Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Jim Messina”

Super PAC, Super Disappointment

I have been following the Republican primaries with righteous indignation, just the ticket on the commute to work over the fog-hugging Bay Bridge. Today (Wednesday at the time of writing), Mitt Romney is confident that, despite losses in key states to Rick Santorum, he will win the primaries, because he has the money to buy TV ads.

Really? Not because he attracts the party faithful through his stirring speeches, articulate exposition of policy, his vision and personal principles?

But this seems to be a glimpse of the future political landscape, where money rather than grassroots support, will decide who rises (or floats) to the top.

Those of us on the moral left will point out that our candidate won the elections against considerable odds by rallying hundreds of thousands of people to donate $25, a meaningful contribution for many. We rallied on street corners, in town hall meetings, and across the Internet.

So I am rather upset to hear that President Obama has sanctioned the forming of a Super PAC – Priorities USA Action. Campaign Manager, Jim Messina essentially told us that the President doesn’t like flip-flopping like this, but has to be realistic and anticipate the media assault waiting for him when the real election campaigning begins.

I know that there is a mixed reaction among the faithful. Many are relieved that reality has kicked in before it is too late. Better to accept the future scenario now and do what must be done to ensure four more years.

But other, myself included, have sighed deeply. Did it really have to be this way? Can we not have the courage of our convictions to believe that we will win because our message is right, our vision in tune with what needs to happen, and that Americans are smart enough to treat this like a general election and not a reality show.

Matea Gold and Melanie Mason, have written a great article in the LA Times: Obama’s embrace of ‘super PAC’ will test his base of donors. Worth the read.

I stand as one of the disappointed, but it won’t stop my commitment to reelecting President Obama. I know what the alternative is (whether Romney, Santorum, Paul or Gingrich), and I begrudgingly know how they can win.

I remain stunned that so many people, only a few months into President Obama’s first term, were actually blaming him for the state of the economy, as though none of the economic carnage and greedy abuse happened prior to his election.

Super PACs have no place in politics. They should remain on the Comedy Central where they belong.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Grassroots Activism – How?

Last month, one of our readers asked in her comments how we can create an involved grassroots sense of participation? I wanted to find a good answer and it has been troubling me ever since. While the Arab Spring was stimulated by Facebook and Twitter, it was not only spontaneous but quick. For those of us who are not living in extreme conditions where revolution is the answer, we need a more sustainable model.

I think the Obama Presidential campaign 2008 was a good example. It created a sense of a mass movement of empowered everyday folk. When I received the emails asking me to organize for the 2012 run-in, I couldn’t help looking at their strategy to mobilize within the framework of the question that our reader posed. Here are two videos.

The first is a typical call from other supporters:


The second is interesting. On the face of it, Campaign Director Jim Messina could be leading us in a presentation for our work or to sell a product. It is a no-nonsense, Power-Point briefing.


But after watching it and googling Mr. Messina, I realize that this is a serious and deep-lying concept. Glossy TV ads will come and we all realize that they are the ad-man’s expertise. Usually these are condescending – Look what I’ve done for you/This is what I am going to do for you – as if we don’t know what we want, or haven’t been paying attention to what these candidates have been doing while on the taxperson’s payroll.

In this You Tube briefing, Mr. Messina treats us as partners. He declares that “grassroots will run this campaign” and focuses on what we can individually do to make it happen. His no-frills approach is actually a recognition of us as true partners. It shows respect and credibility. This is what makes it sustainable.

I don’t want to belittle in any way the power of Facebook and Twitter as grassroots mobilization during the Arab Spring, but what the Messina approach offers that excites me is creating a sustainable and empowering model to not only get people involved, but to stay involved.

Most successful businesses have embraced a conscientious customer service because they know that it is always easier to sell another product to a satisfied customer than sell to someone new. When you campaign and persuade people to vote in a political candidate, you are responsible to these people to keep that politician true to his/her campaign promises.

This is the way that a grassroots campaign can become not only sustainable but credible.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Oil Companies Disgrace, Public Apathy

You know from my novel, The Accidental Activist, that I have no love for the oil companies. You have probably seen infomercials, full page adverts and websites set up by the oil companies to tell us how green they are becoming and what worthwhile members of the community they are, as seen through the various philanthropic project that they donate to.

I’d like to share an email (a public one) I received from Jim Messina. Jim manages the Presidential Campaign for Obama ’12. I had started to paraphrase what he wrote, but I can’t do a better job than Jim:

“The CEOs from the five major oil companies — which together booked $36 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2011 alone — went to the Senate on Thursday to try to justify the $4 billion in tax giveaways they’re receiving this year.

It’s a head-smackingly obvious example of how broken Washington is that there’s even a question about this. These companies don’t need and don’t deserve taxpayer money — especially with a budget deficit to close and gas prices at or near record highs.

Even worse is the fact that when the Senate tries to strip these oil company giveaways, it’s likely that a minority of senators will block a vote from happening. And even if the Senate manages to pass a bill eliminating the giveaways, there’s little chance it will be brought up for a vote in the House.

Here’s why: These five companies are expert manipulators of the money-for-influence game in Washington that the President is working to change. It’s simple math — they spent more than $145 million last year on nearly 800 lobbyists whose job is to defeat bills like this one. The $4 billion they’ll likely get to keep as a result represents a 2,700% return on their investment.

I’d like to be able to say with certainty that you can do something to help pass this bill, but the fact is that at this stage we may not be able to affect the outcome of next week’s vote.”

When we are cutting essential social services, when we are cutting education and health, when there are people unemployed and losing their houses – how do we let the oil companies and their politician puppies get away with it?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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