Obama and Participatory Democracy

I’m glad Ezra Klein linked to Marshall Ganz’s piece at TPMCafé advocating for Obama. Ganz was Cesar Chavez’s right-hand man during the UFW struggles in the 1970s. He was also among the first people I met during my time as an Obama intern last summer. On July 5th, the New Hampshire staff ventured to a state park for a retreat. I had only started on the 2nd, so it was a weird experience. It was intended as a morale boost for the staff, to keep them motivated through the summer. And when Ganz was speaking there, it worked. It was really, really important to Ganz – as evidenced by his TPMCafé piece – that Obama chose to defer Harvard Law to do community organizing. And that’s because Ganz had spent decades as a community organizer, with little or no support from the government. He was absolutely convinced that all real change in America comes from the ground up, from the suffragette movement to (unfortunately) the temperance movement to the Civil Rights movement to the migrant workers’ movement and onward. And he felt strongly that Obama, alone among the candidates, understood this, because he had paid his dues on the ground as well.

There’s an entire generation of boomers, from the kids who worked with SNCC on the Freedom Summer, to the SDS members who tried to organize unemployed workers through ERAP, to the organizers of the grape boycott, who sought social and economic change from the bottom up, because the government had abdicated its responsibility to help. And listening to Ganz, it was evident that there is a feeling among this group that Obama gets it, that he gets how change happens, that he understands how to mobilize citizens for real progress. Maybe Ganz and his fellow ex-organizers are wrong, maybe that isn’t what’s needed to bring about change. But I wouldn’t ignore their advice.

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