Editorial: Now You Finally Have to Make Up Your Mind

By Becky O’Malley
Tuesday February 05, 2008

Thanks to my advanced age, it’s very rare that I have to talk to or even see another human before 8 a.m. anymore (except of course my husband.) Which is how I like it. I’m awake early, but definitely not conversational. So I was very surprised to find myself at Peet’s on Domingo at about 7 on Monday morning, fully clothed and relatively alert. I was even wearing Norine’s scarf, a flamboyantly-flowered number which I inherited from my flamboyantly-redhaired friend Norine Smith, who never hesitated to leap into any political controversy whenever she felt that God was on her side, which was pretty much always. I wear it when I feel the spirit moving me to take action, which sadly is not too often these days. 

The action in question, which started, thank goodness, at 7:30 after coffee, was sign-waving on the corner of Ashby and Claremont. The signs were Obama signs (I think Norine would have approved, though you were never sure), but unless you’re reading this on Tuesday morning and you haven’t voted, that shouldn’t make much difference.  

As far as I can remember, the last time I was out on the street with a sign was in 2003, right before the Bushies and their Democratic dupes launched the invasion of Iraq. Fat lot of good that enormous protest did. I also went to Washington, in freezing sleet, to protest Dubya’s first inauguration, an even more pointless exercise.  

This was a very different scene. My fellow wavers seemed to be earnestly attractive suburban ladies in the main, not from the immediate neighborhood. There were a couple of old folks like us, too. One of them, a man wearing a baseball cap, asked if he should get his American flag out of the car. I could see a couple of double takes, flag-waving having been out of style for at least 40 years now, but no one wanted to say no. “The flag attracts a lot of attention,” he said, and he’s right. Myself, I’ve always lobbied for taking back the flag from the rabid right, but it takes some nerve to actually do it.  

As per local custom, many passing cars honked and many drivers waved. Continuing my ongoing personal poll, I noticed the remarkable diversity of the enthusiasts: every single driver of serious work trucks (half of them Latino), SUV drivers from through-the-tunnel, women driving to work alone, multi-racial and two-or-more-gender car pools headed for UC, twenty-somethings talking on cell phones with one hand while waving with the other (we stepped back from the curb until they passed.) 

One older woman in a Volvo station wagon rolled down her window and shouted “Hillary, Hillary, Hillary...we need a woman in the White House.” That was a congenial exchange too, all parties smiling as they disagreed. It’s just possible that Norine, a dedicated feminist, would have stuck with Senator Clinton. 

In the end, in this election, it’s not going to matter much whom you supported in the primary. Kucinich and Edwards did heroic duty trying to remind the Democratic party of its historic ideals, and succeeded in that task beyond anyone’s wildest expectations as recently as two years ago. At this point, it’s not if we should get national health insurance or withdraw from Iraq, but simply when, a huge change in public opinion, and attibutable in part to those two campaigns.  

The time has come now for chronic fence-sitters to jump down and into the fray. Last weekend a friend hemmed and hawed, saying he might have to vote for Mike Gravel in Tuesday’s primary. Another one said he’d be tempted to vote for Edwards even though he’d withdrawn from the race. Come on, you guys, get with the program.  

A whole generation, one a half-step younger than mine, has made a career of holding back on commitment. Many of them have even been afraid to get married, even to people they’ve been living with for 10 or 20 years. And look where it’s gotten us. 

There was a mid-’60s refrain: “Did you ever have to finally decide?” which mirrored the ambivalence shared by many in that era toward engagement. Like Kucinich and Edwards now, Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy by 1967 summoned the courage to question the unquestionable, though the president they challenged was like them a Democrat. Even though the immediate result was the election of Richard Nixon, the ultimate result was the end of the Vietnam War, even if a Republican had to do it.  

This time, regardless of who the eventual Democratic nominee is, everyone is going to have to fall to and make it happen in November. Whatever you might think about the inadequacies of the Democratic Party (and I’m with you on that), there’s not a candidate in the race who would be as bad as Bush, or even as McCain or (god forbid) Romney. That being the case, you’d be well advised to practice decision-making today (Tuesday) by choosing one of the two front-runners and casting your vote even in the primary.  

One more time, in case you didn’t get the memo. Unless you’re registered in another party, you can vote in the Democratic primary. Just go boldly into your polling place and ask for the Democratic ballot.  

Of course, if you’re still registered in the Green or Peace and Freedom parties, you’re out of the game for this round. Berkeley has more than its share of the slow-to-get-it folks whom life has passed by, people who are still living in the same rent-controlled apartment they moved into in college 30 years ago. Many of them will be tempted to self-righteously opt out of the political process one more time in November, to vote for grouchy old Ralph Nader if he decides to take one more ego trip on our watch.  

Give it up, folks. No matter what party you honor with your registration, you can vote for an actual candidate in November. Take a deep breath, hold your nose, and leap into the water. Your kids are doing it, and you can too. 

My old radical friend Michael Rossman, whom I’ve known since long before he was a leader of the Free Speech Movement, sent me this e-mail: 

“My son Jaime has asked me to forward this to you, which I do with glad pride, remembrance and hope:  


Dear Friends and Family; 

For the first time in my life, I am planning on voting for a Democratic candidate for President, Barack Obama. Choosing to do so marks somewhat of a departure from my political allegiance, since Obama’s voting record is less than ideal and his policies are sometimes less than progressive. But Obama offers something far more important to his potential success as our chief executive: a vision of governance based on hope and idealism, and a growing movement of traditionally marginalized people gaining inspiration from his leadership. 

Policies are not made by individuals. They are made by movements, and movements are made by inspired people. The real question we should each be asking during elections is this: Who will inspire me to pursue my own vision of the future? 

Aside from the catastrophic failures in vision, planning and practice which have dominated our government during my life, government has failed to inspire. The rampant myopia and crony-ism has hurt us most by coercing us into inaction, leaving access to government solely to those motivated by profit or revenge. It saddens me to say that Obama has not proven he would exclude these voices (as Edwards and Kucinich would claim to), but I have faith in this; he will listen to our voices as well. 

So in closing, I leave it to you to learn more about Obama’s policies, just as I will be doing now that I’ve joined his campaign. But I also ask you to think about the world you want to see, to imagine the next five, ten, twenty years of American politics, and to ask yourself whether that vision can start with Obama being elected. If that idea excites you, the time to act is now. In ... days, this race will be over, at least as far as most of us are concerned. If you decide to vote for Obama, here’s all I’m asking you to do; tell two people you wouldn’t normally have told. 

Much love,  



For California, it’s almost over now. If Jaime’s candidate doesn’t make it here, he still has a chance in other states. But I hope (and suspect) that whether it’s Clinton or Obama in November, young people like Jaime, who comes from a distinguished line of questioners and dissenters, will continue on the path of being active participants, not just spectators, in the political process. And whether he gets the nomination or not, Barack Obama should get a large share of the credit for that.