Can a Presidential Campaign That Lacked Courage Find it Now?




I was going to wait longer than two weeks after the Presidential Election of 2016 to tell this insider’s story about Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President.


The looming deadline of this Friday, November 25, for Clinton supporters to step-up and challenge questionable vote tallies and voter suppression tactics in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania has compelled me to come forward now.   Bold, legal actions on the part of the Clinton campaign—unlike the tepid response of Al Gore 16 years ago—hold the possibility of setting aside this year’s election results on the basis of constitutional and voting rights violations.


Whether or not the Clinton campaign has the courage to do it is another question entirely. What’s at stake is nothing less than American democracy, and the rights of free citizens to vote.


I experienced the campaign’s lack of courage first hand when I traveled to North Carolina to do Voter Protection for Hillary Clinton for the last four weeks before the election. As a Californian, with friends and former labor union colleagues in Raleigh, I chose to work in North Carolina—at my own expense—for two reasons: 1. The state’s history of voter suppression in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby; 2) the critical importance of North Carolina as a swing or “checkmate” state for the Clinton campaign.


The North Carolina Democratic Coordinated Campaign knew I was an activist writer when they agreed to take me on as a full-time, unpaid volunteer at their Raleigh, NC, headquarters. I was assigned to do Voter Protection, because of my law degree and my expressed interest in the area.


During my first week of working with the campaign, I studied the State’s Election Law, the Federal Judge’s July decision overturning North Carolina’s Voter “suppression” law of 2013 as “surgical discrimination,” and sat in on two training sessions for citizens volunteering to participate in voter protection activities at the polls. I was impressed by the volunteers: law-abiding, fellow Baby Boomers, passionately devoted to protecting people’s right to vote, as their civic duty.


On Sunday, October 16, following a terrific Voter Protection training session in Wilmington, NC, I awoke to the news that a GOP campaign office in Hillsborough, Orange County, was firebombed during the night. The office was rarely used by GOP campaign workers, a local Republican operative told me, and the message and technique of the single Molotov cocktail bombing was suspicious. Within hours of the bombing, Donald Trump took to twitter to pin the illegal act on “Hillary Clinton supporters” and “Democrats” with no evidence. Having worked with both of those groups, I knew those charges were patently false, and smacked of a too-quickly issued cover for a crime, still unsolved five weeks later.


So, I did what I do. I wrote about the incident as someone with first-hand knowledge of the decent people accused of a crime they did not commit. To me it smelled like the “Reichstag Fire,” of 1933, when the Nazi’s blamed the communists and Jews for starting a blaze in the German Parliament—a fire started by the Nazis themselves.


The National Memo, published my piece, and I circulated it on my blog and on   The piece was a powerful defense of the North Carolina Democrats and their respect for the rule of law and The National Memo’s headline reflected that: “Why North Carolina Democrats Would Never Bomb Orange County GOP Office.”   Among the reasons I gave was that Orange County, NC—which contains the University of North Carolina– was one of the most reliably Democratic counties in the nation, giving Barack Obama over 70% of its vote each time he ran.


Monday morning, October 17, when the article was read by The National Memo’s 300,000 subscribers, the North Carolina Democratic Coordinated Campaign, was so upset by my article (particularly the paragraph where I wrote of the role the Reichstag Fire played in German political history) that they told me to either “take the piece down” or leave the campaign by the end of the day.


I refused to “take down” the piece, citing my First Amendment Rights to write what I pleased, both as a professional writer and as a private citizen. I was an unpaid volunteer doing Voter Protection, who traveled from California to North Carolina on my own dime and the campaign could not censor me. The Clinton Campaign’s 20-something-year-old- paid Communications Director for North Carolina was officious and inflexible, fearing any fallout that could come from my article. He insisted that I “take it down”, or leave the campaign office immediately. Again, I refused to “take my article down”—a preposterous request, since the piece had already been circulated nationwide around the internet. I was escorted out of the campaign’s Raleigh office by mid-afternoon.


