By Al Giordano
Today is Election Day in the United States and all activities should properly begin with a G and be followed by O, T and V. You know that already.
And between phone calls, door knocks, and shuttling people to the polls, and especially in those hours between polls closing and when the results come in, I wanted to give y’all something to think and talk about that - no matter what the election results will be - is going to fast become a long overdue national (and international) public conversation.
As Jon Stewart put it so well on Saturday, the real threat to democracy stands naked before us all: It’s the media.
There is nothing threatening about a free press, which is a wonderful thing, always. But the bought-and-paid-for “news organizations,” an entire system of them, the ones with that permanent “for rent” sign pasted to their foreheads - including the ones that claim to be on our side - now must be identified as Public Enemy number one, and dispensed with as such.
Elections come and go every couple or few years, depending on your country of residence, and entire industries are devoted to what Pat Cadell presciently labeled in 1976 as The Permanent Campaign. In fact, the considerable booty received by political consultants, pollsters, staffers, party bureaucrats and others in that genre is dwarfed by the financial rewards each election brings to the commercial media (and, sorry, bloggers that depend on advertising are also part of the commercial media, let’s end the charade right here and now). Most of the money raised for political candidates is spent on TV, radio, newspaper and Internet ads, as well as putting on the free show that media organizations can produce as “news” and use to rent your attention to advertisers.
Which is why I was, before it happened, skeptical about Saturday’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on the Washington Mall produced by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I enjoy both those guys and their TV shows well enough when I get the chance to see them. But after a couple years in which the so called “alternative media” – from “liberal” MSNBC hosts to “netroots” bloggers to the Huffington Post to state-run media that claim to be leftist or socialist or whatever in parts of Latin America and the world – have proved themselves to be as ugly and snarling and petty (and reckless with the truth) as Fox News, in that context, I was bracing myself for a huge disappointment with Stewart and Colbert’s rally.
Truth is, I had forgotten the Stewart-Colbert event was going to happen – it wasn’t that much on my mind - and had planned on spending a beautiful sunny Saturday away from the screen. Then I made the mistake of checking email Saturday morning and clicking a link and there it was, live streaming on C-Span, with Colbert playing the spastic Dean Martin role to Stewart’s Frank Sinatra.
I had already heard complaints from democracy’s best (maybe only) friends, community and field organizers, that Comedy Central’s scheduling of the rally would pull many attendees off the phone banks and door-to-door canvasses to get out the vote today. But what the hell, it must be good for a few laughs, and there I was, sucked, like so many others, into its vortex, another spectator among millions.
After all, I thought, Tuesday’s US elections might well go as badly as the media keeps telling us they will, so might as well look for something to laugh rather than cry about. And the Colbert-Stewart schtick on the Washington Mall was entertaining enough, and it was nice to be made to feel that folks like us are the real mainstream, and they got in some clever zingers exposing the hypocrisy not just of Fox News but of the wolves in sheep’s clothing that are the New York Times and National Public Radio. Hooray! But I still felt kind of empty about it, and annoyed with its timing, until at the end when Jon Stewart delivered “the speech.”
Stewart’s speech was a really important moment, and here is why I think so.
Now, I was just a kid when Sinatra premiered the Claude Francois, Jaques Revaux and Paul Anka-penned “My Way,” but I imagine that for the millions of us who watched Jon Stewart get serious and sincere on live TV on Saturday that it was probably, for many of us, a moment like that of a previous generation hearing the “I did it my way” anthem for the first time. It was historic, and it came by surprise from a stage that we did not expect it to come from.
In a few brief minutes, Stewart defined the real problem with politics, identified it as the neighborhood bully in the global village, and delivered a staggering left hook to its jaw. And the bully’s apologists and wannabes are still quite concussed and off balance. “Jon Stewart has met the enemy, and it’s the media,” fretted our fine feathered friends at Politico. And the hen house has been clucking ever since.
To wit, the predictably smarmy reaction from the New York Times:
The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear will be remembered, in part, as an expensive, engrossing act of media criticism.
Jon Stewart, the comedian who hosted the Comedy Central rally alongside Stephen Colbert, spoke about the press as an “immune system” for the country — one that he evidently thinks is extremely sick. His words echoed up and down the National Mall on Saturday afternoon. National Journal wound up wondering if the event should have been called the Rally to Restore Journalism.
Mr. Stewart has ventured into serious media criticism before on “The Daily Show” and in appearances on CNN and Fox News. But Saturday’s comments were notable because hundreds of journalists were in attendance, standing on a press riser near the stage and interviewing rallygoers in the crowd.
The media’s flaws also came up time and time again in the crowd…
An “expensive, engrossing act of media criticism” they called it (as if putting out a single day’s edition of the boring and status quo chasing NY Times isn’t at least as expensive and engrossing as Comedy Central’s Saturday afternoon gathering of hundreds of thousands of its closest friends). Anyway, the Times had banned its employees from attending the rally, which earned it one of Colbert’s “fear awards” handed out during the event.
The aforementioned National Journal story said:
Maybe it's a good thing many mainstream journalists weren't allowed to attend the "Rally to Restore Sanity." They wouldn't be the most popular people there.
For, in a protest against a culture of yelling, journalists are drawing much of the ire...
The Christian Science Monitor – no longer a hard copy newspaper but, rather, an exclusively online rag, which probably makes it a bit more sensitized to new realities of media, engaged in some pre-rally navel gazing:
If you thought the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear ” coming up on Oct. 30 in Washington was just a date for some good laughs and maybe hot entertainment, think again. It is also shaping up as yet another event in the ongoing dialogue about where journalism is headed in the brave world of new media, where points of view are welcome.
