Epic Journey for The Rising Electorate
(This blog series offers insight into the experiences of a seasoned campaign manager who participated in the historic shift of power for voters of color during the 2008 presidential election—often referred to as “popping the CLUTCH”)
By Kirk Clay
The instant Langston arrived at Memphis’ International Airport, he raced to the cab stand. After noticing the long line of passengers, he began to second guess the idea of taking a cab. As an organizer Langston was taught to rent a car so he would be ready for any logistical surprise that necessitated a light-footed reaction. But he was in a hurry to make a meeting and also knew that the cab was his only hope of being on time.
Eventually the cab attendant directed him to a cab and swung open the rear door as the driver hopped out to handle his luggage. Once settled inside, the driver began to mumbled “Hey, you going downtown or close by?”
“I’m headed to the Mason Temple,” Langston answered with a nod. “How long of a drive? How much will it cost?”
The cab driver looked concerned. “No time at all and it will be cheaper than a limo. I just –”
Langston checked his watch. “Cheaper is not a price and no time at all is not a time but something tells me that you know where it is so let’s go” Langston responded.
“Thanks,” the driver said eagerly.
Langston figured the cab driver wasn’t trying to shake him down plus he was here for a greater purpose. Organizers learn early that every interaction contributes to the success or collapse of a campaign. Every exchange has to be handled with thoughtfulness and consequence. The second you step off a plane everything in the environment becomes your window into the reality and politics of the people who work and live there — whether it’s billboard ads, community newspapers, local radio stations, a second language, or even a soul food restaurant.
Langston’s friends teasingly labeled him a “social archaeologist” because of his talent and instinct for finding data points in culturally distinctive neighborhoods and happenings. “All you need to do is parachute Langston into a community and within a day he can give you the 4-1-1” one of his close colleagues frequently states.
Langston Clay – AKA the Energizer – has been an organizer for 18 years. However, this campaign to elect America’s first African American President would test everything he knew and teach him even more. As a director of America’s first super Political Action Committee (an organization that can raise unlimited amounts of money for political efforts), he was embarking on a protracted journey of epic proportions. And Langston could sense the political landscape shifting under his feet. He didn’t know exactly what to make of this revelation but he did know that it would have a game-changing impact on the lives of people of color.
After a few minutes of travel, they arrived at the location. Langston tipped the cab driver, grabbed his luggage and knocked on the door at the Mason Temple. The church was built between 1940 and 1945 and was a focal point of the activities during the civil rights movement. The white Art Moderne style building sat stately in the heart of Memphis’ activist community.
Memphis had once been a crown jewel for American culture, arts, and music. The city still had a decent portion of affluent residents; however the wealth gap between the haves and have-nots had grown to an embarrassing range. Like most American cities hit with the great recession, it was common to see a number of Cadillac Escalades sitting outside of foreclosed homes with struggling families living inside.
To be continued…