I spend the rest of my four weeks in North Carolina extensively covering the elections across the state, interviewing Trump and Clinton voters, attending events from the State Fair to rallies with both Obamas, Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton, closely examining the history of voter suppression of African American voters in the state, and writing a half-dozen stories for various media outlets. I came away with an in-depth view of the kind of cautious, take-no-chances campaign waged by the Clinton team in North Carolina and across the nation, that made it possible for the hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners Trump campaign to prevail—at least until now.


Whether the Clinton camp musters the courage to challenge clear voting rights violations in several key swing states which tipped the Electoral College to the candidate trailing by two million popular votes, will determine if the nation will pay the price for a campaign afraid of its own shadow.






The Pulitzer Prize winner author Viet Thanh Nguyen in his masterpiece The Sympathizer, has a remarkable passage toward the end of his book which takes away my breath by it’s sheer force and power.


The long paragraph runs across pages 353 and 354 of the paperback version of the book, over 40 lines, is punctuated by semi-colons, and populated heavily by a set of “ifs.” The super sentence suggests how different the world, and his character’s life, would have been, “If” only certain events had or had not happened:


“…if history’s ship had taken a different tack, if I had become an accountant…if we forgot our resentment, if we forget revenge; if we acknowledged that we are all puppets in someone else’s play, if we had not fought a war against each other; if some of us had not called ourselves nationalists or communists or capitalists or realists…”


I first read Nguyen’s haunting language during the early summer of the American Presidential campaign of 2016, and repeated the “if” sequence dozens of times during the campaign’s closing days. I traveled around North Carolina observing Barack & Michelle Obama, and Elizabeth Warren try mightily to win the important swing state for Hillary Clinton. I interviewed dozens of voters for Clinton, Trump or “unaffiliated,” entered historic African-American churches constructed since before slavery was dismantled, and listened to the rhythm of the voices of the citizens with whom I spoke. The cadence of their language echoed Nguyen’s:


If history had taken a quicker turn toward the arc of justice, if everyone’s skin color were the same; if furniture were still being made in North Carolina’s factories, and clothing in it’s mills; if I had become an attorney or a diplomat and moved away; if my Jesus could sit down and have a beer with yours, and pick ribs clean together; if I was not frightened by the darkness of your skin and the bright, bold hope in your eyes, and if you did not resent my very existence on the same street where you lived as a sign of your own failure; if I was a teacher or a clergyman or a doctor and could heal your wounds, then maybe my touch would not be so repulsive to you; if I was raised to read about Rosie riveting airplane bolts as well as adoring the Blessed Mother; if Hilter had perhaps, found love, and the murders of millions never happened; if weapons were not invented that could vaporize thousands of children while they road their bicycles; if we acknowledged that we were all pawns in a game played by the rich and powerful; if we understood that killing because of someone’s choice for loving was an act of violence against ourselves.


If some of us had not called ourselves Democrats or Republicans or White Nationalists or Socialists or Pragmatists or Progressives; if there were no poor people or poor healthcare, or run down housing where roaches dart from room to room carrying our resentments; if Muskie hadn’t cried, nor Nixon lied, or Joe Biden’s son died, or, if Mario Cuomo tried, at least once, to be President; if we were all connected by more than a flickering screen, or image on an I-phone, like family, not alone, not so mean; if Trump’s father loved him more than money, or Bill Clinton fell down the steps leading to Loretta Lynch’s plane and expired before being exposed; if Hillary put her dog before the data and walked free among the trees in Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania a few more times; if more people thought, or read, or voted, or listened before talking, or choked on their own bile while spewing their vileness of hate; if there was a God or force or some High court that kept the good alive, and punished the evil for diminishing the dignity of others, then maybe…maybe I could sleep, just sleep through the night. If.


Life & Love, Not Despair.

