A Blogazine, based out of Park Slope, Brooklyn, that features fun and interesting articles. Topics include: parenting, society, real estate, career, style, spirituality and more. Written contributions are always welcome!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Audacity of Park Slope

Prior to co-founding the Audacity of Park Slope, Gabriele Sewtz openly admits that she’d never been politically engaged in her life. However, something sparked in her, the day she watched Barack Obama give the memorable "The Audacity of Hope" speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. It was the speech that many Americans would peg as the genesis of a political star in the making. His words sought to bridge the partisan divide, but also managed to plant the seeds for a distinctive and effective political “brand” of hope for change. Many have commented on how he seemed to have channeled the oratory bearing of both Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy and revived a long lost patriotism. As soon as his speech ended, Obama’s words “…and out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come!” seemed to reverberate in mid-air. They had weight, in a time when words seemed homogeneous and stale.

Gabriele remembers telling her husband, “Should he ever run for President I’ll be there for him to do whatever it takes to help him win”. As it turns out, she has proven that she’s someone you would want on your team if you want to make things happen. She, along with co-founders Bill & Janna Beckler, spearheaded the grassroots organization the Audacity of Park Slope (AOPS) which was founded in Park Slope, Brooklyn to support Barack Obama in his quest for presidency. Since it began in March 2007, it has grown from a 20 person monthly assembly to 250+. Audacity of Park Slope is an independent group and is not authorized, funded or supported by Obama for America. However, AOPS was trained in the ways and values of the Obama campaign to better work in parallel with them. The AOPS volunteers are the heart of the organization and they can be counted on to take the leading role for various different events and activities including: voter registration, recruiting volunteers, phone-banking and debate watching parties, out of state trips to recruit voters, petitioning and fundraisers. In fact, two delegates who were volunteers were in the ballot.

Hip Slope Mama met with Gabriele, a Park Slope mom and full-time, local real estate broker
at Sweet Melissa Patisserie for lunch. We immediately got down to the business of ordering from their delicious menu and both settled on the Smoked Salmon Plate. Ms. Sewtz was easygoing and amenable. Discussion flowed, and before we knew it we were bonding over tea and sharing schools of thought regarding parenting, Real Estate and hopes and dreams for the nation. Of course, I was curious to hear first hand about Obama. Gabriele had met him many times in person. She found him to be a very gifted speaker and was impressed with his sincerity and authenticity. Originally from Germany, she is thrilled that she officially became an American citizen on April 4th 2008 and anxiously looking forward to place her vote for Obama come November. What’s certain is that this new citizen’s patriotism cannot be denied. Single-minded in her mission, she has succeeded in being a driving force in mobilizing the Park Slope community to ensure raw enthusiasm turns into tangible votes. So far, the proof is that Obama won Park Slope and it’s Congressional District (CD 11) with a 56% lead on Super Tuesday.

Gabriele notes that Obama’s popularity skyrocketed in Park Slope shortly after Edwards dropped out of the campaign and Caroline and Edward Kennedy endorsed him. “He is the best candidate to rally different backgrounds”, she says. “I was impressed that he was able to inspire and mobilize more traditional Park Slope, long-time residents. What I like about Park Slope is that so many people are very engaged on a high level with community issues. Obama gave them the opportunity to engage at an even higher level. It’s so easy to just write a check, but people donated both money and time. Most importantly: time. That is crucial given that everyone is so busy these days”.

After Super Tuesday, AOPS collaborated with NY Women for Obama, because they realized that throughout this campaign a critical segment to sway and solidify as Obama voters has been women. “Obama stands for “Change for Everyone”, Gabriele says, “but not particularly “Change for Women”. Because of this, it seems women have been torn on whether or not they should vote for him. Most were holding out hope for Hillary becoming the first women President”.

I asked Gabriele, “As someone with a European background, what do you think you see as the pros, as well as the debilitating problems of this nation?” She thought intently and began with the cons, “The reputation of the U.S. suffered under the Bush regime. A lot of work needs to be done to get things back. Luckily, Obama creates relationships. His ethos is to exhaust diplomacy and negotiation before ever considering invading other countries. As far as the pros, Obama is forthright about speaking the uncomfortable truth. Many Americans are inspired by this message of truth. It resonates and they are eager to chip in to help make change happen. Americans are always willing to lend a hand. The American spirit is ‘if you work hard you can achieve anything’. Obama is the personification of this idea; an idea that Americans may have forgotten over the last couple of years”.

Indeed it is apparent that Obama has stirred a patriotism that was almost a thing of the past. However, in these shifting political sands, a new President will face serious challenges that will require more then a boatload of inspiring and eloquent speech. Many Democrats believe the next leader will need to strike a balance between establishing a sense of security, while initiating radical change. If Obama were to become President, can he pull it off? Gabriele is confident that he can. “His biggest challenge is this uphill battle of fixing things that the Bush administration has muddled”, says Gabriele, “such as, accumulated debt, strained relationships, and an economy not in its prime. Not to mention, having to revive a lot of processes that have been standing still because the Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to get it together”.

Ms. Sewtz is bothered when some detractors insist that Obama lacks the experience to help him rise to such an awesome challenge. She disagrees and insists that he has a track record of impressive accomplishments that speak for themselves. “His track record is where his strengths are”, she says, “and that’s how he’ll make an impact.”

As a mom, she asserts that the main issues that need to be addressed in a meaningful way, for the good of our children’s generation, are education and the environment. Gabriele informs, “Other countries, like Germany for instance, manage to provide quality education at no cost to parents, even up to university”. Apprentice programs that establish a roadmap for students to learn a trade early on also follow the European model that Gabriele believes is very effective. The other concern is Global Warming. She admits that it is a very broad term. At the end of the day, when it comes to the environment “we need to be smarter and less ignorant about the facts and that will go a long way”.

As I sipped away at my peppermint tea, I couldn’t help wondering how a new mom, a working mom could find the time to rally so many people on behalf of Obama. People in the community have taken notice. Especially prior to Gabriele becoming a new citizen, many had admired how much time she had invested knowing at the time that she was not officially able to vote. “My pastor says that’s really Lutheran”, she confides with a modest smile “I just like to help, I like to make it happen”, she adds unassumingly.

Advice she would give other busy women out there who’d like to support a worthy cause is to follow your passion, have fun and surround your self with a strong network. Of course, it’s never cliché to say that having a supportive husband/partner/family makes all the difference. Her husband is the backbone of all her efforts. He watches their son, Ryan while she attends events or works late nights. “Without a support system I don’t think I could do it” She says, “not everyone was very encouraging in the beginning”. Along with her support system, the hope that Obama will become President this November has bolstered her commendable stamina.

Mr. Obama once said during an interview with the NY Times. “As tempting as it might be to think otherwise, this doesn’t just have to do with me. Change always comes from the bottom up, not the top down.” Because Obama himself comes from a strong grass roots organizing background he has empowered many local organizations like the Audacity of Park Slope. In effect, he’s turning his campaign over to the people. The Audacity of Park Slope has taken this responsibility seriously. They are not running the local campaign in a vacuum, but are closely aligned with the Obama campaign and ready to create a movement of change from the bottom all the way up to the White House.