A New Political Discourse

Obama house parties try to keep people connected and the local energy focused

Hoping to channel the grassroots energy that propelled Barack Obama to the White House into a lasting political movement, his campaign urged followers last weekend to hold house parties and decide for themselves how they wanted to keep the momentum going.

More than 4,200 “Change Is Coming” parties were held Dec. 13 and 14 across the United States, including Guam and Puerto Rico. They included about 10 held in Cincinnati neighborhoods. Parties were held in about 1,950 cities and towns, according to the Obama campaign.

The goal, campaign staffers said, was to “reflect on this monumental journey and plan on how they can bring change to both Washington and their own communities.”

Similar events are planned throughout December and January, drawing upon the campaign’s extensive e-mail and cell phone lists, which are estimated to reach more than 12 million people.

Lisa Sloan hosted one such gathering at her condominium in Mount Auburn’s Prospect Hill district. Roughly a dozen people attended, but they reflected the range of Obama’s support: white and black; young professionals, children and at least one retiree; and people from innercity neighborhoods as well as suburbs like Silverton and Anderson Township.

Amid holiday decorations, the smell of freshly baked cookies and the inquisitive nose of a friendly dog, the group pondered its next move. Despite the homey atmosphere, however, attendees were deadly serious about doing their part to continue influencing local and national politics.

“I’m really interested in changing the type of (political) discourse,” said Diane Debevec, a Mount Auburn resident. “We need some civil discourse. I really felt like I didn’t have a voice for eight years, that I wasn’t heard and my views didn’t matter.

“I want to change that, so people who didn’t vote for Obama don’t feel that way. We need to be more inclusive.”

In fact, a central theme about how best to move forward among attendees was whether to clearly identify the local group with Obama’s campaign and push for political causes or be more non-partisan and focus on public service projects.

“I don’t think this has to be political, it just has to support policies that many Americans would support,” said one woman who asked that her name not be used. “We should sort of focus on issues and not politics.”

While that might be true, others believe a strong grassroots movement is needed to keep politicians honest and committed.

“Washington is paralyzed now, and it will continue to be paralyzed in the future,” said Paul DeMarco, who lives downtown. “It needs people like us out here, who are organized, to keep the pressure on.”

That echoes a common statement attributed to President Franklin Roosevelt, who used to tell people seeking a specific policy change, “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”

Mimicking Obama’s own roots as a community organizer in Chicago, Anderson Township resident Steve Long said any effective political or social movement must also come from the bottom up and not just the top down.

“We need to use that same kind of energy we had in the campaign and find the right issue to work for,” Long said.

Sloan, the event’s hostess, asked attendees to submit a list within the next few weeks of the top five issues they would like the group to concentrate on, so they can be discussed at a future meeting.

From her perspective, Sloan thinks it’s important for followers to continue working for progressive candidates and keep the newly found Democratic dominance in the region.

“For me, the issue I’m most concerned about is for Democrats to stay organized in Hamilton County,” she said.

The group also decided that it will contact its elected political representatives — both Democratic and Republican — to ask if they’d like to participate in any projects the group eventually takes on.

Attendees agreed that keeping the excitement generated by Obama is crucial to the success of any project undertaken. Brenda Twitty, a Silverton resident, said Obama was the first candidate in years who directly addressed her concerns.

“I felt like he was talking to me and not around me, and that really did it for me,” Twitty said. “He really seemed to have a lot of common sense, which we haven’t heard in a while.”

At the Obama campaign’s recommendation, the Mount Auburn group also decided to complete some type of service project before Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. The group plans to coordinate proposals using a wiki-style list on the Internet.

Although some advocacy groups have expressed disappointment that Obama has selected several moderates and former Bill Clinton-era figures to serve in his administration, perhaps setting the stage to renege on his progressive promises, the local group wasn’t too concerned — yet.

“Let’s have Obama actually get into office and start working before we jump to any conclusions,” DeMarco said. “It’s a bit premature to get worried. Let’s see what happens.”

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