14925769_10154717580147959_7807864491850313031_n-2I grew quieter as the night grew longer, holding out the slimmest sliver of hope for a bunch of late votes to come in from Philadelphia or Detroit or Milwaukee or any pocket of promise where the optimism and beliefs of Blacks or Latinos, smart women and caring young men would save us from ourselves. I sat with a group of long-time friends in Raleigh, as we silently watched North Carolina slip away despite weeks and days and hours of work and passion to turn the lush, green state toward the sunlight, and away from the ominous elements of its dark past.
I wondered what I would say to my granddaughters, ages 7 and 5, and almost one, when I saw them this week, after they welcomed me back to California from spending four weeks in North Carolina to bring them back the first woman President in the nation’s history, and show them that, yes, girls could do and be anything. I smiled to myself, knowing they already knew that, since their mother and father show them that each moment of every day with unconditional love and belief in all they do. There is no room for the luxury of despair when the bright eyes of babies await your every breath, and wink and word.
I thought of the scene in “Life Is Beautiful” when the Roberto Begnini’s character makes the brutality of Nazi occupation into a game of hide and seek, protecting his young son from the horrors of fascism and war. We grown-ups have far more than our own feelings and fears on which to focus. Children are watching us, sensing our moods, and hopelessness is the ultimate act of self-absorption.
I tried to go to sleep sometime around 3:00 a.m. after Hillary Clinton confirmed for us that the nightmare in our closet was real, and was no longer staying behind closed doors. I tossed and turned to try and break the fever dream, but visions of crashing financial markets, and crumbling constitutional protections were dancing wildly in my head. I remembered the same feeling in 1968, when I stayed up all night to watch Hubert Humphrey concede to Richard Nixon; in 1980, when Ronald Reagan crushed Jimmy Carter, and in 2000, when Florida’s hanging chads hung Al Gore and the rest of us out to dry. Then, too, I was in disbelief, over the Supreme Court deciding a Presidential election, and, for the first time, thought of moving to another country. But fleeing was against my nature, loyal-to-a fault to the people I love, and the places I am attached to.
We thought the world ended when the Towers fell on 9/11, and for thousands of people and their families, it did. They were my towers, where I worked for 6 years; they were all my children who died, and I cried uncontrollably when I first saw the 8 x 11 photo-copies of photos of all the “missing”, on the outside walls of St. Vincent’s Hospital in NYC. But, daily life continued for each of us, and we got up about our business the following morning and the day after that, and began to rebuild our lives and our world. I remember my niece, Camille, pregnant with her first child, due a few months later, sharing with me her concern over bringing a new life into such a terrible world. New life, I told her, new hope, is all the more important now, and so is greater love, as the only antidote to hatred and despair. I didn’t entirely believe what I said then, but knew I had to say it to rescue her from despair, and in time, I came to believe it myself. When my niece’s daughter Sophia was born, on Earth Day, 2002, her birth affirmed that the beauty of life and love and hope can bloom in the darkest of times.
In my four weeks in North Carolina leading up to the Election of 2016, I visited several African American churches. One was a 148-year old Presbyterian Church in downtown Raleigh; the other a 161-year old AME Zion Church in Fayetteville. I ran my hand over the date “1855” carved into the cornerstone of the Fayetteville church, dumbstruck that the church was there before slavery ended, and still stood sturdy today, the center of life, hope, love and powerful faith.
The churches and their communities had weathered enslavement, racism, terror, inequality, hatred and the pummeling of natural disasters, like hurricanes, which pounded them almost as relentlessly as the man-made ones. Yet they did not despair; they had no time for such luxuries. Life went on, and so did they.   So will we.

A Political El Nino



Raleigh, NCMove over Matthew. There’s another super storm headed for North Carolina and many other states this week—thankfully, without the devastation delivered by last month’s hurricane.

This huge climate changer is a rare political El Nino, bigger than any we’ve ever witnessed before, poised to pack a powerful punch by its sheer size and force. It’s an historic combining of four mushrooming movements in the atmosphere, building for generations, timed to come down in torrents on Election Day.

Struggles against the suppression of Voting Rights for African Americans in the United States are nothing new, but when bound together with unprecedented attacks on women by a presidential candidate, laws targeting the LGBT community, and the muscular emergence of a coast-to-coast Latino political culture to fight bias at the ballot box, there is no known force in nature, or politics, which can hold back such a tsunami of change.

