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Organizer in Chief

Posted on Nov 5, 2008

By Amy Goodman

  You could almost hear the world’s collective sigh of relief. This year’s U.S. presidential election was a global event in every sense. Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, represents to so many a living bridge—between continents and cultures. Perhaps the job that qualified him most for the presidency was not senator or lawyer, but the one most vilified by his opponents: community organizer, on the South Side of Chicago. As Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin mocked: “This world of threats and dangers is not just a community, and it doesn’t just need an organizer.”

  But perhaps that’s just what it needs. Obama achieved his decisive electoral victory through mass community organizing, on the ground and online, and an unheard-of amount of money. It was an indisputably historic victory: the first African-American elected to the highest office in the United States. Yet community organizing is inherently at crosscurrents with the massive infusion of campaign cash, despite the number of small donations that the Obama campaign received.

  Sen. Obama rejected public campaign financing (sealing that policy’s fate) and was flooded with cash, much of it from corporate donors. Those powerful, moneyed interests will want a return on their investment.

  A century and a half earlier, another renowned African-American orator, Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave and leading abolitionist, spoke these words that have become an essential precept of community organizing: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. ... Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

  There are two key camps that feel invested in the Obama presidency: the millions who each gave a little, and the few who gave millions. The big-money interests have means to gain access. They know how to get meetings in the White House, and they know what lobbyists to hire. But the millions who donated, who volunteered, who were inspired to vote for the first time actually have more power, when organized.

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  Before heading over to Grant Park in Chicago, Sen. Obama sent a note (texted and e-mailed) to millions of supporters. It read, in part: “We just made history. And I don’t want you to forget how we did it. ... We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.” But it isn’t enough for people now to sit back and wait for instructions from on high. It was 40 years ago in that very same place, Grant Park, that thousands of anti-war protesters gathered during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, demanding an end to the Vietnam War. Many from that generation now celebrate the election of an African-American president as a victory for the civil rights movement that first inspired them to action decades ago. And they celebrate the man who, early on, opposed the Iraq war, the pivotal position that won him the nomination, that ultimately led to his presidential victory.

  Another son of Chicago, who died just days before the election, was oral historian and legendary broadcaster Studs Terkel. I visited him last year in their shared city. “The American public itself has no memory of the past,” he told me. “We forgot what happened yesterday ... why are we there in Iraq? And they say, when you attack our policy, you’re attacking the boys. On the contrary ... we want them back home with their families, doing their work and not a war that we know is built upon an obscene lie. ... It’s this lack of history that’s been denied us.”

  The Obama campaign benefited from the participation of millions. They and millions more see that the current direction of the country is not sustainable. From the global economic meltdown to war, we have to find a new way. This is a rare moment when party lines are breaking down. Yet if Obama buckles to the corporate lobbyists, how will his passionate supporters pressure him? They have built a historic campaign operation—but they don’t control it. People need strong, independent grass-roots organizations to effect genuine, long-term change. This is how movements are built. As Obama heads to the White House, his campaign organization needs to be returned to the people who built it, to continue the community organizing that made history.
 
  Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
 
  Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. She has been awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and will receive the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

  © 2008 Amy Goodman

  Distributed by King Features Syndicate


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By oeln, November 19, 2008 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment

On 11/10, the Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca posted an open letter to US President-Elect Barack Obama (initially found this on intercontinentalcry.org). I’ve written up a petition, for what it’s worth, with the intent of demonstrating backing for it, and the important points expressed therein..

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/indigenous-openletter-colombia

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By Tony Wicher, November 17, 2008 at 2:31 pm Link to this comment

By Inherit The Wind, November 17 at 9:35 am #

I KNOW it sounds xenocentric but I DO think the world looks up to America, not as an enforcer, but as an example. I think most people WANT to believe in us again. International reaction to Obama’s election is quite extraordinary—America is not going to be run by another Old White Guy. Once again, the USA has shown our Better Side after 8 years of showing our worse side.  It’s obviously nothing substantive but it gives the President-Elect openings and opportunities that have not been there for a long, long time. We CAN be a leader again, but we must lead by example, not Bushian hypocrisy and imperialism..
—————————————————————————
Absolutely. The whole world is rooting for the United States, because as the U.S. goes, so goes the world; if we succeed, everyone is better off; if we fail, the rest of the world will go down with us.

