Saturday, December 29, 2007

Obama is Our Best Chance to "Keep Hope Alive" in 2008

Like longtime electoral and cultural activist Eddie Wong over 2 decades ago I was inspired by and became a part of the historic Rainbow Coalition campaigns in 1984 and 88. And I too have become active in the Obama '08 campaign with some of the same hopes as we had 20 years ago when our Jesse Jackson for President campaign won some seven million popular votes and registered 2 million new voters.

But most importantly, we used the rainbow coalition campaigns to:

1) Build a broader and more diverse base of support for progressive issues and our movements at the local level
2) Win concrete issues and influence public policy from the bottom-up
3) Use the electoral arena more strategically to build an ongoing multiracial organization and to open up political space for grassroots organizations
4) Successfully utilize media access and exposure for mass public education around social and economic justice issues. [For more see Applied Research Center's Multiracial Formations].
I think the intense Rainbow Coalition work of the 1980's also paved the way for many grassroots electoral activists and politicians like me. But the level of grassroots involvement and infrastructure to hold us accountable to our communities is much weaker today.

Though Obama has nowhere near the grassroots field campaign, or progressive vision/politics as Jackson had in the 80's, I believe his campaign gives our movements another historic opportunity, as Wong states, to "build bridges across constituencies and generations" and "for (progressive) change, for hope and for a better America."

Wong, a leader in the Asian American and Pacific Islander Leadership Council for the Obama campaign, comments in his Asian Week commentary The Man And The Moment:

Twenty years ago, as I stood in the bitter cold in a parking lot in Sioux City, Iowa, I saw a sight I thought I’d never see. A crowd of white meat-packers, big beefy men and their wives and children, shuffled their feet in quiet anticipation. They shielded their eyes against the low winter sun, stamping their feet for warmth on the frozen ground. They were waiting to hear my boss, the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.
No one knew what to expect from this unlikely meeting of the Southern-born civil rights veteran and these heartland folk who had been on strike for months and were now down to their last savings. As Jackson began to speak, I could see heads nodding as he told them that their sacrifice was redemptive, and that they were not alone in their fight for fair wages and safe working conditions. He took their strike and cast it against the larger economic violence that came out of President Reagan’s
union-busting practices, and the failures of a trickle-down economy that brought wealth to the rich and poverty to the working poor. As Jackson spoke, he ignited a sense of pride and dignity in these men and women. He brought them to their feet with tears in their eyes with the cry, “Keep hope alive!”
Now, Senator Barack Obama is standing with the workers, farmers, students, elderly and others in Iowa, preaching a similar message of hope and offering a new way forward for our country. Just as Jackson offered a break from Reaganomics and repression, Obama would take us away from the destruction of Bush’s war policies and restore our democracy. Just as Jackson offered a message of hope across racial and class divides, Obama is building a bridge across generations and constituencies.
Obama is the new messenger of hope, justice and equality. His call for ordinary people to take back their government from the lobbyists and big business clients, who have reaped mega-profits through backroom deals, is exactly what we need at this critical moment when economic inequality is at an all-time high. His pledge to engage directly with foreign leaders who oppose us and with allies who should be our partners in solving intractable conflicts is exactly what we need. We need to build bridges and tear down walls.
This moment in United States history poses a turning point that can set the course
for decades. The crises posed by global warming, a protracted struggle against Islamic extremists, the deepening inequality in our country, our deteriorating infrastructure and declining educational system, and our tarnished international reputation cry out for new answers and new approaches. Obama is the best person to meet the challenges of this historical moment. He has shown a deep grasp of issues and, more importantly, exhibited the ability to listen to other points of view and find ways to build alliances across historic barriers.
Obama is the man with the vision, clarity and ability to meet the challenges of our times. He is the man, and this is the moment — for change, for hope, for a better

Eddie Wong is a member of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Leadership Council for Senator Obama. He was the national field director of the 1988 Jesse Jackson for President campaign. He is a media and political consultant based in Oakland, Calif.

More on Obama

The argument that Obama is an example of color blindness is not consistent with the campaign. While I respect the opinion of Angela Davis on many issues, there is a problem here. We should look at the actual campaign and the actual programs.
Also see Shelby Steele, of all people, on this topic in Time Magazine.
Rather than dismissing Obama, or relying upon others views, I urge readers to look at what he is actually saying. His campaign, for example, is far from color blind. It is not “beyond race” at all.
There are important articles from the campaign and about the campaign on my blog;
Also, there are articles for and against at our electoral activism blog at

Duane Campbell

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Obama Effect

Angela Davis quoted by Gary Younge in the December 31 issue of the Nation.

"[Obama] is being consumed as the embodiment of color blindness," says Angela Davis, professor of history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "It's the notion that we have moved beyond racism by not taking race into account. That's what makes him conceivable as a presidential candidate. He's become the model of diversity in this period...a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference. The change that brings no change."

Sunday, December 02, 2007

'Count Me In' Campaign Victory at UC Campuses - Asian and Pacific Islander Students Counter the Model Minority Image

Photo from Pacific Citizen
Bravo to Asian and Pacific Islander students from UCLA and throughout California in their "Count Me In" Campaign victory for educational equity for Pacific Islander and South East Asian students in the University of California system.

