Listening to America  from coast to coast

The Barack Obama campaign’s nine day “Listening to America” project concluded July 27 after thousands of people gathered in at least 1,300 meetings to make recommendations for the 2008 Democratic platform.

The meetings in private homes, union halls, community centers and schools were organized mostly via the web site which featured the candidate’s invitation and advice on how to organize the events.

A crowd of 33 turned up for the “Listening to America” meeting at the Old Dungeness Schoolhouse in Clallam County, Washington. Sylvia Hancock, chair of the meeting asked for a show of hands of how many people favored single payer health care plan free of the profit motive. Every hand shot up. Another hot issue endorsed by the crowd was support of Al Gore’s proposal to terminate fossil fuel generation of electricity within 10 years.

A leader of the Makah Tribe of Neah Bay hailed Obama as the first person of color to be nominated for president by a major party. The current administration has been a disaster in polarizing the nation and stripping minority people of their rights, he said. “I appeal to you to take a stand for inclusiveness for all people of color,” he said as the crowd applauded.

Grassroots efforts to shape the platform continued with Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) initiating an online petition urging the Democrats to include a pledge to fight for single-payer universal health care in the document. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) author of HR-676, the “Medicare for All” bill, was the first signer of the petition.

Gary Dotterman, a veteran peace and justice activist in Boston, told the World he attended one of the Listening to America sessions in his neighborhood. A month earlier he had sponsored a “Unite for Change” meeting at his home attended by 22 people. One neighbor at that meeting agreed to host the Listening to America meeting in his home.

“There was a lively discussion mostly on the economy,” he added. “Opposition to the Iraq war was unanimous. There was unanimous agreement that we need a national health care program but differences of opinion on how to do it. About one third supported single-payer health care. A full report on the meeting was sent to Obama headquarters in Chicago.

“The campaign provided a message from Obama on registering people to vote,” said Dotterman. “He stressed that the group should continue after the election to implement the change we’re talking about. This was a real attempt to organize community groups to win the election and remain active and organized after we win.”

It was a mixed crowd, young and old, Black, Latino and white, gay and straight, Dotterman added. It included some new citizens.

The energy was super high octane, Dotterman continued. One African American man who has not been active since he worked in the Mel King Campaign for Mayor decades ago. “It took him an hour and a half by train. But he was moved to get involved.”

Many said they plan to volunteer to work weekends in New Hampshire, a battleground state. One man said he plans to devote his two-week vacation to working for the campaign in Pennsylvania.

In Dearborn, Mich., 40 people gathered July 27 to discuss what should be in the Democratic platform. Josh Penn blogged on the meeting and said the overriding issue was the plummeting economy.

Penn reported that one participant, Maria, told the crowd she is employed by the state of Michigan as a caregiver, paid $7.00 per hour to take care of elderly and disabled people. She provides services that would cost tens of thousands if her patients were placed in nursing homes, she said, yet she is not paid even a living wage.

Another woman reported that she lives in Detroit, her two children enrolled in a dysfunctional public school that receives far lower per-pupil funding than wealthier, mostly white suburban schools. Funds were recently cut from the school budget forcing layoffs that have nearly doubled class size.

Michele from Detroit said she had one job when George W. Bush took office in 2000, got a second job around 2004 and recently was forced to get a third job to make ends meet.

Penn summed up the feeling in the crowd: “At a time where our country’s most pressing issues includes jobs moving out of America and homes foreclosed, these workers in Michigan, the state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation, felt like they had never been consulted. Until now.”