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the Bill Maher clip in the A/V section.

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By Inherit The Wind, November 17, 2008 at 10:35 am Link to this comment

TW:

Yeah, I can only get so much in one post. (lol!)

Israel/Palestine is and isn’t the key.  It’s importance is more how we are perceived by the 22 Arab states, and the other Moslem states in the world.  I truly believe that if there is a fair and negotiated peace between the two parties, so each realizes that both sides got something and neither side got everything, then most of the Arab states will be glad for it to be over.  There will be some (possibly Syria) and some groups that will oppose it, (Likud, Hezbollah) but most will support it.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg—just in the Middle East. I think our relations with Iran are far more complex than just Israel—I think Israel is, for the Iranian leadership, nothing more than something to wave the bloody flag about. I don’t think they ACTUALLY give a horse’s patoot about the Palestinians—otherwise they’d offer a safe haven to them.  Iran is a complex and critical nation and the policies that were WORKING up through 20 Jan 2001, have been shredded by The Knucklehead-in-Chief.  The letter congratulating Obama was both a slap at Bush AND an invitation to improve things.

Our relations with Africa, the Far East, SE Asia, South America and, of course, Europe are ALL there to be, for lack of a better word, “upgraded”.  Heck, The Chimpster, amazingly, managed to screw up relations with Canada and Mexico.

I KNOW it sounds xenocentric but I DO think the world looks up to America, not as an enforcer, but as an example. I think most people WANT to believe in us again. International reaction to Obama’s election is quite extraordinary—America is not going to be run by another Old White Guy. Once again, the USA has shown our Better Side after 8 years of showing our worse side.  It’s obviously nothing substantive but it gives the President-Elect openings and opportunities that have not been there for a long, long time. We CAN be a leader again, but we must lead by example, not Bushian hypocrisy and imperialism..

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By Tony Wicher, November 17, 2008 at 10:13 am Link to this comment

Re Inherit The Wind, November 17 at 4:08 am

Excellent statement, ITW! I agree with your analysis 100%.

The other half of Obama’s job, which you do not discuss, concerns foreign policy. To me that means ending 60 years of U.S. imperialism going back to the end of WW II. We must replace imperialism with a true internationalism whose highest priority is peace and conflict resolution. To me the key to such a policy and the place to start is the Israel/Palestine conflict. I continue to hold to the position that 60 years of conflict shows that the U.N. partition of Palestine in 1947, originally opposed by Palestinians, all Arab states and also by the United States, was a mistake, although an understandable one, and we ought to revisit it. I hope this will be brought up by the Palestinian side and seriously considered by the United States as a better and perhaps the only workable solution. I feel that this could negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians, with the enthusiastic support of the whole international community.

But whether this solution is arrived at, or whether the two-state solution proves to be the only politically practical one at this time, our relationship with all other Middle Eastern countries depends on it, and it will therefore have the highest priority on Obama’s foreign policy to do list. I look forward to hard negotiations beginning shortly after Obama takes office.

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By Inherit The Wind, November 17, 2008 at 5:08 am Link to this comment

My first rule about George W. Bush is that sooner or later the man will double-cross EVERYONE!  Even Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove were thrown under the bus.

But what we on the Left are not realizing is the Bush double-crossed most of Corporate America while he was following their short-term and short-sighted policy goals.  The result? Economic collapse—and we are just at the beginning of the collapse.

See, if we gave our little guy what he wanted for breakfast, he’d have candy, chips and cookies while he watched cartoons all day.  We don’t.  More than the American People, American corporations are like greedy children who’ll sit and get obese at the TV and video games and need to be fed healthy food, kicked outside to play in the fresh air, and properly educated.