I’m always amazed at these graduates of the “the best journalism schools” who misunderstand it all. They seem to think that the conflict is between journalists who can disclose our opinions and those who think they can’t. The real conflict is between those who seek the to involve the people in discovering the whole truth, and those pursuing ratings and advertising or sponsors, who think they are somehow a caste above the plebes. But, anyway...
Well, enough of what the recipients of Stewart’s critique have to say. Let’s listen or read together to much of what Stewart actually said that has so many of their panties – I’m winkin’ at you, Keith Olbermann – in a bunch. Stewart said:
I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.
But unfortunately one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic.
If we amplify everything we hear nothing…
The press is our immune system. If we overreact to everything we actually get sicker--and perhaps eczema.
And yet, with that being said, I feel good—strangely, calmly good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun house mirror, and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass shaped like a month old pumpkin and one eyeball.
So, why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is—on the brink of catastrophe—torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day!
The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live our values and principles form the foundations that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do—often something that they do not want to do—but they do it--impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises that we all make.
Look on the screen. This is where we are. This is who we are.
(Stewart then uses a large video screen as a visual prop, showing an aerial view of what looks like an entrance to the Holland or Lincoln tunnels that connect New Jersey with New York and a four lane highway narrowing into two lanes as traffic enters the tunnel.)
These cars—that’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high. He’s going to work. There’s another car-a woman with two small kids who can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, swinging, I don’t even know if you can see it—the lady’s in the NRA and she loves Oprah. There’s another car—an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear—often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.
And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile long 30 foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river. Carved, by the way, by people who I’m sure had their differences. And they do it. Concession by conscession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go. Then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s okay—you go and then I’ll go.
And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst.
Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.
If you want to know why I’m here and want I want from you, I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted.
Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you.
Our friend Tom Watson’s response was to playfully tag Stewart as America’s First Jewish President, which has a nice ring to it. And in the sense that a significant sector of society is finally coming to the long overdue conclusion that media is the central problem of our times could be defined as a nation, of sorts, or a shared state of mind, Stewart certainly gave voice to the one problem the media won’t and can’t honestly address: Itself. It took a “comedy” commentator to be able to talk plainly and matter-of-factly about it.
And now I understood why Stewart called and produced the rally: He is thinking beyond this news cycle (“election day” and its consequences) and toward what, tonight and tomorrow, comes next.
In 1996, I wrote:
Media now controls a new economic order: one that has supplanted governments, churches and productive industry to impose a mediating tyranny over people and our Daily Lives.
Among the 30,000 words I penned for that essay, were these:
The public is angry, of course, but Media channels our hostility toward each other, as groups and market niches, instead of against the overall phenomena of Middlemen and their mediating technologies. Ah but we notice at fissure in its vessel: Media has programmed us well to seek scapegoats, and has test-marketed every scapegoat upon us except itself.
Everything we’ve created since, for the past 14 years, from Narco News to the School of Authentic Journalism to The Field, has been building and preparing for public opinion to find its voice on the problem of media, helping to inform it when we can, and constructing these laboratories to invent and test what we, the people, can do to replace the media and make it less powerful over our daily lives. And we’ve risen up a small army or network of like-minded authentic journalists across international lines, many of whom are conducting their own experiments and inventions. We suffer from a perpetual lack of resources (okay, that is sugar-coating it: we live in abject poverty, many of us in the so-called “third world”) and generally those who already have plenty of money are disinterested, or too dependent on maintaining good relations with big media themselves, or outright hostile to the suggestion that the whole “news media” show needs to be blown up and something new created from the ground up. But we don't complain. We'd rather be here than there.
Back in 2007, when I was reporting on the Obama campaign and its resurrection of community organizing as a political tool, I was very impressed with its “Camp Obama,” in which tens of thousands of mostly young people from every demographic in the US were trained in its fine but then forgotten arts. And I suggested to the big guns of Obama’s political organization – David Plouffe, David Axelrod, at the time Marshall Ganz - that they expand the concept to also start a kind of “Obama Media Camp” training program and form an army of independent video makers, reporters and communicators in all forms of media to construct a counterforce to the dominant media discourse. After all, its something we had already invented through The School of Authentic Journalism, it works, and if applied on a mass grassroots level, a political movement would no longer be dependent on or victim of the very different and often hostile operating procedures of commercial media. They were busy with other things, understandably, but I bet that, after today’s elections, they’ll wish they had done something like that.
Every grassroots citizen movement in every country has to start building its own media, now, urgently, immediately, to have a fighting chance at defining itself and its message before public opinion, or big media will continue pummeling the hope and inspiration out of everyone.
And that’s why Jon Stewart’s message on Saturday came at the exact opportune moment in history, because starting tonight, more and more people in the United States and elsewhere are going to realize that the problem in our cultures is much bigger than mere politics. The broken political systems are mere symptoms of what Stewart described when he observed: “The press is our immune system. If we overreact to everything we actually get sicker.” Every time I have written against panic and “Chicken Little” approaches to politics, it has been from that same instinct: that overreaction makes its practitioners not only useless as change agents, but also unattractive and unappealing to the great mass of people out here who we need to organize and convince to get almost anything real done.
