Obama in the House?

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The organizers and speakers from Hip Hop 4 Obama make Chris DeMento wonder: Can Obama really do it?

By Chris DeMento

Barack Obama's been making the biggest grassroots push since JFK's presidential campaign, but will it take? I spoke and listened to three very intelligent and spirited Obama supporters at a recent Hip Hop 4 Obama event at Berkeley's Ashkenaz, all of whom were filled with information and the will to help their man beat a Clinton in a primary. One small problem: nobody showed.

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Annemarie Stephens, founder of Hip Hop 4 Obama

Annemarie Stephens is the founding coordinator of Hip Hop 4 Obama and organized the event. She spoke to me about the importance of connecting with first-time voters in a language they understand, and about mobilizing this young 2nd-wave hip-hop generation by encouraging a sense of voter entitlement -- something the government has not done for them.

Erin Callahan, Obama's Northern California Campaign Director, forwarded the language of "the movement," stressing that Obama proponents have long been gathering momentum in California, forming their own organizations and paying out of their own pockets -- just like Stephens is doing -- to help cultivate awareness and engender support for Obama. She reminded me that before his campaign even set foot in the state, there were already 700 autonomously pro-Obama organizations in existence here.

Oakland Councilwoman Desley Brooks addressed the audience as to the importance of breaking what has become a vicious and inbred cycle of politicking for politics', not the people's, sake. I was sincerely moved when I heard a little boy respond to her comments about Bush's recent and despicable health care veto with a knowing "Uhh huh."

But where was everybody? The Ashkenaz could have felt like a hip-hop town hall; it opened its stage to local acts like the Souls of Rap Folks, Trinidad, COV Records crew and a host of other talented, enthusiastic youngsters who kept their energy high despite the low turnout.

The sets were professionally filmed, and I'm sure the footage will be put to good use in the form of streaming video. Certainly, all who participated in this event should be applauded for what they gave, which was a lot. But the grassroots approach takes on a different sort of character when audience participation in democracy goes the way of the old point-and-click review.

More important than "Can he beat Hillary?" is the question of whether or not Barack's nifty web platform can move America's youth in the direction of a standing-room-only, shout-at-the-devil return to the democratic process their parents knew.

Info on HipHop4Obama's upcoming voter registration events at my.barackobama.com/page/group/HipHop4Obama
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