Encounters with Obama: Part I, Obama and the New Party

Obama and the New Party? What? Hey I used to work for the New Party!

I like to check my  stats and see how many “tens” of readers check out this fantastic blog everyday.  I think yesterday it was seven.  But, what caught my eye was that someone stumbled upon the blog after searching “Obama and New Party.”

I hadn’t written about it because I didn’t even know it was an issue. Quite hillarious.  It looks at one point Republicans were trying to connect Obama with The New Party. The wikipedia entry is quite good on the concepts and history behind the New Party.

I worked for this very New Party Chapter in Chicago in the summers of 1998 and 1999.  I sort of remember Obama’s name coming up but did not meet him there.  I wish I had! (I have met him twice and will write about those encounters shortly.)

The Panther versus the Proffessor

Actually, I remember our executive organizer was quite critical of Obama. If anything the New Party was about being pragmatic–organizing and waiting for the right time to make your move.

  A few years prior Obama had run against Bobby Rush for Congress. Obama got crushed.  Rush was a black panther and was there when the cops murdered Fred Hampton.  Needless to say, Bobby Rush had deep roots and legitimacy, even if he was not as militant as he once was.   That face off was tagged “the panther versus the proffessor” and the panther won. And it wasn’t even close.  

Our boss’ point was well taken: don’t run in a race that you have no chance of winning.  

The Smear

Human Events is a piece of crap fascist newspaper.  This is how they concluded their editorial about Obama and the New Party:” Machiavelli once noted that we can know a leader by the people he surrounds himself with.  What does that say about Barack Obama, who chose to surround himself with people committed to overthrowing the United States and capitalism?

Human Events is wrong.  No surprise. 

The New Party was hardly run by people capable of or “committed to overthrowing the United States and capitalism.”  Our chapter was organized by lovers of democracy just out of college trying to make the world a better place.  Our boss was 25 at the time which seemed old to me.  I had just turned 21.

I made a hundred dollars a week to go out and talk with people who lived in the West Englewood neighborhood on the southside of Chicago. That summer the New Party was gearing up on two fronts.

Living Wages and Local Politics

 Chicago was on the verge of passing one of the first living wage laws in the midwest and we were preparing to run a neighborhood activist  for city council in chicago’s nonpartisian city elections–dominated by the (new) Daly machine.

The New Party succeeded on both fronts.  That summer the living wage law got passed and in April we elected Ted Thomas as alderman of the 15th ward.  The New Party beat the Daly machine.  Pretty heady stuff.  A bunch of kids, with some help from ACORN, beat one of the most powerful machines in the country.  

A Typical chicago politician?

The Daly machine hated the New Party.  Our most talented organizers were always being offered good paying city jobs if they would quit organizing. But our activities could hardly be considered “overthrowing the United States and capitalism.”

A few months after the elections, I came back to work for the New Party in Chicago.  They were impressed with my organizing ability and gave me a raise to $250 a week.  But the New Party fizzled out and most of the political energy was now  being put into New York’s Working Families Party.

I spent that summer in Little Rock working for the New Party around issues of suburban sprawl but the campaign got little traction.  Through friends I learned that our old boss moved to Connecticut and that Ted Thomas–the alderman we got elected–had had a heart attack and didn’t have much fight left in him.  He quickly fell into line with the Daily machine and bought himself a nice new car.

And that was pretty much the end of the New Party.

What I think is most illustrative of this story is that John McCain trys to brand Obama as a “typical Chicago politican.”  When in fact, this New Party story shows that Obama isn’t a typical Chicago politician.  He took on the Daly machine—he was a Chicago maverick.

The inspiration for the New Party wasn’t Marx or anyone trying to overthrow the good ole US of A. In fact it was just the opposite. It was run by young people who were trying to improve America and make it even better inspired by the likes of Harold Washington,  Saul alinksy, and Martin Luther King.


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