After the success of Stewart and Colbert’s rally (plenty of credit should also go Colbert’s way because he so artfully plays the “insane” role that allows Stewart to effectively play the voice of “sanity”), a lot of folks in the media, especially those who market themselves as “alternative” media, will be acting as if they are enthusiastic supporters of Stewart’s message while they continue behaving like “liberal” versions of Fox News (which is why I’m kind of relieved to see Keith Olbermann’s Twitter outburst, “It wasn't a big shark but Jon Stewart jumped one just now with the ‘everybody on The cable is the same’ naiveté,” inadvertently demonstrating the truth of what the MSNBC host was denying).
Sorry, Keith (and Arianna, and even my once-and-future little brothers Markos and Nate, there is still a place for you all among the people when you decide to go for broke instead of going for the money, and we'll all welcome you back with open arms). It doesn’t matter who plays the token liberal roles on TeeVee or newspapers or magazines or radio or the Internet as long as y’all are playing the same ratings and advertising driven game; drumming up the outrage and the poutrage, making every pothole seem like an earthquake, desperately trying to hang on to a public that is evidently tuning out on all that. It is the game board itself that has to be torn up and something else altogether invented from the bottom up to replace it.
And I know that a great many of the millions who saw Stewart’s sincere remarks Saturday live from the Washington Mall, or since, “get” that at the most profound level. The question of what we now do about it is one we have been asking and answering for ten years from this web address and out beyond it in the realm of daily life. And Stewart has opened up a hole in the media system that we can and must now jackhammer, fracture and make bigger in order to drive a stake through its heartless pacemaker.
Saturday was a heroic moment for Jon Stewart, who may yet disappoint us, still, but for now is on fire, and good on him. All props to him and his team, a Sinatra Rat Pack for our times. And I’m reminded of Aunt May’s speech to Peter Parker in Spider Man 2, on point:
Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they'll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them how to hold on a second longer. I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams...
I have a feeling that was what Jon Stewart’s words meant for a lot of people on Saturday, and since. And starting Wednesday, the organizing begins anew to do something big about it, to make and be the change we might not have made electorally in 2010. We have it in our collective power to organize something really, truly, authentically historic, to make history once again: To get this yoke of “the media” off our necks. Never mind the scoreboard at the end of a single Election Day. Elections come and go. It’s the other 360-something days a year when we really control our destinies or not. Elections are important. There is no denying it. But every single other day and night of the year has import, too. Let’s keep perspective, and never panic. Yes, we will. And we shall overcome.
By Al Giordano
You may have heard that Democrats have a problem this November and are at risk of losing control of the US Congress in Tuesday's elections. Whose fault is that? I’m going to tell you the whole truth even though many of you won’t like hearing it: If the House goes down, it’s going to be the fault of white people.
No, I’m not talking about Republicans or Tea Party bigots. I’m talking about white Democrats and liberals who don’t turn out to vote in midterm elections. Hey liberal pundits and bloggers: We have met the enemy and it is us. Look no farther than the mirror to find a scapegoat for next Tuesday’s electoral debacle if it happens.
With Nate Silver predicting a 52 vote swing in the US House to the Republican side (39 are needed to change the party in power) and the Cook Report estimating GOP gains of 48 to 60 seats, and Jay Cost saying it could be way more than 60, and lots of chatter about an “enthusiasm gap” in which Republican voters will turn out in bigger numbers while enough Democrats stay home to throw them the US House gavel, I can’t find any data (except in California, where Democrats are going to be just fine; and that’s good for Democrats, because California has the most US House seats, 53, of any state) to demonstrate otherwise. In other words, I’m saying they’re probably right, and the Democrats have only one Hail Mary pass left and its name is Organizing for America. And if the day is saved it is OfA and its army of volunteers - that might be you - that will deserve all the credit and none of the blame if it goes the other way.
I had hoped to be able to identify the 20 or 30 key Congressional Districts in play this year and wrap them up neatly for you here. The problem is that even now, just six days out, there are as many as 100 districts in play (yes, if everything goes wrong for Democrats all at once, Tuesday could be a massacre nearing those proportions): roughly one out of every five districts and almost half of all US House Democrats are at some risk (in fact, it is about half of all Democratic seats outside of California that could be in play).
Pundits are wondering aloud why it is that the Democrats can be in such danger of losing the House, but appear to be on the verge of maintaining a Senate majority. They tend to settle on, “well, Senate races are more personality driven,” and to a limited extent that is true. But here is the real reason why Democratic Senators are safer next Tuesday than so many Democratic US House members: Congressional districting.
Every ten years state legislatures are given the new census numbers and told how many US House seats their state will have, and are then charged with drawing a new map to reflect population shifts so that all Congressional Districts have roughly the same size of population. And in general, district lines are drawn to create black districts, white districts and, increasingly, Hispanic districts. And African American leaders and organizations are all for this because they get more Congressional representation by members of their demographic group. And white leaders and organizations are all for this because they get to have districts where their politicians don’t even have to shake many black people’s hands, much less attend to the needs and demands of that (more organized) sector of the American citizenry. And everybody in power is happy with this deal – courts have even backed it up – until, perhaps, now, when it is going to have a real impact.
