mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“A Community Organizing Virtuoso”: President Obama Is Well-Versed In The “Dance” Between Activists And Politicians

Years ago I was a program manager at a nonprofit organization and decided to apply to be the executive director of the same agency. The board of directors asked staff to review resumes and interview finalists for the job (including me).

The staff I supervised at the time objected to the fact that I included on my resume the accomplishments of the program I managed. Their response was that they had been the ones that did the work and I was taking credit for their efforts.

In a way, they had a point. But they also didn’t understand leadership. As coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi never scored a touchdown and never kicked a field goal. And yet he is credited with the success of that football team throughout most of the 1960’s.

In the end, I decided to take the staff objections as a compliment. That’s because I value the kind of leadership that facilitates the feeling of ownership by employees for their accomplishments. It’s the kind that Marshall Ganz described this way:

Another important distinction is that between leadership and domination. Effective leaders facilitate the interdependence or collaboration that can create more “power to” — based on the interests of all parties. Domination is the exercise of “power over” –a relationship that meets interests of the “power wielder” at the expense of everyone else.

Over the course of Obama’s presidency, we’ve often heard that he doesn’t do enough to tout his own record and when someone else does, activists jump in and take credit for pushing him to do something. Most recently that happened with his executive orders on immigration. Activists who had interrupted his speeches and called him the “Deporter-in-Cheif” took credit. The same thing happened when DADT was finally overturned a few years ago.

While Obama’s supporters often complain about that, I’m not sure the President would mind. As a former community organizer, he is well-versed in the “dance” between activists and politicians. And I believe that his goal as President has always been to lead in the same way he did back in those early days in Chicago. Here’s how James Kloppenberg described him in Reading Obama.

How did Obama, lacking any experience as an organizer, learn the ropes so fast? In Galuzzo’s words, “nobody teaches a jazz musician jazz. This man is gifted.”

Kruglik explains Obama’s genius by describing two approaches community organizers often use. Trying to mobilize a group of fifty people, a novice will elicit responses from a handful, then immediately transform their stray comments into his or her own statement of priorities and strategies. The group responds, not surprisingly, by rejecting the organizer’s recommendations. By contrast, a master takes the time to listen to many comments, rephrases questions, and waits until the individuals in the group begin to see for themselves what they have in common. A skilled organizer then patiently allows the animating principles and the plan of action to emerge from the group itself. That strategy obviously takes more time. It also takes more intelligence, both analytical and emotional. Groups can tell when they are being manipulated, and they know when they are being heard. According to Kruglik, Obama showed an exceptional willingness to listen to what people were saying. He did not rush from their concerns to his. He did not shift the focus from one issue to another until they were ready. He did not close off discussions about strategy, which were left open for reconsideration pending results. Obama managed to coax from groups a sense of what they shared, an awareness that proved sturdy because it was their doing, not his. From those shared concerns he was able to inspire a commitment to action. In the time it takes most trainees to learn the basics, Obama showed a virtuosos’s ability to improvise. As Galuzzo put it, he was gifted.

And here is how Barack Obama described it himself back in 1988.

In return, organizing teaches as nothing else does the beauty and strength of everyday people. Through the songs of the church and the talk on the stoops, through the hundreds of individual stories of coming up from the South and finding any job that would pay, of raising families on threadbare budgets, of losing some children to drugs and watching others earn degrees and land jobs their parents could never aspire to — it is through these stories and songs of dashed hopes and powers of endurance, of ugliness and strife, subtlety and laughter, that organizers can shape a sense of community not only for others, but for themselves.

(If you’ve ever wondered whether Obama had/has potential as a gifted writer…there’s your answer!)

There is both a quantitative and qualitative difference between organizing fifty people on the South Side of Chicago and leading the entire country. That is why Michelle Obama described her husband’s foray into politics like this:

Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He’s a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.

And so I suspect that when citizens take credit for the changes they’ve worked to make happen, the community activist in him counts that as a success. Pundits who are attuned to the polarization in our politics have a point about whether or not that is a reasonable approach to take these days. But when our founders talked about “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” it’s exactly what they had in mind.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 1, 2015

August 2, 2015 Posted by | Community Organizers, Politicians, President Obama | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Speaking The Truth”: Michelle Obama Is Accused Of “Playing The Race Card.” Let’s Check It Out

One of the conservative’s favorite tools for blaming racial polarization on the current occupants of the White House is to accuse them of “playing the race card.” It happens every time one of them mentions racism as a factor in our country.

