December 6, 2008

Obama volunteers look to channel election energy to local issues

Cory Mason addresses the Yes We Can Racine meeting at Blueberries in Downtown Racine.

Local Democrats still glowing from Barack Obama's victory in November gathered in Downtown Racine Saturday in hopes of channeling momentum from the presidential election to local causes.

About 70 people turned out for the initial organizing event for Yes We Can Racine, the new organization that's forming around the volunteer-base Obama's campaign left behind. The event drew dozens of campaign volunteers and was even held at Blueberries in the old Century Market Building - former home to the Obama's local campaign.

Kelly Gallaher

The initial meeting laid out a map for where the organization was headed. A national organizing meeting at O'Hare Airport in Chicago ran concurrent to the local meeting. Both groups - national and local organizers - are trying to figure out how to build off of Obama's victory.

In Racine County, Obama flipped Bush's victory margin from 2004. Bush won Racine County 51.6 to 47.5 in 2004. Obama won the county 53-46.

Locally, Kelly Gallaher and Tony Loyd have emerged as leaders of the new organization. While Loyd attended the national meeting in Chicago, Gallaher led the Racine meeting. She was joined by local volunteers and Democratic elected officials in laying out plans for the group.

Renee Lee

After Gallaher welcomed the crowd, local organizer Diana Kovacs recapped the successful presidential election and Renee Lee talked about the joy Obama's victory brought to her life.

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, dug into obscure U.S. history in talking about Frances Perkins, a progressive member of President Franklin Roosevelt's cabinet. Perkins, Secretary of Labor, wanted to make a number of important changes to enhance worker rights. Roosevelt supported her, but said she needed to rally the public to make it politically possible. "Organize people and make me do it," Roosevelt told Perkins about the changes.

Diana Kovacs

She followed through by bringing the Labor movement into the New Deal and ended playing an important role in passing a minimum wage law and creating the Social Security system.

Mason related to the story to the present by saying Obama is in a similar situation. He supports progressive change, but the change has to come from the people.

The challenge for Yes We Can Racine is retaining the volunteers who worked for Obama, and then focusing them on local issues. Gallaher admitted during the meeting it's unclear how the group is going to do that. They handed out a survey to people in attendance to gauge support for a variety of issues, and suggested they would retain the "team" concept used by Obama's campaign.

John Lehman

But from the meeting it's clear the organization is an unformed lump of batter at the moment. What form it takes, and what gets it cooking, is still up for debate.

The hope comes from the people who attended. Several elected officials and candidates attended the meeting including: Mason, Sen. John Lehman, Dennis Wiser, Julie McKenna, Keith Heck, Paulette Garin and John Dickert (apologies to anyone I missed). The organization has the attention of influential people in the community, and that could sustain it beyond Obama's inauguration.

Paulette Garin

One concern is the minimal presence of the minority communities at the meeting. Part of the success of the Obama campaign on a local level was it brought people of different backgrounds together around a common cause. Yes We Can Racine needs to do that same.

If you've seen the Insider News in recent months, you may have read a series of columns by former JT Editor Randolph Brandt titled, "10 Steps to Save A City." Each column focused on the racial divide in Racine, and a step we could take to heal that divide. It's powerful stuff and a clear map for an organization searching for a way to make a lasting difference in our city.

In numbers and excitement alone, Saturday was a promising start for Yes We Can Racine. It's the most ambitious community organizing plan I've seen in the city in the last 10 years. Let's see how they build on a solid beginning.

Bethany Zimpel fills out the Yes We Can Racine survey.


  1. The beginning of The Obama Youth!
    Soon all anti-Obama speech will be hate speech and we will never need elections any more

  2. The beard on Cory Mason is so unattractive, it's not a good look for him at all.

  3. I like the beard. It's cute.

  4. It sort of makes him look like a gnome. I like gnomes though.

  5. Mason = Trotsky
    Lehman = Stalin
    Yes we can = NKVD

  6. It truly interesting how people in Racine seem to feel that they can dismiss the minority community. I believe that some one including jon Lehman needs to look at the numbers and get down to some serious dialogue and really come together. For once do not forget the ELEPHANT in the room.

