Letters for December 12-18, 2007 

Readers sound off on our story about the Barack Obama campaign

"Obama Drama '08," Feature, 11/14

Change I'm Trying To Believe In

Since I did agree to be interviewed by Ms. Swan for her article involving the differences that have occurred between official Obama campaign leaders and grassroots groups within the Obama for America Campaign, I would like to clear up/correct some specific points that Swan made:

Firstly, I have not organized a Thanksgiving dinner to take place at Geoffrey's Inner Circle. Mr. Geoffrey Pete, owner of Geoffrey's Inner Circle, has been feeding the community on holidays for years. He does so out of his own pocket and donates his space. Ms. Swan failed to note that when she decided to credit me for this act rather than the person who deserves the credit — Mr. Pete. RISE UP is going to be represented as a group at the traditional meal, proudly wearing our T-shirts and helping along with others to serve food on that holiday. We are also donating $100 toward this admirable effort.

Secondly, I never alluded to, nor did I make any statement (on or off record), about RISE UP FOR OBAMA "sending a mole to get as close to the campaign's 'inner circle' as possible." This was an incredibly irresponsible accusation to attribute to myself (or anyone for that matter) and the destructive nature of this mischaracterization goes beyond bad reporting techniques. This type of flippant comment is not only just plainly idiotic at best, but demonstrates that Ms. Swan created her own agenda apparently to try and create more drama than was necessary given the story that she was already pursuing. These kinds of accusations can gravely affect the futures of those involved because for those in power who operate from a place of fear, the idea of REACTION rather than thoughtful examination and response tends to rule the day. On a further note: There is no gain to be had by getting close to anything that the Obama headquarters is doing. Like other grassroots groups, RISE UP is operating separately because we've been shut out of any collaborative process. We fund everything we do and the ONLY thing we'd like to be able to obtain is some of the latest collateral that the national campaign has to offer: some clever handouts and little brochures that help spread the word easily when one is tabling or doing outreach. These are items that cannot be purchased through the Internet in the general "Obama Gear" store.

Lastly, I received several phone calls the day that Swan's story hit — all asking me if I'd really quit the Obama campaign. It appears (from her writing, anyway) that RISE UP functions and consists solely of myself in merely a cosmetic manner, or that I have left the campaign completely, as Mr. Williams, Mr. Aqeel, or Ms. Cabrera have. I am, in fact, still working as a volunteer for OBAMA for AMERICA along with several other dedicated RISE UP members who choose to operate on a true grassroots level. After Ms. Cabrera left the group — and her phone number had always been the contact number — we had to move swiftly to have contact numbers, and mine is one of them. I am responsible for listing most of the events we produce.

WHAT SWAN MISSED because of her "US VS. THEM" agenda: The bigger picture.

There is much to be gained by a real investigative reporter delving into the backgrounds of some of the individuals in positions of decision-making in this campaign. Too few with too much power, too many people of color who have left the campaign structure, and too often last-minute decisions that create chaos instead of smooth operations. I spoke with Swan extensively about my deep concerns with these issues but she chose to leave them out.

She also spoke with another volunteer who shared many of my same concerns but Swan decided to never even mention this volunteer who happens to be a homeless, disabled vet. This volunteer already suffers daily from being dismissed by society and when she goes out of her way to be interviewed and made vulnerable as anyone does when speaking to a reporter, her concerns aren't expressed in print at all. This volunteer has knowledge of how the disabled vote went primarily to BUSH in the last election. She is working tirelessly to help change that for the primary in February in California.

Swan's only inclusion of anything representing issues related to race were attributed to "a dark-skinned brother," as Mr. Aqeel described himself. If she had included at least just one of my comments related to concern about issues related to race and power that I've witnessed in this campaign, the overall impact of her story would have had a different meaning coming from a white person instead of one single black male. An opportunity for Mr. Aqeel to have been supported in this way was lost by Swan.

I chose to join and grow with RISE UP because we are involved on a variety of levels: targeting underrepresented populations by canvassing, outreach, and fund-raising with a large percentage of voting-aged individuals who may get missed by the national campaign's efforts. My own belief is that for the OBAMA for AMERICA campaign to be true to Senator Obama's ideals AND message of inclusion, it requires that every volunteer try and reach out to include as many voices as possible — including voices of dissent. This is how I am expressing being an American today at a time when I believe it most imperative to do so. Being critical of any organization where questioning empowerment of the people is occurring; where silencing individuals rather than collaborating with fresh ideas and combining methods to achieve the best possible results — these are ideals that help keep accountability and transparency alive in a true Democratic society.

To insist that anyone working outside the formal campaign structure sever all ties with the campaign, as Buffy Wicks has stated (according to Swan's article), shows the "us or them" adversarial mentality that flies in the face of Senator Obama's passion of people working together — learning new ways of creating powerful alliances, which would allow for what the new Obama campaign slogan is: CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN.

Alicia "Joey" Brite, Oakland

And the Point?

Wow. What a pointless story. Anyone with any experience in grassroots activism and community organizing knows that every movement, every campaign, and every union has to deal with folks like these at some point. Mr. Aqeel's quote said it all: he didn't want to WORK.

People like this just need to get out of the way and move on.

Frankly, I'm really surprised the Express tried to make a story out of this. Guys, there are a lot of important stories to tell. While I'm sure it was fun to make believe you were digging up some kind of political controversy, you just wasted a lot of paper and ink telling us all about something that matters only to those whom you've written about.

Bill Brantly, Oakland

She is Just One Member

I am a member of Rise Up for Obama and I feel slighted in your article because there were things put into print that were untrue and reflected a stance that the WHOLE of Rise Up does not uphold. You submitted the opinions of two EX-MEMBERS of Rise Up and the opinion of only ONE current member. Joey Brite's comments ARE NOT representative of Rise Up as a whole, in fact, we do not have any de facto dictators in this group. In actuality, it is based on Obama's principle of "everyone has a voice and a role." If you had interviewed more than just one current member then you would have realized that Rise Up has been about rebuilding and strengthening connections with the campaign instead of tearing them down. I call for an apology in your next issue and a disclaimer that the comments made by past Rise Up members and Joey Brite in no way reflects the feelings of Rise Up as a whole. We were misrepresented as a group and it is your job to ACCURATELY REPORT THE NEWS, NOT MAKE IT JUICY BY ADDING IN YOUR OWN INTERPRETATIONS OF THE SITUATION!

I have participated as a Rise Up member, but I have also successfully integrated into the campaign structure as a team leader and I have dedicate over 15 hours a week to the Oakland headquarters' and the national campaign's efforts. Many other groups have integrated into the campaign efforts as well as maintained a strong connection with their subgroup, such as volunteers from Women for Obama, African Americans for Obama, East Bay for Obama, United for Obama, etc. Your article did not reflect that side of the story and inserted information that was not verified. The article did not reflect the true state of Obama's grassroots campaign, and instead only provoked it.

Kimberlina McKinney, Oakland

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