Yeah, a few corp execs got obscene bonus and buy-out packages for bankrupting their companies.  But far, far more are in deep-s*** trouble as the credit market dries up and they can’t get commercial paper.  Most corporations are dying of thirst in this same drought that’s choking us all.

And they gave millions to Obama, as millions of us gave millions more.  What should they (and we) expect for our millions, whether as lumps or as $5 or $10? Why, Good Government, of course.  Not cake, cookies and TV, but healthy food, probably a lot of bitter medicine, and forced exercise.

Seriously, the best thing Obama can do for his corporate donors is set the American Economy on the road to recovery—not “recovery” as they want it, but recovery where unemployment falls to “Full Employment” levels (You always have some as part of the “grease” of the system). 

Recovery means we find ways to keep people in their homes and renegotiate fair and manageable mortgages. 

Recovery means rebuilding the infrastructure. 

Recovery mean correcting the mistakes of the last 27 years, and especially the last 8. 

Recovery means understanding that regulation is not socialism or Marxism—it’s protecting the commonweal from the poisoning greed of a few, without killing innovation and risk-taking.

Recovery means creating new industries to replace the rust-belt industries murdered (and I mean MURDERED) by the Reagan-Bush policies that sent our production overseas for cheap labor and to kill the unions.

Recovery means attacking the use of fossil fuels, especially imported one, to convert us to clean, and self-sustaining energy.

If Barack Obama can put us on the solid path to meet these goals, then those corporations that gave him millions will have gotten their money’s worth a hundred times over.  He can’t solve the problems, that will take 10 to 50 years, but he can set us on the path so that when he leaves office in (hopefully) 8 years, we will be on a path only an idiot would change.  And, if the lesson of George W. Bush has been learned, we won’t elect another idiot like him for a long, long, LONG time!

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By textylton, November 14, 2008 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

plaid is on the right track - voting on separate issues, not whole laundry lists will be more effective than our present slow and disconnected and wasteful governance.  our elected officials must facilitate our issue votes and give us their insight and guidance in this process, thereby representing their constituents.

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By eleanor roosevelt, November 12, 2008 at 9:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Global climate change is proof that “What’s good for GM is not good for America.”

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By Christine, November 12, 2008 at 2:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ms. Goodman makes a wonderful point.  Start looking for ways to act now and stand up for what you think is important!  Amnesty International and the ACLU are examples of organizations that are helping people organize to do just that.  More information about what they’re doing can be found at:

http://www.amnesty.org/en/appeals-for-action/show-real-leadership-in-human-rights

http://www.aclu.org/

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By Tony Wicher, November 11, 2008 at 1:42 am Link to this comment

By Concerned Globalist, November 9 at 11:45 am #
(Unregistered commenter)

That “collective sigh of relief” in many sites of the World meant silent worrying. Will America protect vulnerable democracies against tyranny of Russians and others? Will Obama step up and act if necessary?
Otherwise the global suffering may not lessen under Obama’s presidency but increase.

