I'm back from two very long days in Chicago, at Camp Obama. There were no songs, no crafts, and no s'mores. It wasn't really what I expected at all. They said they weren't just teaching us to vote for, or to support Barack Obama - they wanted us to be Barack Obama.
It's easier than it sounds - I'm not expected to transform into a skinny black guy with a funny name. What they were teaching is how to be a community organizer - how to do the sort of work, and build the sort of power, that got Barack his start.
Chicago's community organization tradition goes back to Saul Alinsky, but things have changed some since the glory days of protest via fart-in. We're just supposed to recruit volunteers for phone banks and canvassing - no baked beans involved. But that radical touch is still there. Here's Mike Kruglik (on the right), an Alinsky student and Obama mentor, with Miguel del Valle, the Chicago City Clerk who was repeatedly described as a "progressive" politician. I'm still new to this left-wing lingo, so I'm not exactly sure what that means. But I can report that they were both lively and inspiring speakers, and Kruglik gave lots of useful information for organizing people for all sorts of things. I also learned from the previous day's session by "Dino" Martino, where we were taught that you have to ask for what you want people to do. So I asked them to pose for a picture with a sock.
The Obama volunteer headquarters is located right downtown, just across from the Sears Tower. They're open long hours, and encourage people to just drop by when they have some time and do whatever they can. This is a far cry from my past experience, when I've had to beg for jobs to do. Office space is pretty bland, so they've been asking local kids and the children of volunteers to provide wall decorations.
I stayed at the J. Ira and Nikki Harris Family Hostel. It's really nice for a hostel - amazingly clean, well-appointed (there was soap and paper towels in the restrooms!), and offering a friendly staff and a free breakfast. On the downside, you have to wash your own dishes (which means you're eating from dishes washed by some random stranger), and this is the view out the bedroom window. Still, for $35/night in Downtown Chicago, it's a good deal.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to enjoy much of downtown Chicago. We met until late Wednesday, because they took us on a tour of the campaign headquarters on Michigan Avenue. It was already getting pretty dark at 8:00, so I was really glad that the Central Time lobby didn't prevail here - I can only imagine how much worse it would be further east. So I only tried for one picture, stopping by for the sock to visit Millenium Park. There's an interesting set of fountains here, but it was much too dark to get pictures of them - and I didn't want to get the sock wet!
I didn't get much knitting done, but I'm glad I went. I didn't get much knitting done, but if there isn't a Knitters for Barack Obama chapter already, I'm going to start one. Contact me if you want to join!