Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What an historic day!

By Joel Wendland

This far away from the action, one can still feel a strong tension, the palpable sense that today is a very important day in our country's history. On this day, millions of people in 4 states will go to the polls to decide the Democratic nominee for president.

They very well could decide who will be the next president.

But giving such strong importance to a single day somewhat hides the true significance of this entire campaign season and the enormous changes that have been wrought on American politics.

It's like a football game. The interception in the fourth quarter might seem like the decisive moment in the game, but both teams play for 60 minutes. The entire game is full of decisive moments. And while we may be in the fourth quarter, the two minute warning is still coming.

Going back two years, one has to credit Howard Dean, no matter what you think of the Democratic Party, with a brilliant strategy. He riled up party insiders with his 50-state strategy. Many top DNC strategist wanted to focus only on the battleground states, sidelining the South and the Plains states. But Dean stuck with it and helped produce the 2006 change in Congress, as a recent article in The Nation reports.

Of course Bush incompetence and a people's upsurge were the decisive factors, but within Democratic circles Dean was given credit.

Party rules were enforced as some states reshuffled their primary dates, and so far every single state primary and caucus has been in play influencing the outcome of this nominating process (except for Michigan and Florida, who, anticipating a Clinton coronation jumped the gun and broke the rules in order to be a part of the action).

The idea of change, both as an Obama campaign slogan and as a democratic (small d) philosophical concept, caught on like wildfire. Pretty soon every candidate was saying it an acting as thought their decades in government had always been about "change."

Again, one should note the participation of record numbers of millions of people in voting, campaigning, and putting out their own uncensored propaganda via the Internet about the elections helped ensure all of the states would have a role. For example, videos by will.i.am (here and here) weren't made by the Obama campaign, but were viewed by at least 11 million people. A video produced by Amigos de Obama titled "Viva Obama" was not an Obama campaign item; just some guys in a garage that were inspired by Obama's message. The video has about 400,000 views.

The people have made this election, and most specifically Obama's campaign, into the phenomenon that it has become.

Tens of millions have already voted. People in Texas, in extremely conservative areas, have marched en masse to the voting sites to cast their ballots in that state's early voting process. The same in Ohio. People all over the country have joined the virtual and real phonebanks to call millions in the primary states. Others from neighboring states got on buses and traveled to primary states to knock on doors to talk with other voters about their candidates.

Then there are the candidates themselves.

When the Democratic race began, a field of candidates that look more like America than ever before emerged. They shared fairly consistent views on the need to end the war – a huge change from 2004. They all put forward some kind of plan to change the US health care system – some better than others. They all pledged to protect the rights of workers to join and organize unions and to remake the labor relations apparatus that Bush destroyed to ensure the health and safety of workers. They all adopted progressive positions on environmental issues, LGBT issues, civil rights, voting rights.

Indeed the Democratic candidates, unlike the candidates in 2004, postured as aggressive progressives ready to end the Bush-Republican era that dominated our government.

But soon three Democratic candidates stood out. Then two.

And while there are already claims coming from both the far left and the far right that all three remaining Democratic and Republican candidates are the same, that the electoral system is bunk, and that meaningless protest candidacies will impact the outcome, those claims will fall on deaf ears.

Only the hallucinations that come with wandering the desert of isolation could convince anyone that John "thousand years in Iraq" McCain is the same as Barack Obama, or as Hillary Clinton for that matter.

Yes, today is a very crucial moment. But the sea change, the people's upsurge is what has been decisive all along. And it holds out real democratic promise for our future.

It reminds me of what Cesar Chavez said in a speech in 1984: "Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore."

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