will win. I simply don't trust middle America to vote for him.

Talatu-Carmen said...


If you have been paying attention to what has been happening in this election it is MIDDLE AMERICA that has voted overwhelmingly for Obama. He has attracted independent voters (such as myself) as well as Republican voters, and there are statistics (I heard this on the radio so can't cite the source) that in some states the turn out for the Democratic primary 60-70% turned out, whereas for the Republican primary it was more like 40%.

I think he absolutely CAN, and HAS won much of middle America: Iowa, Idaho, Nebraska, Kansas. The percentages for him were out of the roof for him in the middlest of middle American states--some even going up to 70+%. Although he has a slightly more liberal voting record than Clinton, his platform stresses unity and cooperation, while Clinton's platform stresses the party at all costs. I think "middle Americans," who tend to be good practical down-to-earth people, find this non-partisan nature refreshing, and I think this will end up showing up in the total national polls.

We'll see if I was right in a few more weeks/months.

jinni said...

Obama Barack is undoubtedly the best candidate.He represents the ideals of the founding fathers of America and the inspirations of the whole world and the disadvantaged.In Obama Barack,we find echoes of Abraham lincoln,Harriet Beecher Stowe,Rosa Park,Martin Luther King,JF Kennedy etc.
I want to believe in America for the first time,but I fear the evil empire will not allow this great moment to come into being.

fam said...

Hi Talatu-Carmen,

I'm one of the lead vocalists in an "Afropolitan Fusion" band called Soulf├Ęge led by my bandmate Ashong (aka DNA), whom you referenced in our post. On July 15th our band is releasing the digital version of our new record "Take Back the Mic," which is our statement on the power of music with meaning.

The album was recorded in Accra, Boston, NY, LA & Kingston and as such we are particularly interested in reaching out to our "Afropolitan" community. I was wondering if you might be willing to write about the album on or around the release date of 7/15. If so, I can send you a private link where you can download the tracks for free.

Soulf├Ęge ('sOl-fezh) has had an incredible year w/ multiple award nominations and some wonderful media attention, in addition to all the frenzy around Ashong's comments on Obama. You can learn a little more about him from this bio video and more about the band from this recent Vanity Fair Article:

Ashong Bio Reel

Vanity Fair

Let me know if you'd be willing to spread the word on your blog and if there are any other Afropolitan blogs or email lists you think we should reach out to. Thanks a bunch for your help and I hope to hear from you soon.


Talatu-Carmen said...

Fam, sure, I'd be happy to help, though my internet connection is a bit shaky and I am a bit slow in posting these days. Is there a private email address where I could reach you? You could post it here in the comments and I won't publish it.