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One Election River, Many Tributary Volunteers

Nguoi-viet.com, Commentary, Ky-Phong Tran Posted: Nov 08, 2008

Barack Obama is the President-elect of the United States of America.

It feels so good to type, Im going to do it again.

Barack Obama is the President-elect of the United States of America.

Yes, we did.

On election night, a dozen or so friends and I gathered at a house in Gardena, Calif., and hunk-ered down for the evening. After the last year and a half of this knock em down, drag em out campaign Obamas a socialist, a terrorist, against plumbers, not presidential, too presidential we expected a steel-cage death match to the end.

Then somewhere between choosing between a chicken or pork taco, Oba-ma won Virginia and its 13 electoral votes. And just as I went to the fridge for another beer, the clock struck 8 p.m. Californias poll closed, Obama had like 3,000 million electoral votes, and the election was called.

Anti-climactic? Yes.

Anti-I-cant-believe-it-joy? Hell, no.

A half-hour later, Republican candidate John Mc-Cain conceded.

While waiting for his rival to give his acceptance speech before a throng gathered in Chicago, I lounged on a couch and mused about my own unlikely story as a volunteer.

I joined the Obama campaign in summer of 2007 and according to campaign e-mails, I was part of the first five percent of the 3 million or so donors and volunteers. I joined early because I was very much against the war in Iraq, and Obama had been campaigning heavily on that issue. But I also joined early because from experience, I knew that campaigns run on momentum and I wanted to be part of that early inertia. I also wanted to do more than just vote for my candidate; I wanted to support my candidate.

However, it wasnt the traditional activities like donating money, precinct walking, election day get-out-the-vote activities, and phone banking that stick out to me during this campaign. What I remember are the strange little moments along the way.

At a Super Bowl party before the Super Tuesday primary election on Feb. 5, I created a de-facto campaign booth with Obama stickers and flyers along with voter registration cards. And though people laughed at me and thought I was nuts for interfering with Americas holiest day, I knew I was creating momentum.

With my Obama car sign and pins, Ive been asked for political advice at left-turn lanes, in Office Max lines and at concerts. At first I was scared, afraid people were looking for confrontation. But after a while, I understood that that is how some people get their information and was happy to oblige.

But probably my crme de la crme, weapon-of-choice and forte has been the personalized mass e-mail (yes, yes, I know its an oxymoron). I did my best to not send too many, but when I did, boy did you get a nuanced, well-thought-out, diatribe of a rant noting everything from Obamas journey from scholarship boy from Hawaii to the Ivy League, his left-handed basketball playing, and his sincere demeanor.

And you know what? Those were my most popular form of outreach. Dozens of friends wrote back and told me they liked what I had to say and would vote for Obama. Did my message put them over? Who knows, but it probably didnt hurt. And in the process, I sort of became the go-to guy to talk to about this candidate. After the Democratic National Convention, a dear friend and mom of two called me and told me she saw Obamas speech on replay and was terribly moved. She was home alone and needed to connect with someone, so she called me. We talked about Obama for half an hour. She felt relieved, and I began to relate to priests conducting confessions.

Around 9 p.m. Tuesday, Obama took to the stage in front of more than 100,000 people in Chicagos Grant Park. He talked of the challenges ahead, the spirit of the American people and a renewed sense of service. Like he usually does, he mentioned a fuller more diverse America by name: black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled, not disabled. Every time he does, I am ecstatic. Trust me when I write this, but when youve felt excluded for so long, you notice when you are mentioned. You feel good when you are included.

And though it is regularly repeated that this election has been historic for African Americans, it also is historic for all people of color. I readily and openly admit, it is affirming of both self and nation to look out and see that the leader of the most powerful nation in the world has a skin complexion like mine and a funny name as well.

I end with this: I have been teaching Ethnic Studies courses for longer than four years. And every time I start the class, I open the discussion of race and privilege by asking: Who can be the President of the United States? We talk about the logistical parameters (be 35 years old and born in the U.S.) and also the demographic of all the past presidents (white and male). By the end, I usually have them all convinced that you had to be the son of privilege, white, male and heterosexual.

However, after this election, I have to find a new example of racism and inequality. And I am nothing but grateful to do so. I havent drunk all the Obama Kool-Aid to believe that America is perfect because by no means is it. But after Tuesday, I think weve taken one giant leap in the right direction.


President Obama

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