Usually the signal to noise ratio around such remarks by the President is so loud, it is difficult to unpack it all with much clarity. But recently some right wing publications accused First Lady Michelle Obama of “playing the race card” in her remarks at the opening of the Whitney Museum. It was a fairly quiet event, so let’s take a look and see what we can learn about how this kind of thing happens.

Here’s the quote from the First Lady’s remarks that they zero in on:

You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood. In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.

And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself. So I know that feeling of not belonging in a place like this. And today, as first lady, I know how that feeling limits the horizons of far too many of our young people.

That’s it. According to these folks, that’s “playing the race card.” It boggles the mind, doesn’t it? If anyone had any doubts that First Lady Michelle was speaking the truth, all you’d have to do is visit a local museum and count the number of young people (much less young people of color) who are there.

We know that many of the people who read the site I linked to up above will simply see what they wrote and buy that Michelle Obama is trying to stir up racial discord. That’s because it confirms what they already believe about her.

But of course, that’s not all she said. It turns out that the Whitney Museum’s current exhibit is titled, America Is Hard to See. Here’s how it’s described on their web site:

The title, America Is Hard to See, comes from a poem by Robert Frost and a political documentary by Emile de Antonio. Metaphorically, the title seeks to celebrate the ever-changing perspectives of artists and their capacity to develop visual forms that respond to the culture of the United States. It also underscores the difficulty of neatly defining the country’s ethos and inhabitants, a challenge that lies at the heart of the Museum’s commitment to and continually evolving understanding of American art.

As it turns out, Michelle was reacting to the fact that the current exhibit explores our complex cultural roots in this country. The museum is making a concerted effort to reach out to young people from all backgrounds to engage them in answering the question: “How can we truly, fully witness the melting pot of cultures and sensibilities and struggles that make America unlike any other country on earth?” That is the context for the remarks quoted above.

It’s also important to know what the First Lady said next.

You’re telling them [young people] that their story is part of the American story, and that they deserve to be seen. And you’re sending that message not just with the art you display, but with the educational programming you run here. You’re reaching out to kids from all backgrounds, exposing them to the arts, showing them that they have something to contribute.

What was a message from both the Whitney Museum and our First Lady about healing and reconciliation becomes twisted by these people into something ugly and divisive. That their anger and fear are so constraining that they miss out on the beauty of what is happening is actually rather sad.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 10, 2015

May 11, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, FLOTUS, Racism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans For More Fat Kids”: More Fat And Dumb Kids Just Means More Future Republican Voters

Some days you have to wonder where the Republicans would draw the “if Obama’s for it, we’re against it” line. I can’t think of a single instance these past five years when Barack Obama endorsed something and Republicans said, “Hey, that’s actually a good idea!” The comic nadir, you’ll remember, was when Obama was for lower taxes (of the payroll variety), and they even contrived a way to be against that, at least for a while.

So it should not come as a surprise to us that now Republicans want more fat kids. And the reason Republicans want more fat kids is straightforward and predictable: Michelle Obama wants fewer of them. And that’s all they need to know. If she’s fer it, they’re agin’ it.

I’m talking of course about the school lunch program food fight going on now between the first lady and the GOP House. At Mrs. Obama’s behest, the school lunch program was overhauled in 2010 to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, fewer overall calories, somewhat smaller portions, and other goals, all in an effort to do something about the childhood obesity epidemic, in which the percentage of young children (6-11) who are obese has nearly tripled in the last 30 years and the percentage of adolescents (12-19) has more than quadrupled.

I remember thinking, back in the early days of the administration, when Mrs. Obama had those kids planting kale in the White House vegetable garden and step-classing with her to beat the band, that this was no anodyne first lady project. It was obvious at the time to anyone who grasped the basic logical connections that if she was really serious about American health, she was going to run like a locomotive right into some of the most powerful corporate interests in America—the handful of huge food conglomerates that stock most of what sits on our grocery shelves, and more specifically the ultra-powerful sugar lobby. This ain’t adult literacy. This is power politics, I knew, and push would eventually and inevitably come to shove.

