When the People Hold the Power of Change

Dec 312008

By Sylvia Gereda Valenzuela

I have been a journalist for 15 years now and, among the variety of topics I have covered, the elections have proven to be the most fascinating since it is there that the power of democracy held by the people, which has a direct effect on their future, can be clearly evidenced.

The invitation to participate in the Election 2008 Program for Visiting Journalists, sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Press Center and administered by the International Center for Journalists, has been one the most revealing experiences in my career.

Observing the presidential campaign from afar is quite different from experiencing in the flesh and feeling the throb of the American people. For over two weeks I had the opportunity of visiting a range of cities including both powerful cities such as Washington D.C. and remote towns such as the island of Cape May, in Southern New Jersey, where the population of barely 12,000 becomes an astonishing tourist center of 750,000 during the summer. In all of these corners, I was able to feel the yearning of a huge population that cried for change and that was willing to pack the ballot-boxes in order to make history and make their voices heard.

While covering the elections in the US, I visited the political headquarters of both Republicans and Democrats, and walked through the streets, universities and research centers. I visited important media centers and spoke with high-ranking officials and always found the same answer: these are times of change embodied in Barack Obama.

One cannot deny that the Democratic candidate has been a phenomenon for some time now. His aura shines like that of a movie star. The media do not doubt his leadership qualities, and the middle class is undergoing what has been referred to as “Obamamania,” something only comparable to the leadership of Roosevelt, Kennedy or Reagan.

This Obamamania evidences that Americans are fed up with the same worn-out names and classical policies and that they hit the polls to massively vote and break the pattern.

There is no denying that Obama has a very unique party strategy. I dedicated various days to understanding how his Democratic Party headquarters operated and was impressed to see them filled with youths and women that had voluntarily dedicated their time and money for months in order to support the Senator from Illinois.

Cape May, for example, the only district in all of New Jersey that has maintained its Republican vote for decades, defied the old systems and developed and interesting Democratic Party headquarters where elderly women worked without rest making over 1,000 calls a day from their cell phones asking people to vote for Obama.

I also learned of networks made up of volunteer university students enrolled in a massive campaign that went from door to door on weekends to obtain votes for Obama.

The powerful technological information network on the Internet created by Obama with the support of young experts, including invitations to join his campaign tour and prompting fundraising events, is what has I have been most impacted by. Obama created a new way of doing politics, adopting the language of communication to that of the new generations and that was part of his triumph over his rival, John McCain, and what led him to become the first African-American President of the United States of America.

The US taught the world a great lesson about change. But its candidates also showed that they were worthy of being compared to the great leaders of all times. McCain’s last speech, in which he called for national unity, and the elated citizens that packed the streets to peacefully celebrate the triumph of their candidate is a message strongly sent out to the world by the United States.

The writer is managing director of el Periódico in Guatemala.