Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 5: A day to remember - hype, labour pain, yeast infection, tea party and a moment of borrowed pride



Picture above: The ginormous “mini” bus that takes us around the city for our meetings.


Kristin, looking slightly concerned, asked everyone on the bus ride today, “Is everyone ok? I’ve noticed that some of you look a little bit under the weather.” She was referring to Dil and I  who have been trying hard to muffle our coughs during several meeting sessions today.

I may be physically under the weather but my spirit soars far above the Metro stations. Today is one of those days that reminds me of the reasons why I should still believe in humanity. Today is a day when my heart flutters in its attempt to tell me that I’m happy to be living this moment.

We had a series of eventful and interesting meetings from 9am to 4:30pm and it culminated in a high note when we finished the day with a night tour of the White House. The icing on the cake was fresh, delectable and sweet.


Picture above: Mozelle Thompson reminds the delegates that it’s important to manage one’s hotness on Facebook. Laura Burton Capps looks on amusingly.

We first met up with Laura Burton Capps and Mozelle W. Thompson who talked about traditional  and new media strategies for a successful political campaign.

Laura has spent 15 years developing strategic communications and issue advocacy campaigns for former President Bill Clinton, late Senator Edward Kennedy, former Senator John Kerry and other notable academic and non-profit organisations.

Mozelle is on the Advisory Board of Facebook and CEO of Thompson Strategic Consulting. He provides legal and policy advice to technology companies and was a Team Leader of the Obama/Biden Transition where he led the review of the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Both presented very compelling arguments on the strengths and importance of traditional and modern media respectively but they also mutually concluded that for a campaign to be truly successful, both methods should always be adopted to complement each other.

Mozelle aptly calls the Facebook phenomenon as “a book club on steroid”. He described the effectiveness of Facebook as a campaign tool by giving an example that someone is likely to be more inclined to buy a Ford if he finds out on Facebook that his cousin has bought one.

He also imparted his wisdom on how to handle bad press/publicity. “The thing with owning a Facebook page or a blog is this, you’ll have to expect people to disagree or criticise you on your page or blog. But do you try to censure or remove these criticisms? Of course not cause here’s the thing. You can remove the comments, but that doesn’t mean they stop criticising you. You need to confront it because it will also provide you with an opportunity to rebut and to replace the bad with good publicity.”



Picture above: Left – Chuck Rocha and Jun Kim sharing their “union” stories. Right: Dil with the beautiful Anna Durett. Notice what she has on her dress?

We quickly moved on to our next meeting with people from the Communications Workers of America (CWA). CWA is the largest telecommunications union in the world. We were addressed by a charismatic Chuck Rocha and his amiable and down-to-earth colleagues, Jun Kim and Anna Durrett. Chuck’s introduction was  personal, human and inspiring. He shared the story of how he climbed from the bottom of a worker’s ladder to being a union leader and an effective activist for labour rights.

What was interesting about this session is how the whole argument about civil and political rights being as equally important and inter-connected with economic, social and cultural rights (the so-called “third-world rights”) can be personified in the role of a trade union. Chuck said that the sole purpose of a trade union is to defend and promote economic rights and security of workers and one of the most effective measures is to lobby for workers’ rights through legislative change.


Picture above: Denise Ferriozi sharing a light moment with some of the delegates.


We then met Denise Ferriozi, Director of Women Vote! of the Emily’s List. The acronym Emily stands for Early Money is Like Yeast, signifying the yeast’s role in raising the dough.  EMILY's List is a political action committee (PAC) in the United States that aims to help elect progressive female candidates who are pro-choice to office.

I was curious to find out whether the organisation would support a female homosexual candidate and Denise affirmed that they had in fact helped Tammy Balwin to become the first openly gay woman elected to Congress in America. Here’s an interesting video promo by Emily’s List.


Our last meeting was with Phil Kerpen, Vice-President for Americans for Prosperity (a name which should never be confused for a Chinese-American movement). He shared a lot about the philosophies behind the tea party movement and surprisingly it makes a lot of sense to have what they call an “outside organisation” which plays an important role in American politics. For instance, this group is neither Republican nor Democrat and I personally see them as being in the middle. Although it was not specifically mentioned, I believe that they generally call for the decentralisation of federal government, oppose increased taxation in order to increase welfare and their main drive is to maintain the economic prosperity of hardworking Americans.



Top left: Everyone in great anticipation at the entrance of the White House waiting for security clearance. Top right: At the Press Briefing room where the President delivers his press statements. Bottom: Araz  at the far left and Lindsay at the far right.

Unlike 10 Downing Street, the White House is probably one of the most iconic landmarks in the history of cinema and television drama. Although I have not watched The West Wing (which I should), I can just about imagine the thrill, honour, responsibility and glory of being in the White House. After all, most major foreign policies, whether good or bad, are being deliberated there.

When I first stepped into the White House, it felt as if I was stepping into Tengku Razaleigh’s office and resident in Kuala Lumpur; which for some bizarre reason, emulates the White House. It was a feeling of indifference. It wasn’t until when I saw the generically framed photographs capturing the daily life of President Obama lining every corner of White House walls, that I began to feel a sudden rush of pride and greatness. Being Malaysian, it was indeed a bizarre feeling and I felt guilty almost instantaneously.

As I walked along with the other ACYPL delegates, I tried to understand why being in the White House has touched me that much and these are my conclusions. As a stranger to this country, I was able to feel that sense of pride and honour as any average American would feel because the photos show a regular human being who shares an extraordinary and inspiring story. Barack Obama was a regular  man who tenaciously fought his way up to become the first African-American President. It is clearly a powerful human story and the photos depict him not only as a President but also a husband, father, son and man, help strangers like me to connect with him. (You can view the photos here)

I also think there is another possible contributing factor. To me, Lindsay Mueller and Araz, the two officers who gave us the tour, are the two best people the White House could have as “ambassadors”. It was extremely telling that they were both zealous, proud and honoured to work there. Lindsay spoke about the President, the incoming Chief of Staff, the “jumbo” (photographs) and even the infamous Colonnade with such affection and love that I feel almost envious of her.

Today is definitely one of the highlights of this trip. It almost reminded me of the day when I went to the Gandhi Smitri Museum in New Delhi quite a few years back. I went in feeling indifferent but came out inspired to be a better person for humankind. The people I met today taught me that being good at what they do is ultimately what makes the difference and change.



  1. Sounds like an adrenalin rush from dawn to dusk.

  2. Yes, on certain days it is but generally, it has been pretty easy-going. The organisation tries to give us sufficient time to explore the city as well.