But back to the Senate contests: Why are enough Democratic US Senate seats likely to remain Democratic while in those very same states US House seats are going to the GOP? It’s because they can’t redistrict state lines to separate the whites and the blacks. And those who blab on about an “enthusiasm gap” between Democrats and Republicans obviously talk only to white folks, because among African-Americans there is no lack enthusiasm or voter participation. If anything, they’re more enthusiastic to turn out and vote this year than Republicans and tea baggers. And since African-Americans are the reliable core of the Democratic “base vote,” white liberal pundits and bloggers who whine that “Obama hasn’t fired up the base” obviously have the same problem a lot of white politicians have in that they don’t have much exposure to black folks in daily life. They certainly don’t have a clue as to who makes up “the Democratic base.” The biggest demographic sector of “the base” is already fired up and ready to vote. So who is not as likely to vote? Young white people, mostly; those cell phone voters we identified last week in California who are likely turning out there because Proposition 19 to legalize and tax marijuana is on the ballot, but who don’t exactly identify with the political culture of Washington of which Democratic politicians, like Republicans, too often resemble wind-up Ken and Barbie dolls with strings pulled by lobbyists and special interests. They look the same, they sound the same, and they say the same empty phrases over and over again whenever their strings are pulled.
These folks turned out in record numbers in 2008 because presidential candidate Barack Obama didn’t look or sound the same. And he’s still different, and still popular (more popular than Reagan or Clinton were at this point in their first terms) and no matter how it goes down on Tuesday he’ll likely still be reelected in 2012, because then everybody will turn out to vote.
With only one exception I can think of, virtually all the Democratic House members going down on Tuesday represent predominantly white districts outside of California. Congressional redistricting has literally zoned them out of representation of African-American voters. Thus, there is no cavalry coming to rescue them if you can't or won't do it.
But if Democrat Joe Sestak suddenly pulls off a surprise victory in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, it will be because the 9.6 percent of that state’s population that is African-American rescued him. And if Alex Giannoulias pulls out a come-from-behind victory to become the junior Senator from Illinois, that will be because the 14.6 percent of that state’s population that is African-American put him over the top. If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid survives, guess who will have saved his ass? The 6.4 percent of Nevadans who are African-American, voting in bigger numbers than their actual per capita of the population. Senator Russ Feingold: the 5.4 percent of the people you represent in Wisconsin may be your last hope, too. They're turning out to vote. It's the rest of the citizenry that poses a problem.
Democratic Senators Patty Murray in Washington state, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Michael Bennett in Colorado, and US Senate candidate Paul Hodes in New Hampshire – all in states where African-Americans make up less than five percent of the vote – will only win if young white and Hispanic voters get their butts to the polls on Tuesday. (And, frankly, Sestak, Giannoulias, Reid and Feingold need plenty of that kind of help too.) Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer in California is likely going to get reelected because the marijuana referendum will pull enough young voters to the polls (and also because the 6.1 percent of her state’s population that is African-American will turn out in big numbers).
For the Democratic Senate and House candidates in overwhelmingly white states and districts, the last and only hope is the ground war: that their field organizations and that of Organizing for America can drag enough first time voters from 2008 and other young and Hispanic folks who don’t usually vote in midterm elections and get them to the ballot box (or bring the mail-in ballot to them). Organizing for America is targeting these potential voters and also you. They want you to help make seven million phone calls this week, something, they remind, that you can do from home or work and they’ll set you up with the list, the script or even invite you to a phone bank location in your area where you can do it together with other interesting people like you who aren’t just sitting around complaining and worrying.
There is no doubt that Democrats will suffer losses next Tuesday. Almost always, the party in the White House loses some Congressional seats during the midterms. That’s the contrary nature of so much of the American electorate: If I can’t find my socks this morning, it’s the fault of the party in power. But whether Tuesday is the electoral blow-out that so many in the media are predicting, or closer to a normal midterm result, is not up to Obama, and will not be because of “what Obama did or didn’t do,” and anybody who comes around next Wednesday or beyond trying to sell that used car will get interrogated from this corner: How many phone calls did you personally make? How many voters did you personally turn out? Hit the phones, or pound sand. Armchair presidents need not apply. Between now and Tuesday, we’re all Mr. and Mrs. President. That’s how democracy was designed to work. The only missed opportunity this week will be your own.
By Al Giordano
Throughout the 2008 presidential primaries and election I frequently cited polls by SurveyUSA, or SUSA, as the ones that best helped me to be able to pick the winner in 51 out of 55 primary contests and 51 out of 54 Electoral College entities in November. I don’t know if SUSA provided the most accurate polling or not, but I consider their reports to be the most detailed and transparent, with plenty of demographic data to extract with which to be able to see the deeper currents and undertows beneath the up-and-down horse race numbers.
SUSA’s poll results this week showing a narrow (48 to 44 percent) lead for California’s Proposition 19 – to legalize and tax marijuana – actually reveals more of a mixed bag for the referendum’s proponents than many presume, and I’ll explain exactly what is going on in a moment, but first I wanted to draw attention to something the pollsters wrote in their own analysis: That some Democratic party candidates in California – we’re lookin’ at you Senator Barbara Boxer – are going to win or lose based on whether Proposition 19 pulls enough infrequent voters to the polls. And this is paradoxical because Boxer is among the many Democrats who have voiced opposition to Prop 19, and the lessons that come out of November 2 will ring her bell and go all the way up to the White House and into the 2012 election cycle.
SUSA titles its analysis, “Some Evidence That California's Marijuana Tail is Wagging Barbara Boxer's Dog; Voters Without Home Phones, Voters Focused on Decriminalization, May Tip Senate.” In sum, the pollsters have identified the key factor in Boxer’s contest vs. Republican Carly Fiorina, who leads narrowly with 46 percent over 44 percent for the incumbent. By looking separately at voters who only use cell phones, those who have both cell and home phones, and those only with home telephones, SUSA has found significant differences in the voting intentions of the cell phone-only citizens and the rest. It is no secret to young people (of all ages) who use cell phones exclusively that they are culturally distinct from land liners in ways that extend beyond hardware preferences.
