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US ’08: Obama volunteer says anger and passivity link Canadian and American politics

He’s been threatened with violence on the campaign trail in Florida, but a Victorian volunteering to get Barack Obama elected President still says American and Canadian politics are essentially the same.

“They are identical,” said Larry Wartels. What politics has in common in the U.S. and Canada is, he said, “The passivity and the anger of the public.”

Wartels has been in Melbourne, Florida for the last two months working on the campaigns of Obama for President and Democrat Steve Blythe for Congress. He refers to the competition as “Main-Pain”, which is what you get “If you leave out some significant letters.”

He visited one house where two women registered as Democrats lived. A man answered the door and told Wartels to get lost. He did, but came back later to leave campaign information. A dog barked and the man came back to the door. “As I’m walking away he says, ‘I should shoot you,’” said Wartels. “It’s sort of reflective of the situation.”

A dual citizen, he grew up in Los Angeles and has lived in Victoria, B.C., where he’s brought his activism to many campaigns and causes, for a decade. Politics in both countries are passive in the way “people believe that politicians can make change on their own,” he said. It would be a much healthier democracy if more people would write letters, make phone calls and talk to their neighbours about issues, he said.

But it’s hard even to get people to participate on a campaign. The Obama campaign has put much effort into building a grassroots movement, but still it’s hard to get people involved. As he goes door to door, Wartels said, about one in 10 of the people he meets provides a phone number and says they’d like to come out and help.

“One in 10 of those people will actually come out and do something,” he said. “They feel powerless. They don't know what building their own power means.”

And they are passive despite the anger many voters feel at the way things are going. The question, he said, is how the anger gets directed. He's met many people who blame immigrants, unchristian people, unchristian ideas and gays for all that's wrong in America.

That same anger can be better focused on how people are exploited and on “greedy cutbacks” that further concentrate wealth while abandoning many, he said. “There’s healthy indignation and destructive indignation. In Victoria and here I see it too.”

That indignation and frustration needs to be guided toward simple, practical actions, he said. “Getting them to vote is a huge step.”

Municipal elections in B.C. will have the same pattern, he predicted. “The left will be way too passive and the centre and the right will make headway.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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