She also, perhaps unwittingly, brought herself face-to-scowling-face with the clique of Americans who not only hate her husband (and by extension her) but who think “liberty” means that they must be able to eat and drink anything they damn well please. I say “perhaps unwittingly” because there was probably no way for her to know back in late 2008 and early 2009 that a simple effort to get kids to exercise and eat greens would become not a point of trans-ideological commonality but yet another ideological ground zero, or that the Big Gulp would become part of the culture wars. But sure enough, there was (who else?) Sarah Palin, sipping from one at her 2013 CPAC speech, and sugar became something that real conservatives embraced.

And so here we are, with House Republicans, led by some Alabamian (improvement: at least he’s not a Texan) named Robert Aderholt, who denies climate change, too, by the by, on the cusp of passing legislation that would let districts that want to opt out of the new school lunch standards.

The stated reason is that the new standards have created added expense—fresh fruits and vegetables cost more than canned ones—and some districts have been losing money. That, I readily allow, is true. You can read this GAO report (.pdf) to get up to speed on some of the problems school districts have encountered in implementing the new standards. As rollouts go, the new school lunch program hasn’t been great—better than Obamacare, certainly, and Windows Vista and iOS7 (reminders that the private sector screws these things up, too), but certainly a little top-heavy and inflexible on the rule-making side.

But many districts also swear by the new rules, as was evidenced Tuesday by the administrators who appeared with Mrs. Obama at the White House to defend them. And the Department of Agriculture, which runs school lunches, has already made some changes the GAO report recommended. So it seems they’re trying to get it right. And remember, please remember: The new program comes after many years of school cafeterias across the country farming out their lunch operations to McDonald’s and the like, thus ensuring that kids were gorging themselves every day on some of the worst sewage you can put in a human body. So the new effort is a sea change for the better.

If there are kinks, iron them out, of course. But that isn’t really the Republicans’ game. Their proposal is relatively mild only because they know nothing harsher would see the light of day in the Senate. But if they take over the Senate, watch for a watering-down or defunding of the whole business.

But what about the science, you say? Yes. It’s irrefutable. Sugar makes people fatter and, in all likelihood, dumber. But what does that matter to Republicans? I mean, hey; more fat and dumb kids just means more future Republican voters.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 28, 2014

May 29, 2014 Posted by | Childhood Obesity, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A No Non-Sense FLOTUS”: We Are Not Used To Seeing A First Lady Stand Up For Herself

If my husband were president, I think I’d have to be exiled to the Kingdom of Bhutan for the duration of his tenure, because there is no way would I have the self-discipline of Michelle Obama.

It took the First Lady five years to verbally take down a heckler. I’d be in a wrestling match by month two of the primaries. I can just feel it.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Obama was 12 minutes into her speech at a Democratic fundraiser when Ellen Sturtz yelled for the president to “issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Great cause. Lousy timing.

For one thing, the president wasn’t giving the speech. He wasn’t even in the room. As the wife of a U.S. senator, I am familiar with this brand of lobbying. Some constituents will always see me as a convenient shortcut to the target of their ire. Multiply that number by the population of 50 states and the U.S. territories, and you have an idea of what it’s like to be Michelle Obama with the unpaid job of First Lady.

When Sturtz yelled, Mrs. Obama stepped away from the lectern, walked toward her and shut her down.

“Wait, wait, wait. One of things I don’t do, that I don’t do well, is this,” she said, to uproarious approval from those in attendance. (An audio of the moment: http://tinyurl.com/mczexwu).

“Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

Mrs. Obama knew her audience. The donors had paid as much as $10,000 to be there, and they had no patience for Sturtz’s plea for “federal equality before I die,” which is what she yelled as some of the attendees escorted her out.

There’s a sadness to this. Most of the 200 or so donors there likely support Sturtz’s cause, as they should. Congress continues to stall the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and LGBT groups are disappointed that the president hasn’t issued an executive order to fix it. This matters.

But there’s a time and a place, as mothers everywhere say to their children. I wish Mrs. Obama had acknowledged the importance of employment equality for the LGBT community, but I also understand how a person’s screaming at you in front of 200 people can kill the mood.

So, Mrs. Obama finished her speech and launched yet another national debate over who she should and shouldn’t be as America’s First Lady. My, how we love to dissect the intentions of this strong, talented woman.

