Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Can We?

A preview of Obama National Headquarters, the night before Election Day, by way of Les Mis. My first time watching this I was hoping desperately that the real Obama staff had made this video, but alas, it's just some improv troupe. Whatevs, it's great. Hat tip to my friend Ross.

You know, it occurs to me that the Obama campaign owes a serious debt to Yoko Ono. The campaign has tried very hard to make its supporters and volunteers feel empowered in the political process. Drawing techniques from MoveOn, we are encouraged to host phonebanking parties, to create our own discussion groups, to make our own signs. When McCain attacks something about Obama or the Democrats, often we'll get an email from the campaign (or from MoveOn, or from DFA) telling us, "McCain is attacking YOU." It's very effective, I think. But I just want to point out that Yoko Ono and John Lennon have been pushing this line for a long time! The whole point of the "War is Over (If You Want It)" campaign was to inspire people to look at their own lives as a source for political change--War is over, the sign reads, the only fine print being the parenthetical statement that you have to truly want it to be over. Yes, you. If you want something, you can make it happen as long as you believe yourself capable. See, the avant-garde is good for something:

I used to be slightly annoyed by Yoko's signs, which she repurposed in the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003 in the form of a billboard in NYC. After all, if you were paying attention to the size and intensity of anti-war demonstrations back then, you'd know that people were wanting war to be over very dearly! Heck, my formerly-Republican grandmother went to a peace rally back then, and still we went to war. Sometimes war happens despite people not wanting it, and that's because in our country, power is carefully circulated in such a way so that a few people can still more or less do what they want.

But you know, even though I somewhat doubt the sincerity of the Obama campaign when it comes to empowering his supporters, I'm finding it more and more effective as a political style. I'm not sure it will last beyond this campaign; it's hard to imagine millions of us mobilizing to support President Obama when it comes to, say, mundane details like balancing the budget. The very black-and-white (so to speak) nature of this election, where we really have a chance to turn the country around from many, many decades of conservative and neo-liberal rule, is ready-made for inspiring populist passion, which in turn makes us feel empowered. But even if this is all just cynical manipulation that dies away come February 2009, you know what? Totally worth it.

Of course, if it doesn't work, then off with David Axelrod's head!


Gray said...

Bizarrely, a friend of mine was recently tapped to join the very improv troupe that made that video.

KG said...

I was just thinking about the same thing. It's way too easy to rally people behind things like war and vague concepts like "change" without spelling out what that will mean for every one of us. Do we actually step up and do something activist-like? Or are we in a constant state of manipulation.
One of the best birthday gifts I received this year was Howard Zinn's A People's History of American Empire, the graphic novel adaptation of his classic history. Revisiting our country's involvement in Cuba and Philippines was just way too painful this time around.

cpo said...

I just replayed this video JUST to listen to the music.

Le sigh, I love Les Mis. I saw it 3 times on Broadway in middle school.

PMG said...

I'm not embarrassed to say that on a regularly basis, I replay this video in the background while working, also just listen to the music.