Nomadic, and on the move, more reliant on the Internet than the television for their news intake, they’re the future of the United States. And they’re also a lot more multi-racial – and more actively defy societal apartheids - than the rest of the population. OMG! Wait… wait… see that little light bulb popping on over our heads? By Jove, I think we get it! Those are the 2008 first time Obama voters, duh! And getting them to vote in the midterm elections is the biggest headache that the White House and the Democratic party has right now leading up to November 2.
But it is less of a headache in California this year, precisely because Proposition 19 is on the ballot. And not only because many youngsters want cheaper, cleaner and safer access to marijuana: Younger African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and others who don’t smoke pot at all but have grown up with the experience of being hassled by police and searched “for drugs” know first hand that the drug war is a cruel scam that is, at least in part, intended to keep them down and put them in prison and on parole. It puts them at a disadvantage in the competition for jobs and careers and opens them to more discrimination in every realm of life. They know that white folks use most of the drugs, but they and their family members are the ones being sent to jail for it. Before we look at age and race as factors in the upcoming vote, let’s first look at the voter tendencies among cell phone users vs. land liners:
As you can see, 62 percent of those who exclusively use cell phones (labeled "CPO, liv") will vote to legalize and tax marijuana while only 29 percent oppose it. They’re just seven percent of the potential electorate, but whether they vote or not makes them the proverbial “swing voters” of 2010, and not just in California.
Now lets look at preferences by age (and, yes, I’m getting to the lesson for everyone in US politics, but especially for Democrats, before these words are done) and by race:
As you can see, among California “hippies” (ha ha, have a sense of humor, Gramps), the 50-64 age group, marijuana legalization enjoys a 48 percent to 40 percent lead, but it’s among voters under the age of 34 where Proposition 19 gets the margin of victory it needs to push it over the top: 59 percent of those voters favor the ballot question to just 33 percent against. Elderly folks are the biggest obstacle for the referendum, with 57 percent against to just 37 percent in favor.
Meanwhile, all racial groups – white, black, Hispanic – except, according to this poll, for Asian-Americans (and at 12 percent of the survey – about 73 respondents – that stat is likely from a survey sample not large enough to get an accurate reading) favor Prop 19, with the highest margin of victory among Hispanic Californians. Since demographically they are younger than the rest of the population, I would venture that age has at least as much to do with that result as race does. Those numbers also confirm something I’ve talked to the organizers of Prop 19 about since the effort began: That they must avoid making the same mistake as opponents of Proposition 8 (the illegal ban on gay marriage) in 2008 did: that Prop 19 needed a much more aggressive community organizing and field campaign among blacks and Hispanics. These numbers, and the moves I’ve watched them make over the past year, indicate that they are aggressively campaigning across all racial lines. And if Proposition 19 wins, that will be the number one reason why it triumphed.
Now, onto some more interesting numbers from the same SUSA survey, which bring us back to the larger question-of-the-month in all United States politics and elections:
Most Democrats and Independents favor marijuana legalization. Most Republicans oppose it. Most moderates and liberals favor Prop 19. Most conservatives oppose it. Most people who dislike the “Tea Party” will vote yes, while most who like it (and a smaller group, noted) will vote no. It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science or in polling to see the overlap between Proposition 19’s constituency and that of the Democratic Party and its future.
It is on this point that SurveyUSA mines the data and states what ought to be obvious. “Much learning out of California,” they note, with considerable understatement:
United States Senator Barbara Boxer,Democrat, nominally trails Republican Carly Fiorina among California likely voters interviewed on their home telephones, but, among voters who do not have a home telephone, and who were interviewed by SurveyUSA on their cellphone, Boxer leads 2:1. When the two groups are proportionally blended, SurveyUSA pegs it as Boxer 46%, Fiorina 44%, very much within the survey's theoretical margin of sampling error, and still too close to call, but indicative of how important voters without home phones are if Boxer is to hold her Senate seat, and, as fate may have it, if Democrats are to keep majority control of the United States Senate.”
Then, the pollsters ask aloud: “What's the Tail and What's the Dog Here?” Well, well... guess which dog is soon going to finally have its day:
“SurveyUSA includes a question designed to see if those who rarely vote in congressional elections, but who tell SurveyUSA they are uniquely motivatedto vote in 2010, are voting Republican. One theory underlying much of the 2010 campaign narrative is that Republicans are uniquely motivated, Democrats uniquely dispirited. In other geographies, this question produces expected learning: uniquely motivated 2010 voters are in fact more Republican than habitual midterm voters.
“In California, the opposite. Uniquely motivated 2010 voters are more Democratic, turning a 4-point Democratic advantage among habitual voters in the race for Governor into the 7-point Democratic advantage that SurveyUSA reports here; turning a 2-point Democratic advantage among habitual voters in the Lieutenant Governor's contest into the 6-point Democratic advantage SurveyUSA reports here, and turning a 2-point advantage for "Yes" on marijuana into the 4-point "Yes" advantage that SurveyUSA reports here. But in the Senate contest: the incumbent Democrat trailsby 4 points among habitual voters, and nominally leads by the 2 points that SurveyUSA reports here only when these uniquely motivated voters are included….”
