Saturday, November 01, 2008
Scenes From the Obama Revolution
The Rabbi's McCain Sign
Putting up a "McCain -Palin" sign in his front yard in Chicago might have been on the foolhardy side, but in that that part of Chicago it was particularly foolhardy. Nevertheless that was exactly what the Rabbi did. He planted the yard sign there below his living room window where the menorah stands during Chanukah time and went back inside. A few hours later the yard sign had been vandalized and the three black teenagers who had done it stood there defiantly glaring at him.
What the Rabbi experienced was happening all across America, only the few cases when homeowners tried to fight back and resist the brownshirts did the situation make the news, usually followed by the arrests of the homeowners. The Rabbi did not fight back and he did not replace the sign, but appeasement rarely helps. There are no more signs in the Rabbi's yard to vandalize but the teenagers still come around and the hostility toward the Rabbi and his family has become blatant. The Rabbi's wife no longer lets the children go out unaccompanied.
The Union Rep Who Will Vote for McCain
It's a city job which means two things, graft and unions. This particular job came with a union representative who was of the old school and practically a cartoon of the type, big, rude and arrogant. This was no skinny college boy in a white shirt looking to organize, but the old fashioned Neanderthal breed who dates back to the days of Tammany Hall complete with cigar.
For four years he had cursed the Republicans up and down and when the election year came around, he talked up Hillary and after the primaries he talked down McCain loudly, vocally and vulgarly. Day in and day out he went through the forms, and then last week he took the only Republican he knew aside, backed him into a corner and in a whisper urged him not to tell anyone but that he would be voting for McCain.
"Don't tell anyone, but there's no ____ing way in hell I'm voting for that _______. I was here working in the city the day they hit the towers. I still remember that and there's no way I'm putting one of those bastards in the big chair. I just can't let anyone know."
He looked cautiously around again to see if anyone was watching and walked away. The next day he was loudly cursing the Republicans and predicting a landslide Obama victory. Just doing his job.
The man he buttonholed for his confession found the scene very familiar, the struggle between private conscience and political conformity. After all he had spent most of his life working in the Soviet Union.
A Personal Choice
Liberal doesn't even begin to describe her background, the zip code where she grew up is two things, extremely pricey and extremely liberal. She went to a Seven Sisters school, majored in something surprisingly practical but went to work in a non-profit in order to give something back.
In a place like that activism isn't a 9 to 5 job and doesn't begin or end with the organization's stated mission involving the elderly but spilled over into staff using it to organize campaigns on everything from boycotts of environmentally abusive companies to readings of Eve Ensler. And of course the election year brought with it posters, taped cartoons, many of them hand drawn by staffers, and most of all the use of the office's computers to promote the cause on social networking sites.
Unlike many New York Democrats who had started out for Hillary, the staff was young and progressive and were split between Edwards and Obama, those few who weren't holding out for a "genuinely" progressive party. She had started out supporting Edwards but switched to Obama in time to go with the flow. She had read his book and found his speeches inspiring, but as the campaign went on it was his supporters whom she found turning increasingly ugly. She had not been a Hillary supporter but the jokes from many of the male staffers, the ugly cartoons that went up, the emails and flash animations she was being forwarded and the casual comments were not only crossing a line into sexism but passing it by with the speed of a fastball in Yankee Stadium.
She tried to speak up once or twice, only to be mocked and ridiculed. So she remained silent. When Palin joined the ticket though things reached a new level of ugliness. If the jokes and cartoons had been bad before they reached a new low. And because she had dark hair and wore glasses similar to Palin's, some of the jokes were now being aimed at her. The day that the email of Palin's head photoshopped on a pornographic picture was forwarded around the office, she tried to file an official complaint over the creation of a hostile workplace environment. Instead she was told to stop sabotaging the good work being done and though her complaint was supposed to be confidential, it was clear that everyone in the office knew about it. The next day the email forwarded to her featured her head photoshopped in place on the offending picture.
But she remained where she is. She believes in the work she is doing and emphatically does not want to cause any harm to the organization. She will however be voting for John McCain. She doesn't agree with many of his policies, but she thinks he is a decent man. She hasn't turned on Obama though many of the speeches she found inspiring now seem shallow, but she doesn't understand why something that began on such an inspirational note has brought out such ugliness in the people she considered her friends. She hesitates to use the word Nazi like but she lets slip that it reminds her of her grandfather describing the change that came over his fellow workers in that time. It frightened him then and what she is seeing frightens her now.
And so she has made a personal choice that is she sharing with few people, but she is not alone in that choice even in that office.
Across America there are millions of stories like these, of people wrestling with their convictions, resisting the bullying, the tide of media and peer pressure, of sweet talking and outright intimidation. Their voices are quiet, they may not even answer truthfully when the pollsters ask, but they have seen the Obama revolution and they want no part of it.