  7. The flavor has left the gum.

  8. They don't know how they are going to address local issues? What the hell? That is the basis of having the organization in the first place.
    What happened to Kelly Gallaher's Progressive Women of Racine group? Did she ditch that in favor of a bigger audience?
    And, where are all those people of color that this group wants to lead? Poor form to not make sure all the parts of the community were not included.

  9. White lefties do not need the minority community at the meetings they just need the minority community to do as they are told.

  10. No Colt, they need the minority community around in order to justify whatever they come up with "for the common good" or "the greater good" or whatever it is now.

  11. Kelly Gallaher12/07/2008 11:51 AM

    Hi Everyone,

    I wanted to take a moment to clear up some misconceptions posted in the comments section.

    First, there were a number of African Americans in the audience yesterday morning and many who could not make it to the meeting. From the results of Dustin's survey comments, racial parity is extremely important him, and we could not agree more. One of the most rewarding parts of working for the Obama Campaign was the diversity in race, age and experience the volunteers brought to the process. There is nothing more vital to this endeavor than connecting with people who have not been engaged before.

    The people who attended this meeting were team leaders and volunteers who worked 40, 50 and 60 hours a week for the campaign. They are not talkers they are doers. They created an enormous change in their community and they want to continue to do so together. Our website, activities and discussions are open to the public and we invite anyone who wants to work to join us.

    We aren’t kidding ourselves that what we are attempting to do is bold. Our database is enormous and each of those people has their own story and their own passion about what can and should be done to make a difference in the community. Our hope is to be a conduit for action and change that connects people together in a meaningful and powerful way. It’s really a very simple vision.

    It’s easy to tell a group of people what to do. We could set up an advisory board of the same cast of characters and create an agenda of marching orders for others to carry out. But we’re not interested in creating that kind of organization.

    If you have a comment or criticism that helps us be better, we welcome it. Join the online community and come to a meeting or house party. A lot of people are going to be confused or angry about what they think we intend to do. A lot of people are going to say we have no right to do this. For those people I have 3 words for you:

    Yes we can.

  12. And I have Four letters NKVD

  13. "A lot of people are going to be confused or angry about what they think we intend to do. A lot of people are going to say we have no right to do this."

    Yes, the evil Republicans are already lining up to confront you. What is it going to be like to find out that you can't advance an agenda by manufacturing specters who intend you harm? Note to the group: you can do whatever you want and you will answer to no one. You will continue to figure oput ways to take money from hard working people and pay for your "programs". Don't worry, no one has any realistic chance of opposing you. Congratulations - the "future" is yours!

    Oh and here is a useful quote that probably won't make you think at all:

    "A general dissolution of the principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy.... While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.... If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great security." - Samuel Adams

  14. Dustin took a survey? I thought he was there to report.

  15. Dustin is part of the group. I am surprised he not bring this out.
    I do hope this group takes on some real issues in this city say good snow removal and public safety, now that would get my respect the feel good tax the rich white folks companies are evil OBAMA is the Son of God he must reign FOREVER is what I expect

  16. Given Kelly Galleher's opinion and cavalier attitude about inclusivenes it appears that it will be business as usual. Do not get me wrong but we would all agree that we admire a person with ambition and agenda what ever be the case, but it stil remains Kelly get the MINORITY people involved and quit justifying and rationalizing. IT JUST DOES NOT WORK ANY MORE!!!!

    Of Course you can!!

  17. Kelly,
    You are not going to be able to just make every one believe that you believe in diversity unless you demonstrate a desire to change the past practices.I believe you can, but do not expect everyone to eat it just because YOU say we can!!

  18. Can you invite the Gov of IL up to speak about hope and change?
    Have him bringg Rep. Jesse Jackson JR
    (#7) with him