Concerned Globalist

~~~~

Well, I’m a concerned globalist myself, but I have troubles with this wording or inference, everytime it comes up. So, in case the rest of the world hasn’t noticed, the American people have suffered under the Dick Bush regime as much as so many of the rest of the world has, and particularly in terms of our economy and our infrastructure..the physical as well as the human infrastructure.

That said, we didn’t really elect Barack Obama SOLELY to prevent tyranny in the rest of the world, when we’ve been suffering from it for years right here at home.

Now I am abundantly confident that Obama WILL bring about the Human Rights Agenda that must continue to be put forward on the global level, but I’m sick of the US being the one and only supposed ‘protector’ of all others. We can’t protect ourselves. Or maybe I should say that we certainly haven’t protected ourselves from the tyranny of the past 8 years.

So, Obama isn’t going to be defending the rest of the world from tyranny as his sole function. The rest of the world has to step up to the plate and do something on their own behalf.

And, if I’m not mistaken, he’s already made that point, specifically in respect to Russia. The US has convinced itself that WE are the UN. We aren’t. The US is the US, and the UN in the United Nations. They have a part to play here.

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By plaidsportcoat, November 10, 2008 at 10:24 am Link to this comment

I think what Amy is saying is true - the WEBSITE, which was the TOOL of the organization is still run by a campaign that is over. As an average josette who volunteered on the campaign, even travelled to another state to work on an Obama voter protection hotline - I have not received a post-election email detailing how this website will continue to be used to organize. I think they are afraid of criticism of people in the My Barack Obama website when they go off and do activism on their own.
My suggestion is that the campaign turn the website over to campaign volunteers and allow it to be used as the largest organization of progressives in the country and the world. For me and I’m sure many others, it doesn’t make sense to join ten little progressive organizations when it dilutes my power. A huge organization like this can be wielded very well. For example and suggestion, the new MyBo website could be run by a few people elected in an online election. They could then have a “vote on this” list of activist issues to LOBBY for. The millions of people on the MyBo email lists could be encouraged to vote the top ten issues. They could then be posted on the website. Then, there could be committees to work on each issue - NATIONWIDE (even world-wide) and there could be a panel of skilled, talented organizers at the top of the organization. The thing is to keep this “progressive lobby for the people” representative, responsive, to harness the good will, and most importantly, to have a lobbying capacity that can get money from the masses and work on the issues that affect us poor working class people.

Once the top ten issues have been voted on, there should be an election of committee members to do the action portion of the lobbying - people who have experience can run for places on each committee. What an awesome movement that could unite the progressive issues under one umbrella. If you want to go ahead and support all those little movements, nobody’s stoppin ya! But for me, I want CHANGE and I’m so sick of little ineffectual groups like code pink - that show up and have heart but don’t get anything changed. We need to have a THIRD PARTY - A PROGRESSIVE PARTY. I see this MyBo website (keep the name in honor of the organizer!)—I see it as a great tool to be wielded. But I doubt it’s in the hands to wield it. How about Plouffe?

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By elianita55, November 10, 2008 at 4:51 am Link to this comment

I think Amy rightly notes the global character of this year’s presidential race. Commentators in Europe have not just heaved a sigh of relief, they are ecstatic. This election is widely portrayed a model for democracy around the world. The French daily Le Monde on Saturday, for instance, dedicated six full pages to the President Elect and African American history. Meanwhile, an editorial in Saturday’s Times of London proclaimed that the United States has become “colourblind”.

What many commentators from abroad overlook, however, is the increasingly bipartisan nature of American politics. Obama’s landslide victory and its historical significance has totally eclipsed the further marginalization of third parties in the US. And yet, these parties, free as they are of corporate obligations, are vital to to the democratic process.

For more: http://www.ilpodesta.org/2008/11/forgetting-face-of-pluralism.html

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By Concerned Globalist, November 9, 2008 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

That “collective sigh of relief” in many sites of the World meant silent worrying. Will America protect vulnerable democracies against tyranny of Russians and others? Will Obama step up and act if necessary?
Otherwise the global suffering may not lessen under Obama’s presidency but increase.

Concerned Globalist

http://concernedglobalist.blogspot.com/

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By gale, November 8, 2008 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

He is far from perfect. We will need to be as diligent with this new administration as we have been for the last 8 years but to be pessimistic prior to his inauguration is just odd.

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By cyrena, November 8, 2008 at 5:06 pm Link to this comment