North Carolina is at the epicenter of this enormous El Nino, but it’s by no means alone. This Storm of the Centuries stretches from the deep Southwest of Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico, to the furthest corners of Southern Florida and the I-4 corridor, where Latino voter turnout is not only breaking all records, but is so explosive and new that it’s escaping the data crunching of most traditional pollsters, including those, like Five Thirty Eight’s Nate Silver. (See The National Memo story

On the ground in North Carolina for the past month, I’ve witnessed and talked with Blacks, Latinos, Women of all political affiliations and ages, members of the LGBT community, suburban independent voters, and a new generation of young white men who have banded together to tackle the future with more determination than the NC State Football team shows in tackling its’ competitors.

In court case after case, dating back to a sweeping federal court decision in July and culminating in a major victories just this week, Voting Rights advocates led by North Carolina’s NAACP’s Rev. Dr. William Barber II, have beat back every single effort of the state’s Republican Governor, legislature and GOP operatives to limit the rights of African Americans to vote. The battle for protecting Voting Rights, Rev. Barber argues is the “nation’s civil rights fight,” and it even has it’s own Rosa Parks: a 100-year old woman, Grace Bell Hardison, denied her cherished right to vote because of a tactic aimed at purging African Americans from the voter rolls.


Ms. Hardison challenged the voter suppression action and won, earning the praise of President Obama on several visits to the Tarheel state: “They targeted the wrong woman,” the President said. And, at 100 years old, a powerful, new symbol for the Voting Rights movement was born.

Simultaneously, Gays and Lesbians in North Carolina galvanized like never before around a nationwide effort—led by Equality North Carolina in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign—to unseat incumbent Governor Pat McCrory and State Legislators who passed HB 2—the “bathroom bill.” The law not only banned transgendered individuals from using the facility of choice, but denied local governments the right to pass anti-LGBT discrimination laws of their own.

“I’ve been through a lot of races, a lot of campaigns,” Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign told me. “I’ve have never seen a more energized, more mobilized team. There’s such energy to make history, to elect Hillary Clinton, and defeat the people responsible for HB2.”

On the last Saturday before the election, over 100 unpaid volunteers packed EqualityNC’s downtown Raleigh headquarters before 9 am and, within the hour, were fanning out across Wake County on the final day of early voting. The Human Rights Campaign assigned 20 full-time staff people to get-out-the vote in North Carolina, and combined resources—including membership lists—with Equality NC, the organization headed by State lawmaker Chris Sgro, who represents the 58th House District (Greensboro).

“Volunteers are out knocking on doors, talking directly to 100,000 combined members of HRC and Equality NC,” said Sgro. “We are well aware that the eyes of the nation are on us.”

So are the eyes of many North Carolinians, for a diversity of reasons. Three 20-year old white, male students at NC State University were upset about HB 2’s negative impact upon the local economy, and their ability to get jobs when they graduated.

“We’re entering the workforce in a few years,” said Eli Daniels, an NC State Junior from Raleigh. “ Many big companies have said they aren’t coming here, and since we want to get jobs in North Carolina that concerns us.”

“It’s a dumb law,” said his classmate Adam Augustine, an unaffiliated voter, waiting with Daniels on a long voting line in downtown Raleigh. “It doesn’t solve problems; it just creates a bunch more.”

With voting among Latinos in North Carolina—one of the state’s fastest growing populations—running at 60% above 2012 totals, dozens of voters, in front of the Wake County Board of Elections on the final day of Early Voting, were nearly unanimous on two things: Governor Pat McGrory and HB 2 had to go; and, Donald Trump was unfit to be President.

Connie Bruncati, a Clinton supporter, stood in the morning chill with her son Bennett, who was sporting a small American Flag tucked behind his ear.

“I’m kind of with my Mom of feeling safer with Hillary in the White House than with Donald Trump,” said Bennett, a first-time voter.


His mother summed up her views, and those of many others around her: “ If you believe in democracy and the constitution, you want the election to represent the America we want.”