And here comes the money quote:
“Subject to the limitations of a small sample size, the data may suggest that what is uniquely motivating Californians is marijuana. Uniquely motivated voters vote 7:4 to decriminalize marijuana. The even smaller subset of uniquely motivated voters interviewed on a cellphone is voting 12:1 ‘Yes’ on marijuana. Are the ‘Yes’ on marijuana voters the tail wagging Barbara Boxer's dog?This is more plausible to SurveyUSA than the reverse, which would be that 3-term incumbent Boxer has a unique tractor-beam in 2010 that is drawing to the polls otherwise disaffected voters who just happen to be pushing Proposition 19 over the top.”
(Emphasis in bold text added by The Field.)
Interestingly enough, Boxer opposes Proposition 19. So does former and future Governor Jerry Brown (considering that his nickname back in the seventies and eighties was “Governor Moonbeam” for his Zen proclivities, it’s disappointing to watch his anti-Prop 19 charade with a straight face). And when I see Attorney General Eric Holder and drug czar Gil Kerlikowske embarrass themselves with anti-Prop 19 posturing – given that the data shows that highly motivated Prop 19 supporters are the Democrats’ only ace left to save the California senate seat, and what that implies for the rest of the country in 2012 – I have to wonder aloud whether this is the usual fear-motivated political posturing on the part of these Democrats or a more calculated strategy to hope Prop 19 loses narrowly in order to have it on the ballot again two years from now and bring the new “swing voter” back to the ballot box again. If that is the hidden agenda, it is a risky one, not one that I would recommend, because if Prop 19 goes down this year there are going to be a lot of pissed off reform votes out there, some of whom remember when the words "tea party" had other connotations.
Already there is talk in high Democratic Party circles of seeding many state ballots with marijuana legalization referenda in 2012 to boost turnout of these cell phone voters. It's about time the Democrats had a great "wedge issue" in the culture wars, and Prop 19 is introducing it to the nation. What these numbers out of California are demonstrating is that had that been done this year in more key states, Democrats would not be in such high danger of losing the US House of Representatives. Outside of California, these cell phone-toting mobile voters are not likely to vote in such high numbers, and that will make the difference between defeat and victory in many Congressional districts and some Senate seats, too. Campaign managers, Democratic National Committeepersons, political consultants and Organizing for America operatives are pulling their hair out in 49 states of the union trying to drag unmotivated voters to the polls. Prop 19 – whether it wins or loses – is now Senator Boxer’s only hope of reelection. Because she sure ain’t motivating this emerging force in US politics we’ll call cell phone voters, even if most of those that do vote will hold their noses and pull a lever for her.
Here is, also, a word of caution to Proposition 19 proponents and drug policy reformers nationwide who are reading the polls too optimistically and counting their votes before they are cast: The SUSA poll, while it shows the “yes” vote in a narrow lead, also reveals some weaknesses for the referendum’s chances. Among those Californians who had already voted – a whopping 19 percent of the projected electorate – Proposition 19 is losing with 47 percent to 50 percent against it. Thus, it is an open question just how "motivated" Prop 19 supporters will be over the next ten days.
The highest undecided groups are African-Americans (16 percent undecided), people 50-64 (probably some tea partiers in that group, too) and women (12 percent). There is probably considerable overlap in those three groups, too: a large number of African-American women over fifty years old, and women in general over 50, are the most uncertain constituencies here, and Prop 19 proponents need an aggressive final push over the next ten days to convince them. They also need an Obama ’08 style Get Out the Vote (GOTV) ground game to actually get the cell phone voters to vote on and before November 2. In the early balloting, they haven’t done that job well enough yet. The good news is, that Organizing for America - the 2010 version of the 2008 Obama field organization - does have a GOTV army and will also be pulling the California cell phone voters by the ear, tantalizing them with Prop 19 on the ballot, no matter what the Attorney General or "drug czar" say from Washington. Cabinet members do not now, and never will, rule the ground. ¡Olé!
The best case scenario for Democrats, however, is not that Prop 19 loses and comes up again in California in 2012, but to the contrary: If the historic Proposition 19 passes, the pundits and talking heads that generate the misnamed “conventional wisdom” in the Washington DC beltway will be falling all over each other to note that Prop 19 won and it pulled Boxer out of the fire with it. If coming out of Election Night, Prop 19 emerges with the sheen of a newly-minted winner, Democratic strategists will have little choice but to adopt a “50 state strategy” (especially in the 26 states - Maine, Massachusetts, and virtually everything west of the Mississippi River - that have citizen generated statewide ballot initiative processes), and go “all in” on legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana, even if their politicians continue to balk at saying it aloud. And if you’re a Democratic (or Republican) politician that doesn’t yet see the writing on the wall, remember how most of you were wrong (or late) in your predictions two and three years ago, and that "Yes, We Can" means "Yes, We Cannabis," too.
Update: Prop 19 proponents continue to make the right moves (as recommended above). I just received an advisory that the NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance are holding a press conference tomorrow in Oakland, featuring Alice Huffman, President, California NAACP State Conference, Stephen Gutwillig, State Director, Drug Policy Alliance, Major Neill Franklin, Executive Director, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Danny Glover, Actor, Richard Lee, President, Oaksterdam University, Robert Rooks, Director, Criminal Justice, National NAACP and Dr. Jocelyn Elders, Former Surgeon General, to release a new report, “Arresting Blacks for Marijuana in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-08.”
Not only is that a good campaign move, but it tells an important truth, too.
By Al Giordano
Hey everyone! Remember Katie Halper, who co-piloted The Field's 2008 convention coverage? Last February she attended the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico and keeps doing great work, day in, day out.
Anyway, she's produced this new Get Out the Vote video for the November 2 election in the US, and its been entered into a contest and you can vote for it by clicking this link. Go there, scroll down to the first video. Watch. Laugh out loud. And click that check mark in the upper right corner box. See? It's just like voting! Actually, it literally is an act of voting.
One of the reasons I've had no predictions for you yet for the Congressional midterm elections is that even now, two weeks out, it is very hard to tell who or how many are going to vote. And that is what is going to decide stuff like which party controls which House of Congress. But Lordy, if folks spent half the time they spend teeth gnashing over what could happen and speculating on the consequences and instead put yourselves to work actually making phone calls and knocking on doors and dragging others to the polls - or deploying your other talents, as Katie has done here, to inspire the fun people to vote - there would be a very different and better result on election day. There is no use complaining that big money interests rule the airwaves if while doing so you are forfeiting your power to rule the ground!
From here on out, my response to those great many who come worrying to me over worst-case scenarios for election day is going to be, "Shut Up and GOTV."
Meanwhile, you can practice actually voting by heading over to vote for Katie's video. Thank you.
Note by Al Giordano: During Thursday's coverage of events in Ecuador, we accepted on face value that it was an attempted coup d'etat and saw the same international forces behind the 2009 Honduras coup involved in these events. Now that the immediate dangers have subsided is the moment to reflect more deeply as to what occurred and why.
We also defended Ecuador's most important coalition of social movements, the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE, in its Spanish initials) from a vicious smear and innuendo campaign against it by North Americans like Eva Golinger, Jean-Guy Allard,
and on her Twitter feed, Naomi Klein(see correction down below) who recklessly accused the indigenous women and men of the CONAIE of being agents of imperialism and recipients of funds from US AID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
In subsequent days, waving extremely flimsy and half-stated "evidence," Golinger and Allard have pressed their crusade to discredit the CONAIE further in a series of articles high on rhetoric and rumor and low on factual content or proof. If this is to become a duel of credibility and honesty between these gringo and Canadian voices and the dignified ones of the CONAIE, we give far more benefit of the doubt to those Ecuadorean voices who have proved for two decades that they hold the interests of their own country and their own peoples high and proud and who have effectively organized and struggled and continue to win real results.
We furthermore consider the efforts by Golinger et al against the good people of the CONAIE to themselves be a form of North American imperialism and view it necessary to call it what it is: dishonesty based on the imperatives of political expediency and worship at the altar of State power. McCarthyism and Stalinism were always two faces on the same coin, after all. Each make their lists, invent false charges, distort the whole truth, as they seek to purge, destroy and silence debate and dissent.
In recent days, Narco News reporters have been interviewing social movement leaders from throughout the hemisphere on the issues raised by this breach and a detailed report airing different perspectives is forthcoming.
Today, the CONAIE categorically refuted the accusations made against it as false, and responded in this public statement, which we now translate for English-language readers. To be continued...
The Alleged Coup d’Etat, Democracy, and the Indigenous Organizations
By Marlon Santi
We, the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE, in its Spanish initials) and the Pachakutik Bloc, in response to the events of September 30, 2010, and the claims made in recent days about the alleged support by USAID-NED to indigenous organizations, standing firmly on our historic process of bringing about a true Pluri-national State, announce:
The struggle of the peoples and nationalities is not an individual one, rather, it corresponds to the collective dream of constructing a diverse country, inclusive of the diverse popular and social organized sectors that seek a real change to end the old neoliberal, exploitative structures and the decolonization of the institutions of the State. We seek a pluri-national democracy, respectful of the rights of individuals, of collective organizations and of nature.
We energetically announce that there never was any attempted coup d’etat, much less a kidnapping, but an event that responded to the uncertain political management of the government that causes popular discontent through permanent aggression, discrimination and violations of human rights consecrated in the Constitution.
We do not recognize this dictatorial “democracy” because of its lack of freedom of speech, the kidnapping of all the powers of the state by the executive branch in its political system of one government, that does not generate spaces to debate the projects, and laws elaborated from the indigenous movement and other social sectors.
We categorically refute claims that the CONAIE, the Pachakutik Political Movement, the peoples and nationalities have any relationship at all with the organism known as USAID, previously NED, not today nor ever. To the contrary, we know that this organization finances the “social programs” of this government like the forest partnership and that, yes, is condemnable.
We demand the constitutional suspension of the National Congress for its failure to comply with the constitutional mandate that it legislate much less audit as it is well known that all laws are approved by the president’s legal minister.
We condemn the usurpation of press freedom when on September 30 all media not allied with the government was forced to broadcast government news in “cadena nacional,” a means by which all access to information is controlled and manipulated with a version of the facts that does not inform about the real dimensions of the situation on that day in the country.
Quito, Ecuador, October 6, 2010
Government of the Peoples and Nationalities,
Update and Correction: A reader, Dawn Paley, writes us:
Hi Al,In your post yesterday on Narco News, you wrote that on her Twitter feed, Naomi Klein "recklessly accused the indigenous women and men of the CONAIE of being agents of imperialism and recipients of funds from US AID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)."I've carefully reviewed Naomi's twitter feed from that day and following days, and she did no such thing. On the contrary, she repeatedly challenged Golinger's position.I hope that you'll correct this error as soon as possible.thanks,Dawn Paley
By Al Giordano
Oh, crap. Another year, another coup in Latin America. And while today's attempt by police forces in Ecuador went so far as to fire tear gas at elected president Rafael Correa, the military brass in the South American country have sided with the democratic order - its top general is on TV right now strongly backing the elected government - and this one isn't likely to go as well for the anti-democracy forces as last year's did in Honduras.