Some reactions surprised me. Conservative John Podhoretz of “Commentary” tweeted: “Good for Michelle Obama. … Self-righteous, morally preening protestors need to have it stuffed back in their faces.” New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, a longtime champion for women around the globe, tweeted: “I like the First Lady, but her confrontation with this heckler was not her finest moment.”

The Root’s Keli Goff echoed many of Mrs. Obama’s defenders in pointing out that she “does not sign executive orders or sign laws. That’s her husband’s job, which makes Sturtz’s behavior seem all the more silly and misdirected.”

While it’s true that Mrs. Obama is not the president, her marriage and her address — as well as her considerable talents — make her one of the most powerful women in this country. She is a public figure, not a private citizen, and she is not immune from an impolite public. Nor should she be. As she proved this week, she is more than capable of asserting herself.

Great for Michelle Obama. Great for the rest of us, too. May her candor be contagious.

We are not used to seeing a First Lady stand up for herself, and I hope we get more chances to get used to it. Her husband’s presidency thrust her into the limelight, but she is more than her marriage. We’ve celebrated her sense of fun and fashion and her commitment to her family, but there is a no-nonsense side to her that is just right in this time of political stalemate and rampant incivility.

For eight years, millions of American women have been trying to emulate Michelle Obama’s spectacularly toned biceps.

This week, she showed off a new set of muscles.

More, please.

 

By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, June 6, 2013

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Class Act”: Let’s Hope Our Next First Lady Is As Exemplary As Michelle Obama

Something happened last week that was political, gratuitous and embarrassing for our country — and it actually can’t be blamed on the sequester.

Out of nowhere, the first lady of the United States appeared at the Academy Awards and announced the winner for Best Picture. Not landing by helicopter, not inside an egg like Lady Gaga, but via satellite from the White House, where she was hosting the nation’s governors for dinner, surrounded by smiling military personnel.

Immediately, the appearance — not her idea, but an invitation — became a national subject of scorn. Most of the first lady’s detractors were conservatives, like Michelle Malkin, who slammed “the White House-Hollywood industrial complex.” Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post blogged: “It is not enough that President Obama pops up at every sporting event in the nation. Now the first lady feels entitled, with military personnel as props, to intrude on other forms of entertaining (this time for the benefit of the Hollywood glitterati who so lavishly paid for her husband’s election) … it makes both the president and the first lady seem small and grasping.”

But other critics were liberals. Donny Deutsch of MSNBC, an “elite” of the first order, sniffed, “there was an elitist flavor to it.” The Post’s Courtland Milloy wrote he had “enough with the broccoli and Brussels sprouts” and all the attention paid to Obama’s toned arms and hair. “Where is that intellectually gifted Princeton graduate, the Harvard educated lawyer and mentor to the man who would become the first African-American president of the United States?” he asked.

These deeply disappointed Americans don’t exactly know what they want from the first lady — just that it isn’t what she is offering. And that’s why it’s so sad. No, Michelle Obama is not going to throw her Ivy League credentials around, or weigh in on war or peace. But she has led an awareness movement to tackle the epidemic of obesity and diseases associated with it, and she helped build a support net for military families and veterans returning from war, the likes of which they never had before.

Those who cannot understand the importance of Obama helping communities most affected by poor eating and poor health engage to improve their choices and habits must not appreciate not only the prevalence of obesity and diabetes, particularly among African-Americans, but the economic toll diabetes and other weight-related illnesses are taking on our healthcare system. Obama has not only worked on federal legislation requiring new standards for school lunches but is urging corporations to open new stores in the 6,000 “food deserts” the Department of Agriculture has identified across the country, areas where fresh food is not readily available.

Meanwhile, she has quietly invested thousands of hours — without any camera crews in tow — supporting military families along with Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president. Together they founded Joining Forces to encourage businesses to hire veterans returning from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Veterans groups have said Obama has hosted and participated in more events for veterans and military families than any other first lady.

Let’s hope our next first lady is an exemplary wife and mother, and a daughter who would move her mother in to the White House with her. Let’s hope she embraces strangers and hugs them tightly, just the first lady we have now.

We can all freak out if Obama appears on “Wife Swap.” But unless she does, please stand down.

Americans taking swipes at the first lady, asking why she is having a good time — when invited — with comedians and producers planning the Oscar ceremony, should instead think about saying “thank you.”

 

By: A. B. Stoddard, Associate Editor, The Hill, March 6, 2013

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

%d bloggers like this: