Friday, January 30, 2009

Activist San Diego Celebrates “End of an Error”

Ball in Honor of Obama’s Presidency Draws 200


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom:

SuperSonic Samba School

Spoken word artist Bennie Herron

“Billionaires for Obama”

Girl Dancer

City Councilmember Marti Emerald

Ernie McCray and Martin Eder

Monarch School Steel Drums

Sacred Tribal Infusion

In 2001 and 2005, the progressive Internet group Activist San Diego (ASD) hosted “Counter-Inaugural Balls” to protest the ascension of George W. Bush to the presidency by what many of its members and supporters thought were corrupt and fraudulent means. On January 24, 2009 the location — the big auditorium of the Balboa Park Club — and many of the participants were the same, but the message couldn’t have been more different. This time, ASD’s “People’s Ball” was held to celebrate “the end of an error” and commemorate “democracy under construction” following Barack Obama’s election victory and his inauguration four days earlier.

About 200 people attended the event and heard infectious music by the salsa band Agua Dulce, the Mariachi Juvenil (Youth Mariachi) — which serenaded ball-goers as they walked in — the Monarch School Steel Drums Ensemble and the SuperSonic Samba School. One of the many high points of the event was when the steel drummers and the samba percussionists jammed together on one song. Another was the extraordinary performance by TranscenDance, the dance troupe of high school students (five of whom appeared at the ball), and a third was the belly-dancing performance by the Sacred Tribal Infusion. This was a troupe of three women, though the most moving part of their set was a solo dance by one performer to a recorded song calling for peace in the Middle East whose lyric was built around the similarity of the Hebrew and Arabic words for peace, “shalom” and “salaam.”

Other performers included Mitchell Walker, who played the didgeridoo (a traditional Australian instrument formed, event MC Ernie McCray announced, by natural processes working on a piece of eucalyptus wood) in the lobby before the program started; Bennie Herron, an African-American spoken-word performer who did a poem about Obama; and McCray himself, who also read a poem addressing the new administration in guardedly optimistic tone. The one elected official who spoke was District 7 City Councilmember Marti Emerald — introduced by ASD founder Martin Eder with a reference to her previous career as a consumer reporter for KGTV Channel 10 — after fellow City Councilmember Donna Frye and former city attorney Mike Aguirre were unable to attend.

Participants and attendees were hopeful but also fearful of the Obama administration. Eder, McCray and Herron all stressed the need for progressives to stay mobilized and push Obama to the Left in the face of “business-as-usual” types in the Democratic party and the Washington establishment who will pressure him to govern from the center or the Right. While most people in the room spoke proudly of Obama and their role in helping his campaign, a few were more skeptical. At least two attendees wore “Billionaires for Obama” costumes — a new twist on the “Billionaires for Bush (or Gore)” effort in 2000, which argued — largely by citing the similar positions Bush and former vice-president Al Gore took during that campaign — that it didn’t really matter which one of them won.