Nat, thanks for the address/link to the transition team info. Now for me, that alone is a major CHANGE. Maybe someone else remembers a prior administration, (here or anywhere else in the world) where all 300 plus million of us are able to link to this info via the WWW and submit ideas and suggestions, but… I DON’T!!!

So, thank you President Obama or Professor Obama, or whomever on his staff set that up. Yes, that’s change.

So is this, and I was particularly pleased that he is on this from before day one.

Obama Demands Iraq War Changes
By Jason Leopold
November 7, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama, in one of the first policy statements of his transition, demanded that the Bush administration either submit the proposed U.S.-Iraq “status-of-forces agreement” to Congress or leave an opening for him to change it next year.
Obama’s transition office posted a statement on its Web site, declaring that any agreement on the future of U.S. troops in Iraq “should be negotiated in the context of a broader commitment by the U.S. to begin withdrawing its troops and forswearing permanent bases.”

The statement also insisted that the agreement authorizing the presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil beyond a United Nations mandate that expires Dec. 31 “must be subject to Congressional approval.”
Obama’s transition office noted the irony that the Iraqi government was submitting the agreement to its parliament while the Bush administration was set on approving the troop deal on its own authority.
“It is unacceptable that the Iraqi government will present the agreement to the Iraqi parliament for approval — yet the Bush administration will not do the same with the U.S. Congress,” the statement read. “The Bush administration must submit the agreement to Congress or allow the next administration to negotiate an agreement that has bipartisan support here at home and makes absolutely clear that the U.S. will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq.”

Read all about it here:

http://www.consortiumnews.com/2008/110708b.html

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By Wendy Nelson from Berkeley, November 8, 2008 at 1:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wow Amy, how quick we forget. The Democrat party represents one of the cheeks of the corporate ass. “Change” wont happen until we free ourselves from the “2” party machine, and yes, Obama represents this. Oh by the way, he still supports FISA, since when is that acceptable? I’ve always admired you on “Democracy Now!” but after reading this Obama propaganda, I cannot consider you a progressive anymore.

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By Nat, November 8, 2008 at 11:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama’s transition website http://change.gov has his agenda and policies (probably copied from the campaign website). Each page has a link to allow users to submit ideas.

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By Public Media, November 8, 2008 at 7:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

one site that you can access the podcast at is through the Charlotte Creative Loafing site:

http://charlotte.creativeloafing.com/

This should be a link straight to the Amy Goodman archive:

http://charlotte.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/BrowseArchives?searchAuthor=oid:114250

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By thebeerdoctor, November 8, 2008 at 5:32 am Link to this comment

It really is not surprising that the hard left would get upset with President-elect Obama. Watching his first press conference I was reminded once again that he does not represent how I think, nor should he. He is thinking from another viewpoint altogether, not encrusted with the scars of the baby boomer generation, from a cultural war that John McCain and his idiotic sidekick try to associate him with. Thank God even the American people could see through that. And no Virginia, there is no Bradley effect.
Call it the unintentional side effects of political celebrity, but there is a lot of weird talk coming from people who were not Barrack supporters, but damn! they are now pleased as punch to see that he made it! Congresswoman Bachmann is a prime example. Even George W. Bush wants to share in this “historic moment in our nation’s history”.
I posted the link to Nomi Prins article about banking on this thread. If anyone has looked at it, you will see not only are the banks absconding the bailout money, but this is part of an overall pattern, which is a complete looting of the entire system. Alarmist you say? Check out what is going with the environmental laws, how the soon to be gone regime is working to gut the water and air safety laws.
A complete robbery is taking place as I write this. But, like Governor Palin on a shopping spree, nobody really cares because it is all being done on somebody else’s dime. Why the federal government gave money to the banks and others (even Microsoft got into the party) with no strings attached, says it all about what are their priorities.
Obama will not only be President, he will also need to be a wizard. Knowing that he is not a mirror for my own agenda is good. The people have elected him to this job, now let him do it.
“umntu ngumntu ngabanye abantu”

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By cyrena, November 8, 2008 at 1:44 am Link to this comment

•  “..They have built a historic campaign operation—but they don’t control it. People need strong, independent grass-roots organizations to effect genuine, long-term change. This is how movements are built. As Obama heads to the White House, his campaign organization needs to be returned to the people who built it, to continue the community organizing that made history…”

