Man in the middle - Page 7

From Burning Man to Denver, there's a new politics emerging in America, maybe even a new American Dream -- and it's not all about Barack Obama
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Photo by Mirissa Neff


Photo by Mirissa Neff

OBAMA NIGHT

Amid all the excitement, there were scary moments for the progressives. For example, Joe Biden, accepting the vice-presidential nod, urged the nation to more aggressively confront Russia and send more troops into Afghanistan.

During one of the most high-profile points in the convention, halfway between the Gore and Obama speeches, a long line of military leaders (including Gen. Wesley Clark, who got the biggest cheers but didn't speak) showed up to support Obama's candidacy. They were followed by so-called average folk, heartland citizens — including two Republicans now backing Obama. One of the guys had a great line, though: "We need a president who puts Barney Smith before Smith Barney," said Barney Smith. "The heartland needs change, and with Barack Obama we're going to get it," he added.

Of course, these are the concerns of a progressive whose big issues (from ending capital punishment and the war on drugs to creating a socialized medical system and fairly redistributing the nation's wealth) have been largely ignored by the Democratic Party. I understand that I'm not Obama's target audience in trying to win this election. And there is no doubt he is a historic candidate.

Bernice King, whose father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech 45 years to the day before Obama's acceptance speech, echoed her father by triumphantly announcing, "Tonight, freedom rings." She said the selection of Obama as the nominee was "decided not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. This is one of our nation's defining moments."

But there is still much work to do in convincing Obama to adopt a more progressive vision once he's elected. "America needs more than just a great president to realize my father's dream," said Martin Luther King III, the second King child to speak the final night of the convention. Or as Rep. John Lewis, who was with King during that historic speech, said in his remarks, "Democracy is not a state, but a series of actions."

BACK TO THE BURN

We left Denver around 1:30 a.m. Friday, a few hours after Obama's speech and the parties that followed, driving through the night and listening first to media reports on Obama's speech, then to discussions about McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

The Obama clips sounded forceful and resolute, directly answering in strong terms the main criticisms levied at him. Fowler said the Republicans made a very smart move by choosing a woman, but he was already getting the Democrats' talking points by cell phone, most of which hammered her inexperience, a tactic that could serve to negate that same criticism of Obama.

We arrived back on the playa at 5:30 p.m. Friday, and a Black Rock Radio announcer said the official population count was 48,000 people, the largest number ever. The city has been steadily growing and creating a web of connections among its citizens.

"That city is connecting to itself faster that anyone knows. And if they can do that, they can connect to the world," Harvey told me earlier this year. "That's why for three years, I've done these sociopolitical themes, so they know they can apply it. Because if it's just a vacation, we've been on vacation long enough."

Yet when I toured the fully-built city, I saw few signs that this political awakening was happening. There weren't even that many good manifestations of the American Dream theme, except for Tantalus, Bummer (a large wooden Hummer that burned on Saturday night), and an artsy version of the Capitol Dome.

Most of the people who attend Burning Man seem to have progressive values, and some of them are involved in politics, but the event is their vacation. It's a big party, an escape from reality.