June 28, 2008
I’ve had writer’s block this past week, partly because my days are crammed full with never-ending work. By the time I sit down at the computer, my fingers freeze and my mind shutters to a standstill. With so many conversations, people, and stories occurring every day, I feel overwhelmed as to what I should share, what to write about. It is like I’m staring into a kaleidoscope with too many colors. Both brilliant and dizzying at the same time.
I cannot believe I have been here for two weeks already. Time has zoomed by, which I suppose is what happens when you can’t allow yourself to think or plan for more than four days in advance. Yet somewhere amidst the chaos, I’m beginning to love Georgia. It will never replace my dear Pacific Northwest as home – (the NW has apparently left its mark on me as I am constantly told of how bohemian, how environmentally-conscious, how “Washington” I look and act) – but I do feel more and more…settled here. I love the colors during the final two hours of daylight as the entire sky illuminates with vibrant liquid sun, cotton-white clouds outlined with electric pink. I like the random lightning that interrupts the night, without the fanfare of thunder or accompanying rain. I actually like sweet tea. I like the frenetic pulse of MARTA and its complete contrast to the swanky, smooth energy of Buckhead (the “Beverly Hills of the South”). I love how open and hospitable the people are here (a lady at the grocery store complimented my friend Matie on her dress, and in the next minute they were exchanging phone numbers and making plans for a social get-together). And I love how I can wear shorts and a tank top at midnight because it’s still a sultry 75 degrees.
Of course there are darker parts of Georgia that I hate, such as the pockets of prejudice and bigotry. Remnants of racial segregation linger all over the city. There are streets that have two different names depending on which direction you turn at the intersection, which was used years ago to mark which side of the street was “white” and which was “black.” Matie and I sat at a stoplight last night, and I saw two street signs: east was “Piedmont Road,” west was “Blackland Road.” I don’t like how the same party controls the school board, police department and local government of the county I currently live in – and how, because of that control, there are people too frightened to speak their own, differing opinions in public. And I really dislike the way the population has matriculated into sprawling suburbs outside the heart of Atlanta, gutting the inner-city and leaving it in stark poverty.
Slivers of love and fragments of hate- I wonder how I’ll feel in a month when I’m about to leave. Maybe I’ll be ready for the Northwest again. But I might wish for more time here in Georgia. I don’t know. I apologize for the lack of political substance in this entry. It actually feels good to pause, set politics and campaign organizing aside for a brief moment, and write about the places and people here in Georgia. With another full week of events ahead, though, there will definitely be a political-junkie post coming soon. Stay tuned.
June 20, 2008
In the South there is this pizzeria chain called The Mellow Mushroom. This place is unreal. So unreal I just had to write about it. Puffy, rainbow-colored drawings of mushrooms are everywhere. A hodgepodge assortment of random knickknacks hangs on the walls, like a stuffed Mario toy and Kool-Aid clock. You expect to turn the corner and see a bunch of beatniks smoking weed around the back table. Every Wednesday, there is a “Trivia night,” and peace signs are stamped upon the canary-yellow, paper menu. When we walked inside, one of my teammates, Nick, just stopped and stared at the decor with widened eyes, then half-whispered, half-laughed, “This is totally trippy, man.”
As crazy as the place appeared, the pizza was a-maz-ing. And the two employees working there were chill. One employee (I’ll call him Curt) was a self-proclaimed nonvoter. “The president will always be some white dude saying whatever he needs to say to get elected,” Curt said as he punched our orders in the register (circa 1987). Later, he pulled up a chair to our table and chatted with us. He was easy-going, humorous, smart – yet obviously disenchanted with the political system, something to which I can relate. Curt asked how we knew each other and our interest in civic duties. Hesitant curiosity and aloof cynicism fought and flitted across his face, and I could tell there was…potential there. Perhaps Curt will never vote again in his life, but maybe he will. As my team left the pizzeria, we half-joked about carrying out “Operation Curt.” I’ll be going back. I want to hear his story. For if someone as skeptical as that young man decides to register to vote and engage in public affairs once more, then there is hope. Hope to ignite and excite the disenchanted, the cynical, and the apathetic.