I’m curious about why Amy claims that the people who have built this movement don’t control it. My guess is that she hasn’t had time to really follow it herself. I have, and I think she underestimates what actually happened here. Maybe there wasn’t even time to follow the actual efforts of the operation and the money trail as well. Even that part isn’t entirely correct. Corporations did give money, but not lobbyists. I can’t imagine how they can ever prevent corporations from giving campaign contributions as long as these 527 and other PAC’s are allowed.

But, that’s an ‘aside’ actually, since the main point is that the campaign operation is more than a campaign operation. It was a grass-roots movement that has ALREADY effected genuine, long term change. How anyone as astute as Amy could miss that is truly beyond me. The movement has been BUILDING for over 3 years now. What the hell makes her think it’s gonna just stop? I got the same message from the Obama campaign, (I’m used to them by now) and I certainly didn’t interpret it as a suggestion or request to just chill out until we hear back from them. I interpreted it to mean exactly what it said. “…We’ve still got work to do” (obviously) and we’ll let you know soon, what’s on your dance card. That’s pretty much the way I read it. And like I said, we’re used to that. I think Amy doesn’t realize the enormity of that operation, and it doesn’t just go away after all of this time. Hundreds of thousands of relationships and other coalitions have sprung up from that basic grass roots organization.

Cann4ing references this frequently in his posts in terms of the PDA, but they aren’t the only ones who have formed alliances with Obama movement. Maybe the drastic change that has already occurred is too obvious for some of us to see. That happens sometimes. We’re looking at one thing, and missing what’s under our noses.

I definitely agree with Beerdoctor on this:

•  “..It just may be, considering the current state of this nation, that President-elect Obama could be much too busy to grease anyone’s wheels. Few realize what a mess this country is actually in. Barack Obama is about to find out…”
Only disagreement is that I’m certain that Obama already knows what a mess we’re in, (the shits really) which is why he’s already on the job. Better him than me. (or Nader, or McPalin,) I do wish he’d tap Dennis Kucinich for something though. I’m thinking we could afford to give up his voice in the Congress since we’ve picked up some progressive voices. But only if there’s something he can do that actually MEANS anything in the administration. Maybe he should get Dennis to do the Secretary of Health or whatever they call that job. (I don’t know what anything is anymore, since the shadow government that has developed since 2001).

Just a thought.

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By ZachP, November 7, 2008 at 9:01 pm Link to this comment

I agree Peter, Obama’s election is just the beginning.

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By Dan, November 7, 2008 at 8:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ve got to say I’m skeptical. I’m not saying that any real change can’t be implemented—actually, I think that Obama will be leagues more susceptible to that kind of pressure than the previous administration, which should enough to make anybody hopeful.

But the whole “grassroots” Obama movement wasn’t built on policy ideas or any substantive formation of what that change might be. It was a personality cult, more or less, built from economic desperation, backlash against the Republicans’ run at Washington, and idol worship. The kind of pressure that the government needs to actually bend isn’t going to come from them.

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By Peter Albertson, November 7, 2008 at 8:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ms. Goodman’s comments are very important and stimulating. I hope that enough people read it and understand that the fight is not over, that we have to lean on the charismatic president-elect Obama and struggle to make the critical things happen: out of Iraq soon, out of Afghanistan, a national health program not tied to the insurance companies, a large public works program to help us out of the fianncial morass, and new, strict rules for the financial industry.

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By thebeerdoctor, November 7, 2008 at 4:32 am Link to this comment

“Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now is the time for your tears.”
BOB DYLAN

http://www.alternet.org/workplace/106195/

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By Drew, November 7, 2008 at 12:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There’s an audio podcast now! Dang Amy does a good job at keeping up with the internet. Does anyone know the url to the audio podcast for this blog?

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By deviant, November 6, 2008 at 6:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

beerdoctor has a point. reality bites.

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By thebeerdoctor, November 6, 2008 at 5:30 pm Link to this comment

It just may be, considering the current state of this nation, that President-elect Obama could be much too busy to grease anyone’s wheels. Few realize what a mess this country is actually in. Barack Obama is about to find out.

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By Russian Paul, November 6, 2008 at 11:47 am Link to this comment

I think Amy’s got the right blend of optimism paired with realistic cynicism based on Obama’s campaign contributions. People will have to continue to push and protest for any actual “change” to come about…and I’m hoping it will.

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