“I haven’t really thought about it. A re-election campaign definitely won’t be as exciting.”
Kimberly Salib, the proprietor of Art Gotham in Soho, asked 300 artists to make a 12-inch-by-12-inch work of art inspired by the election, and auctioned the pieces off in the fall of 2008. She is not planning on trying again either.
“I kind of lost my passion for it all, to be honest with you,” she said. Since the election, she has been audited, and a shaky economy and lack of support for galleries like hers “has made me totally uninterested. I am no longer excited about doing these things.”
Among Obaminators, some moments from the run-up to the election live on memory. They are like this generation’s Woodstock, with those who remember what it was like outnumbering those who actually experienced it.
At a spring benefit at the Hope Lounge in Williamsburg, the hip-hop artist Toothpick performed, slam poetry was slammed, and a stenciling station was set-up outside. Nearly 300 people paid $10 to get in the door, all of which went to the campaign. Colette Whitney and James Johnson, a biracial married couple, performed what audience members remembered as a song-and-dance vaudevillian number that went, “We’re Ready/Right Now/To Fight For/ Obama.”
“It was an exciting time,” recalled Ari Herstand, a singer-songwriter who performed there and who said that the long campaign’s numerous benefit concerts gave his music career a boost. “Everyone was totally amped up and energized. Spirits were high. There was this electrifying energy that night, and in general—everyone was excited to be a part of this movement.”
Asked if he expects a similarly full dance card this time around, Mr. Herstand replied, “No way.”
“That time we felt that Obama was more or less this outsider, this new young proponent for change, and he really engaged the younger, 20-something crowd, and we felt that this was someone very different, someone that was kind of an intelligent, amicable leader that we could get behind.”
“It’s hard to get everyone to rally back around him this time. We see mild victories here and there, but it’s not the complete overhaul we were expecting.”
The event at Hope Lounge was organized by a young artist who goes by the name Gadi. Early in 2008, he met up with 30 or so other creative types at a bar in Alphabet City and had the idea of do-it-yourself stencil T-shirts for the campaign.
After the Hope Lounge show, he was doing some Obama-inspired stenciling in the East Village one evening for another revuelike fund-raiser when a young filmmaker named Annie Woods came up to him and said, “Those are super rad. Can I buy some off of you?”
Ms. Woods and her sister had covered their Volvo station wagon from bumper to bumper with Obama bumper stickers, and the two ended up driving something they called “The Bama Bus,” a Vanagon likewise covered in Obama stickers, across the country, setting up stenciling stations along the way.
Gadi would like to get involved again but said it will be hard-going to get other artistically inclined members of his generation to sign on.
“It’s going to be impossible to recreate that moment,” he said. “People’s memories are very short.”
He recited for The Observer a song he had written for 2012 effort.
“The system is broke and they all promised to fix it/I’m tired of that joke, wish I still believed it/If we are the ones we’ve been waiting for/Then why are we waiting for something more?”
A number of new political organizations arose in the wake of the ’08 effort, trying to keep the spirit of the season alive for the next round of local elections and hopefully, they thought, beyond.
The New Kings Democrats formed in North Brooklyn with the task of electing Obamalike reformers to local offices. In 2010, they propelled one of their own to a post with the Brooklyn Democratic Party. The Barack Obama Democratic Club still stands in Washington Heights, and its founder, Mark Levine, said that it remains active heading into the 2012 season. But most of the organizing groups are a shell of what they were three years ago.
Brooklyn for Barack, a clearing house of all things Obama-related, tried to keep the energy up with community service fairs and the like, but has mostly withered away. Its founder, Jordan Thomas, a 40-year-old filmmaker, declined repeated requests for an interview, saying he was in preproduction. Others, like New Yorkers for Change, are little more than un-updated websites.
“You had people not from the political chattering class, and they all had different sorts of contacts, different social networks and professional networks and that is what was utilized,” said one former campaign official. “And people going out and getting activities together created buzz, and one thing spawned another.”
Those inside and outside the Obama youth movement say that the conditions of 2008 are not replicable this time around, regardless of how the first three years of the Obama administration have gone. Then you had a generation of people weaned on the Bush years, war and the Patriot Act. When a thoughtful and cool biracial candidate came along, it was hard not to get swept up in it. A dash of naïveté, of the kind that believed “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” could be an actual policy platform, helped too.
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