After a year-long advocacy campaign, including rallies and a day of action where they delivered 2000 postcards in late October to the UC Regents, UCLA's Asian Pacific Coalition and supporters have succeeded in convincing the UC system to begin more accurately considering Asian and Pacific Islander applicants to the UC system by expanding categories of Asian and Pacific Islanders from 8 to 23 different ethnic groups.

At a November 19th conference on the UCLA campus UC VP of Student Affairs Judy Sakaki announced at the conference that, starting in 2008, the UC system will begin disaggregating the data for Asian and Pacific Islander applicants, so students can choose a more specific category for their ethnicity. The new application will also split the Pacific Islander category completely from Asian American.

UCLA's Asian Pacific Coalition [APC] is made up of 21 Asian American-Pacific Islander student organizations such as the Association of Hmong Students, the Pacific Islands Student Association and United Khmer Students. The APC serves as the main political voice of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities at UCLA. The organization acts as an advocacy group for Asian American and Pacific Islander student groups, and brings together the diverse communities to address educational, social, cultural, and political issues.
The APC is working also with other groups and state officials as well to improve access to higher education for low income and underrepresented students of color. Members of the APC promoted their "Count Me In" campaign and State Assemblyman Ted Lieu’s, D-Los Angeles, Assembly Bill 295 in a press conference at UCLA on May 31.
According to the UCLA Bruin, Lieu’s bill calls for state agencies that collect demographic data on ethnic origin, not including the University of California, to further separate categories for Asian and Pacific Islander groups. In addition to the existing groups of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese, agencies would include 10 more Asian American groups such as Bangladeshi, Fijian and Hmong. The proposed divisions would mirror the method used by the United States Census.
While the enrollment numbers for some Asian ethnic groups are low and access to resources are limited, organizers of the campaign said such issues are ignored because the groups are widely identified as “Asian” and assumed to be academically and financially successful, victims of the "model minority stereotype."
UCLA's APC began their campaign in late 2006 as the direct response to anti-Asian sentiment expressed at UCLA and a student newspaper column that blamed APA students for lowered numbers of African American and Hispanic admits. The APC immediately hosted a forum to dispel the misconception and from there, the Count Me In! campaign was born, according to Pacific Citizen Asst Editor Lynda Lin.
Following UC VP Judy Sakaki's announcement of the UC changes Matt Krupick of the Contra Costa Times wrote:

Next year's [UC undergraduate] application will expand the number of Asian-American and Pacific Islander categories to 23 -- a nearly threefold increase from the current eight categories. The ethnic identification will continue to be optional and will not figure into admissions decisions, administrators said.
The 10-campus university adopted the change after thousands of students sent postcards to UC leaders as part of the "Count Me In" campaign, said William Kidder, a UC administrator who has studied Asian-American students. The effort will help the university track groups that have not been adequately studied, such as Hmong and Samoan students, he said.
...The number of Asian- Americans has surpassed white students in the UC system. ...But the numbers belie disparities within those groups, failing to illustrate the paucity of
students from certain countries. A UCLA study last year revealed that among adults 25 and older, 15 percent of Pacific Islanders had a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 17 percent of African-Americans, 30 percent of whites and 49 percent of Asian-Americans.
The traditional statistical grouping of Pacific Islanders with Asians has made it difficult to improve college-going rates, Kidder said. Many Americans assume all Asian and Pacific Islander students share the high success rates of Chinese, Korean and Japanese students, he said.
"The 'model minority' myth ... has tended to make some of the differences harder to
see," he said. "It's rendered disadvantaged groups invisible."

Studies have shown that students from several southeast Asian countries -- including Laos and
Cambodia -- are not as likely to attend college as those from Asian countries with more developed higher-education systems.
"Southeast Asians are not getting their needs specifically met," said Muang Saephan, a youth counselor with the Oakland-based organization Lao Family Community Development. "You have some families who just got here and are barely aware of what college is."
Many southeast Asian students come from families that fled war-torn countries, said Aline Xayasouk, a third-year UC Berkeley student of Laotian descent. The Laotian students from Richmond she tutors often live in poverty and do not fit in with the Asian stereotypes of their classmates, she said.
"They always feel that people don't understand them and why they're failing," Xayasouk said.
The new UC application will include Asian categories of Chinese, Taiwanese, Asian Indian, Pakistani, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Hmong, Thai, Cambodian, Laotian, Bangladeshi, Indonesian, Malaysian, Sri Lankan and other Asian applicants.
Pacific Islander categories will include Native Hawaiian, Guamanian/Chamorro, Samoan, Tongan, Fijian and others.
Lumping the groups together has prevented Pacific Islander groups from making the case for better funding for outreach programs, said Michael Tun'cap, a UC Berkeley doctoral student who grew up in Guam.
"It's long overdue for Pacific Islanders," he said. "The U.S. Census Bureau split the two groups eight years ago."

See Lynda Lin's excellent article from Pacific Citizen for more background.