June 17, 2008
I used to run cross-country, and one of the goals my team had was to “leave your guts on the field.” Sometimes this was quite literal as runners crossed the finish line and immediately threw up whatever was unfortunate enough to be in their stomachs. You give your everything in such a race, and by the finish, your body is exhausted to the point of utter collapse, your brain fried after pre-race visualization and gritty, mental determination of completing the 5K. Complete body-and-mind fatigue.
That how I feel right now. The training for the Obama Fellowship was not a joke. Up at six each morning and not getting sleep before midnight, the past three days have been filled with intensive organizing training, relationship and team building, voter registration, and planning. It was a political version of boot camp. And this is just the beginning. Despite the exhaustion, the entire weekend has been exciting. It’s both inspiring and energizing to sit in an auditorium with 200+ volunteers, all passionate and committed to the same thing. Despite the vast differences of backgrounds, life experiences, personalities, and leadership styles, everyone involved is united behind a common purpose, driven by a common goal and hope.
I must say that my adventure in Georgia had a rather rocky start. To provide a little flavor of my first 48 hours…Because I flew out of Seattle, I had to leave at 2 a.m. to get to the airport in time for my early EARLY morning flight. I discovered at check-in that my suitcase was seven pounds too heavy (despite having checked the weight at my house earlier and being fine), so out came one of my books, conditioner, and some clothes. Once I actually arrived in Atlanta, I found MARTA (Atlanta’s rail system…think Portland’s MAX but more confusing, crowded, and the longest voice-speaker announcements in the history of public transportation) and waited for over an hour for my host mom to pick me up. I felt more than a little conspicuous with my luggage and crazy-pale Pacific Northwest skin sitting on the curb at an Atlanta train station. I finally got to my host’s home – her name is Millie – and we sat on her deck and ate oranges from the nearby international produce market. Travel-weary, I went to set my alarm on my phone that night and observed that not only was my battery low but my phone charger had broken en route to Atlanta. Organizer’s nightmare right there. Your phone is your best friend. Mine was dying, and I had no car to quickly drive to pick up a new charger. And the next day was the first of training. Twelve full hours, 7 sessions of new information. Overwhelmed is a gross understatement.
However, the people make it all worth it. During voter registration on the second day, one of my teammates and I encountered a street musician at Piedmont Park, whose entire face lit up when he learned that, despite his prior felony, he was able to vote. People with prior convictions are able to vote in Georgia as long as they have completed their parole and any fines/comm. service, but the state does not advertise that fact. The state tries to soft pedal this information, which is wrong on so many levels. The musician believed that he was not allowed to vote for several more years. It was rewarding to watch him fill out his voter registration form as one of his civic rights was returned to him. Episodes like that reinforce the importance of what I’m doing here in Georgia and make the long days and fried brain cells worth it.
So many other stories happened the past three days, but more work is waiting to be done. Peace out.
June 12, 2008
Walter Cronkite used to say that. I think it encapsulates the meaning of candor. No euphemisms. No exaggerations. No needless drama. That is just the way it is. I tend to write in a candid style (something I developed during college), and especially in the realm of politics, I believe it’s needed. I’ve spoken to several people who believe politics to be a waste of time. Other words have been used too. Absurd. Ridiculous. Pointless. Talking heads. Double talk. Hot-button. And my favorite: Unpleasant. As Cecily says in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, “I think that whenever one has anything unpleasant to say, one should always be quite candid.”
The point of this spiel on candor? I created this blog for my trip to Atlanta, Georgia. I will be working on the Obama campaign down there. It’s going to be grassroots politics in its rawest form. I’ve been told it will be exhausting and intense, but I am excited to be a part of the political process. To experience field organizing and community politics firsthand. More than anything, I’m excited to use this experience as an opportunity to practice my editorial and political writing. Some of those writings will end up here on this blog (as well as updates of everyday goings-on). Please read, enjoy. Mull over, digest, get angry, get inspired. Leave comments- I’d love to dialogue with you about one of the most intriguing political campaigns this country has witnessed in decades.