Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Voted (Absentee) and You Should Too

I voted this week, absentee ballot, for Obama because I served in the Americorps*VISTA program last year in my hometown of Atlanta and I realized that there are tremendous resources for making the world a better place already established, but most people won't give their time (which is money) to these amazing programs. Lyndon Johnson established the VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) program as a domestic version of the PeaceCorps. The mission of VISTA is to eradicate poverty. The VISTA program is all about capacity-building: helping link nonprofits and government and community leaders so that the collective abilities and collective resources can overcome the challenges they face as individual entities. Isn't that why we even have a government, because infrastructure cannot happen without an entity the size of a government? Isn't that what community is about, coming together and adding our talents to make life a more rewarding experience? The Obama campaign has been the most effective in pointing that out and I suspect that this is probably an artifact from his work in Chicago.

The reason why Obama is going to win on the 4th is because he welcomed everyone to support him and he pointed out the truth: the more people invest themselves into this campaign, the more successful it will be. He has better policies than McCain and his campaign has done more to involve the marginalized in society than any other in my lifetime.

Standing back and poo-pooing the American electoral system and not offering any constructive community-building just doesn't change the world, I'm sorry. The past eight years have shown me that there is a wide disparity between those I've worked with in the anti-globalization/peace movement/social justice-type movements and those that are actually working with the local community leaders, nonprofits, and the State. And I'm really happy to say that working with the government entities and with local nonprofits and actually sitting down and working-out strategies for developing the world I want to see has been infinitely more rewarding than any of the marches where I was yelling with a bunch of other marchers, much more effective than helping set-up the Food Not Bombs fundraiser, and so on. Most of my friends from those more DIY-Social Justice movements simply don't see that getting into a group with a bunch of other yellers and then accosting neighbors is not capacity-building, it's yelling.

The VISTA program requires that you volunteer for one year, paid at the poverty level (yes you can get Food Stamps and all the other benefits that the poor have available to them), and that's what kept most of my peers from choosing to do this amazing and transformative work. It paid too little. That's why I think it's pitiful when I hear McCain and Nader complain about votes being bought. Serving that year with so little money was difficult, it was really hard because all of my adult life to that point I simply took a second job to give me a little fun money (go see a show, buy a cd, get some cigarettes) but in the VISTA program this isn't allowed. So, my income was made really artificially low because I couldn't even have a hustle. But once I got into my work and started understanding how my community works and listening to the needs of my fellow man, and knowing that we were both suffering the same, I realized that working in the community was priceless and that there are plenty of naysayers in my social life, but they simply won't put their money where their mouths are: they won't commit to one year in the Americorps*VISTA program to transform their community.

That's why I voted for the Obama campaign, because I know that it's really meaningful when you allow as many people as possible to give just a measley amount of time and money to a program. I supported the Obama campaign because I believe that the more people invest themselves into the political process, the better our civic life will be.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone that talks about how there's just one party with two names and being politically involved is useless because there's too much money being funneled into "the system" and so it's all pointless until it's all smashed is a parasite on their community and the real source of the evil in the world today. Yes, it's that banality of evil that Hannah Arendt pointed out. Put your money where your mouth is, give one year service in the VISTA program.

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