My Road to Political Disillusionment

It was late winter 2008 in Southern California. I split my time between a printing plant in Los Angeles and the high desert on the back side of the Angeles Mountains north of Los Angeles. Eight years of a Bush White House were coming to an end; and it seemed like America might be turning the proverbial corner. The Democratic primary race appeared to be between a woman and black man. Such a thing seemed inconceivable just a few years prior. For being the birthplace of modern democracy … the United States sure hadn’t put practice into what they preached.

From way back I’d been interested in politics. Actually interested may be an understatement. I remember being consoled while crying by the flag pole by the principal in 1968 as a 4th grader in North Dakota. It was the day after the Humphrey/Nixon election and I couldn’t understand why the blacks constituent in the South side of Chicago didn’t turnout to vote as Democrats hoped. If they would have; Illinois would have swung to Humphrey, no one would have had a majority (George Wallace was also in the race) – and the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives. Having a Democratic majority, the House most likely would have voted in Hubert Humphrey as president. And at the time that was a big deal to me … for some reason.

It wasn’t that I liked one party more than the other – I just seem to like Humphrey. I hung around at the campaign headquarters for both parties that year pretty much every day after school. My room was so full of campaign paraphernalia that I had to move yard signs to even get in bed at night. When you’re nine, reasons for doing things don’t seem to make as much sense looking back. Regardless, the event was permanently imprinted in mind and started me down the path of political obsession.

In high school I (with my best friend Bill Thomas) organized a campaign for a Vo-Tech addition for our high school. From the time I could vote … I voted. I voted in every election – big, small, presidential, interim, national and local. Not only did I vote, I researched every race ad nauseam; even judges – yes judges.

While living in Irvine, California I ran my precinct for three years. I was a registered Democrat in a precinct that was 73% Republican. Not only did I run the precinct, I made sure that we were the first one that reported in our city. It was ‘game on’ and I was ready. It was an election.

My 100% hitting streak continued on to 2008 and the first Barack Obama election. I switched my registration to Culver City, California (where my friend Bill Swann’s printing plant was located) because I wanted to vote in an area that was highly minority (which I’m not). Bill’s plant was kind of like a ‘Front Porch’ for politics and black social issues. Bill is from Washington D.C. and was routinely prohibited from restaurants when he was growing up because he’s black. There were always people hanging around taking Obama and the possibilities he represented. The prospect of change was everywhere. It wasn’t that Obama was just black, it was he was young. Not since Kennedy did America have a presidential nominee (at least about to be) the young people could get behind. It seemed like he listened to them and genuinely wanted to help make the United States a place for all generations.

Even though I was a minority geographically speaking, I fit in. Being from North Dakota I had credibility. Senator Kent Conrad, head of the Senate budget commitment and one of the most powerful people in Washington was the first senator outside of Illinois to endorse Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Plus Conrad was a friend of my dad’s and used to speak at his high school class in North Dakota. I was “The Man” by association.

Well Obama was elected and I loved being in the middle of ‘hope.’ I got ‘high-fived’ by on the bus and at the grocery store. It was like the Lakers won the championship – for the first time.

Change illustration

But unfortunately, the rays of hope that had shinned so brightly only a few months before became obscured by dark clouds of reality. Chinks in Obama’s armour of change began to appear. His campaign promises seemed more like lip service than the foundation of the new America.

In response to their decimation of the economy – the ‘too big to fail’ banks were bailed out, let off without recourse and even allowed to consolidate more and get even larger.

Granted, the United States exited Afghanistan, but the drone hit squads didn’t stop; on the contrary, their use increased as much as the technology allowed it.

The War on Drugs, and the resulting societal destruction it reigned upon the primarily black urban cores – continued unabated. Using police force to address socio-economic shortcomings didn’t work during the eras of Reagan, Bush, Clinton and the other Bush … and it wasn’t working under Obama. Not only did this flawed policy have racial undertones, it was also generationally motivated. America’s younger minority generations were squarely put in the crosshairs while those committing the financial shenanigans that contributed to their plight were left unscathed.

For all its societal benefits (of which are many), Obama’s signature piece of legislation, the foundation of his legacy, the Affordable Healthcare Act – was built on the backs on the mandatory premiums paid by young people. The concessions (mainly coverage of pre-existing conditions) given by the insurance behemoths were in lue of the promise of young healthy enrollees.

And don’t get me going about Obama’s feet dragging on legalizing gay marriage. If it wasn’t for Joe Biden’s Freudian slip, who knows when Obama would have joined in the inevitable wave of public opinion.

But maybe most of all, the Obama administration, under the command of Education Secretary Arne Duncan (an old Chicago crony) – accelerated the use of the regimented standardized testing for America’s public schooling. This obsession focused on the memorization of often irrelevant facts and figures. What this misguided policy did was nothing but leave much of our youth woefully unprepared to face the increasing complexity of a future nothing like the one those setting the policies had to face. And the ‘every student should go to college’ model left an entire generation faced with debt that they will carry decades in the future … with often little to show for it.

The irony of it all was that these were the exact people, the voters, that put Obama in the White House in the first place. And now he had systematically turned his back on them.

Maybe it wasn’t Barack Obama as much as it was Washington and its ever-increasing polarizing dysfunction. In fact it’s the probably the latter. However I can’t let him off the hook. Because of the mismanagement of the Democratic party’s leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz (ultimately under Obama’s ‘thumb’)  – decisions to virtually abandon campaign efforts on the state and local levels have left the party in a precariously absent position where it matters most – closest to the people. Those elected to these positions and their decisions may not get the media attention, but affect our lives the most. This along with the party’s obsession over maintaining the Clinton aristocracy with its decades long relentless support for Hillary has gutted the party of any future national prospects.

All this coincided with the Hunger Games phenomenon and its eye-opening dystopian depiction of the future; as well as the advent of the Occupy Wall Street movement. This confluence of events put me firmly on my road to political disillusionment and searching for alternatives outside the boundaries of the traditional two-party representative governing model. My disgruntlement drained me, for the first time in over thirty years, of the energy to go out and vote in the 2012 election. My streak ended … and I left the park.

During the this time I was creating my small business marketing and loyalty program. I was working from my experiences recruiting talent in the digital and one-to-one marketing field. But there was something missing, the project didn’t quite feel complete. However nobel I thought the cause was to help small businesses compete against the invasion of the big box stores and Wall Street chains … it wasn’t enough.

But when my disillusionment and political frustration seeped into my professional creativity – hijacking my synaptic energies … Community 3.0  was born. I realized the marketing platform was just a piece of a bigger solution, an integral piece, but still just a piece nonetheless. I had to set the bar higher – much higher. My goal had become to create a pragmatic road to societal change through direct civic involvement using the efforts of small and local businesses as the conduit for participation.

No longer was it enough to vote, to campaign, and then expect someone else to come up with and implement the changes I felt necessary. Too often these politicians came with ulterior motives or were hand-tied by an bloated hierarchical system of governance designed for a time of much less complexity. I wanted a society that drew off the cultures of old where trust and reputation and the benevolence of neighbors and community were the cornerstones. Our current incarnation of pseudo-democracy was not doing it. In fact it was doing much to destroy these cornerstones.

If the insanity of America’s current presidential race doesn’t underscore the need for a new way of looking at things  – I don’t know what will.

If I can break rank  … we all can.


If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.


You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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