In North Carolina–a state which may closely reflect the shape of a changing nation–Blacks and Latinos, the LGBT community, women of all ages, and a new generation of white men, were waiting in long voting lines for hours to do just that.









The Voters Speak: “Enough!”



Bernie Sanders was right. If a small sampling of some of North Carolina’s nearly two million early voters are any indication, Americans are saying “enough with the damn emails!” Several national polls have already reinforced my findings.

After 72 hours of maddening, saturation national television news coverage of the FBI’s sneak peak into a private email server shared by top Hillary Clinton staffer Huma Abedin and her husband Anthony Weiner (known for permitting peaks of other parts of his secret life), I needed to get out among living, breathing voters and find out if all of this last-minute, hyperventilation over husband/wife emails was having any impact on people’s actual thoughts or votes.

The answer came loud and clear across party lines, gender difference, age gaps, and race: Not. At. All.

On the first full work-day after the latest installment of FBI “revelations” were disclosed by FBI Director James Comey, I spent several hours interviewing 22 North Carolina voters waiting in line to vote for at least an hour, at a Raleigh-based Early Voting place, one of 400 such sites around the state. As of today, November 1, nearly two million North Carolinians—or just less than one-third of the State’s total 6.8 million registered voters—have already cast their ballots. My question was direct: “Does the FBI email issue in the news this weekend have any impact upon your vote for President?

Lindsay Tucker, a first-time voter from Wendell, N.C., said, “there’s no difference between what’s happened before and now. It’d be nice to see a woman as President.”

Denis Wood, a middle-aged white, male about 30 years older than Lindsay, and a Raleigh resident for over 40 years, was a bit more blunt.

“Give me a break,” Wood said. “We don’t even know what it is yet. How could it be news?

Among the motivating issues for Wood, a long-time unaffiliated voter, but now, a registered Democrat, was “the complete horror of the thought of Donald Trump running the country.”

The emails were a non-issue for Lawrence Davis, a Social Worker from Raleigh and Jason Sheffield, a graduate student in International Studies at North Carolina State University.

“They haven’t really shown what’s in there”, said Sheffield, a Clinton supporter. “Trump has so many shoes in his mouth that I don’t think he’s gonna be able to pull ‘em all out.”

Davis agreed. “I view it as the lesser of two evils, so I’m voting for Clinton,” he said. “Trump is too far off base for me.”

Gina Autry and Carl Hampton, both Trump supporters, felt differently.   Autry, a registered Republican in an area that frequently votes Democratic, was voting a straight party-line. She made her choices before the recent FBI revelations, and was sticking with Trump, “even though I don’t like either.” Hampton, registered as unaffiliated, was less certain about his choices down-ballot, after Trump. But the emails had no impact on his choice for President.

“Once I’ve made up my mind, I’m ready to go,” he said.

Teri and Rob Matheson, both 63 years old, and Raleigh residents who met as students at North Carolina State in 1971, said the FBI’s announcement had no impact at all upon their thinking.

“I was waiting for it,” said Teri, a mortgage broker, and a strong Clinton supporter. “From day one I said they’d bring out something when they could.”

Rob, a retired science teacher and school administrator, reinforced his wife’s observation. “This campaign is about fear,” he said. “Television is so negative and dark.”

“This country comes from a good place,” added Teri, “not from a greedy, dark, mean place.”

Two North Carolina State University seniors, Jonathan DeBruhl and Maris Hall, both Graphic Design majors, were exercising their right to vote for the first time. For Hall, a North Carolina native, the biggest issue for her was “not electing Trump,” and the latest email news had no effect on her thinking, since, “Trump’s people have been pushing this for a long time.”

DeBruhl shared her thinking on the issue, and put it into a different perspective: “It feels like the Obama Birther Scandal, all over again,” he said.

In all, I spoke with 22 randomly selected, registered North Carolina Voters, all eager to “get this election over,” as more than one told me. Fifteen of them expressed a preference for Hillary Clinton, three for Trump, and four were undecided or unwilling to reveal their choice.

To a person, they all agreed on one thing: “Enough with the damn emails.”