First, because the Ecuadorean people are far more advanced in social and community organization than their counterparts in Honduras were last year. Second, because the events last year in Honduras caused other center-left governments in the hemisphere to prepare for what everybody saw would be more coup attempts against them in more countries.
Additionally, we can expect in the coming hours that the police leaders responsible for todays events - you don't need to understand Spanish to get a pretty good idea of what went down this morning by watching the above video - will be rounded up and brought to justice, as would happen in any other country, including the United States.
But, kind reader, do you know why this is even happening? Because the same unholy alliance of Latin American oligarchs who can't stomach the rising wave of democracy in their countries - from the ex-Cubans of Miami to the ex-Venezuelans and others who have joined them in recent years - along with international crime organizations seeking new refuges and members of extreme rightist groups in the United States and elsewhere, saw their scheme work in 2009 in Honduras and took note of how quickly, after US President Barack Obama denounced the Honduras coup, his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began playing both sides of it.
It was this newspaper, through reporter Bill Conroy's investigations, that broke the story last August that the State Department-controlled Millennium Challenge Corporation had poured extraordinary amounts of money into Honduras in the months leading up to the June 29, 2009 coup d'etat. And in story after story, we demonstrated with documented fact how Clinton's Millennium Challenge Corporation went so far as to violate the ban on US aid to the Honduran coup regime. Clinton's later endorsement of farcical presidential elections and her over-reaching attempts to pretend nothing had happened in Honduras are precisely the signals that were received by today's coup plotters in Ecuador when they made a run at toppling the democratic government there.
At present, thankfully, the coup in Ecuador seems more likely to fail than to succeed. And there will be hell to pay for those behind it. But it didn't have to get that far. That only happened because, last year, the US Secretary of State pulled off a kind of "silent coup" in US foreign policy while her commander in chief was buried with the urgent domestic tasks stemming off economic collapse and, as everyone knows, small nations get little attention almost always anyway.
This time, the White House would do well to put a much shorter leash on its Secretary of State, because her horrendous and unforgivable anti-democratic behavior regarding the Honduras coup only fueled, and continues to fuel, understandable speculation that if the United States doesn't walk its talk about opposing coups d'etat, then it must have been an active participant in plotting it. The mishandling of the Honduras situation last year did lasting damage to President Obama's stated hopes to turn the page in US relations with its closest neighbors after decades of abuse and neglect. A single misstep by Secretary Clinton today and in the future regarding the events in Ecuador, like those she repeatedly made regarding Honduras, now that the hemispheric coup plotters have moved from Central America to larger South America, will further erode the cause of democracy in the entire hemisphere. I don't trust her. Nobody south of the border does. And nor should you, Mr. President.
Update: Narco News has translated today's Statement from the Office of President Rafael Correa.
Update II: If it holds, this will be the first time in the history of the hemisphere that the Armed Forces of a country stood up against a coup d'etat from the first moment. Now, that would be democracy at work.
Update III: The situation in Ecuador today is further complicated by the disillusion that the very social forces that elected President Correa have with his actions in office. The CONAIE (Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) is the leading national indigenous movement with strong alliances with labor and other social forces) held a press conference today to say that it is neither with the police forces nor with President Correa. The CONAIE and its hundreds of thousands of participants is not only responsible for Correa's election, but its mobilizations caused the rapid-fire resignations of previous presidents of Ecuador in this century.
The situation thus also shines a light on the growing rift in the hemisphere between the statist left and the indigenous left and related autonomy and labor movements. The CONAIE is basically saying to Correa, "you want our support, then enact the agenda you were elected on." Whether one sees this as a dangerous game of brinkmanship or something that actually strengthens Correa's hand by placing him in the middle zone ideologically, it is worth seeing this at face value and beware of getting led astray by some of the usual suspect conspiracy theorists of the statist left who are predictably out there barking that the CONAIE is somehow an agent of imperialism, dropping rumors of US AID funding but never seeming to exhibit the hard evidence. Sigh. What Johnny-One-Notes! They wouldn't know nuance if it slapped them in the face. For them, you either line up lock-step with THE STATE (if it is "their" state) or you're a running dog of capitalism. That kind of Stalinist purge mentality should have died with the previous century.
The CONAIE's grievances happen to be very legitimate. Of course, they do not justify a coup d'etat, but the CONAIE is not participating in or supporting the coup d'etat. It is saying to Correa; we'll have your back, when you have ours. This, like the Armed Forces support for Correa, is also a historical first in the region. And the plot thickens...
Update IV: A boilerplate statement from the US State Department:
We are closely following events in Ecuador. The United States deplores violence and lawlessness and we express our full support for President Rafael Correa, and the institutions of democratic government in that country.
We urge all Ecuadorians to come together and to work within the framework of Ecuador’s democratic institutions to reach a rapid and peaceful restoration of order.
Now let's see if they walk that talk...
Update V: 9:30 p.m. Quito: Ecuadorean military troops have just rescued President Correa from the police hospital where he was sequestered all day. Looks like it was a pretty violent battle, but multiple media on the scene are reporting that the president is safe and the Armed Forces stuck with the democratic order.