A Barack Obama Mama’s Journey to a California Delegate Election Caucus

Posted on 15 April 2008

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionSend by emailSend by email

Lakshmi-Kerner-with-Lucy-Se.gif By Lakshmi Kerner
Barack Obama Mama

Running for a Barack Obama delegate seat has been one of the most exciting, challenging, fun and difficult experiences in my life. Since meeting Barack Obama in February 2007 I have experienced a total metamorphosis from who I thought I was to the person I have become. I hardly recognize myself sometimes.

After applying in early March to the California Democratic Party to be an Obama delegate in Barbara Lee’s Congressional District 9, I realized I needed a mentor, someone who could show me the political ropes. I was introduced to Lucy Sells (seated in the picture at right), a smart, savvy, wonderful woman who has been active in progressive Democratic politics in the Bay Area for over 50 years. Lucy took me under her wings and guided me each step of the way. When I signed up to volunteer at the State Democratic Convention, Lucy offered to let me stay in her room and she said she would introduce me to everyone…and she nearly did that. I met so many people at the Convention, Lucy told them I was running to be an Obama delegate, gave them my flyer and asked them to vote for me.

At the Convention, I attended the last part of Christine Pelosi’s “Boot Camp” and when she asked if there was anyone in the room who was running to be a Barack Obama delegate, I shot out of my seat and ran up to the stage. Me, who has suffered from chronic stagefright all of my life. There I was on the stage in front of hundreds of people. I couldn’t believe it. I started out by telling the crowed: “Before I decided to run to be a Barack Obama delegate, I would not have been able to stand up in front of 10 people and lead them in silent prayer.”

The audience laughed and I relaxed. I told my story of meeting Barack and how deeply he impacted my life. I was filled with enthusiasm and joy when I spoke about this incredible man of impeccable integrity and a vision for our country, who spoke directly to my heart. I told of campaigning and voting for John Kennedy and campaigning for his brother, Bobby, and how heartbroken I was when they were assassinated. After the dual tragedies I did not want to be involved in politics any more. But here I am, about to turn 70 years of age in September, jumping into politics for the first time in my life because I am so inspired by Barack Obama.

People came up to me over the remainder of the weekend, saying they wished they lived in my district so they could vote for me and being so supportive. I was more turned on and excited than ever. My heart was alive, I can do this, YES, I CAN! The next day a beautiful older Black woman thanked me for telling my story on stage and with tears in her eyes, she told me how much I had inspired her; how I am a great example for older people to stay engaged in life. Two days later during a CNN interview, Christine Pelosi talked about me jumping up on stage filled with enthusiasm for Barack and said that this country needs more Barack Obama Mamas.

To prepare for the delegate election, I sent individual e-mails out to 130 people, asking them to do e-blasts to all their friends, and asking them to do the same. I told them I needed all their votes and please to come vote for me. I knew I was in very new territory, running against very formidable opponents, many of whom had years of political experience. I also knew that the one thing I had in my favor was that I loved Barack Obama so much and if anyone talked to me for 20 seconds, they would know that and be filled with my enthusiasm. I went to Farmers Markets, talking to people, handing out flyers. I did the same at Barbara Lee’s kick-off celebration in Lakeside Park. I talked to people at work. I talked to people in food markets, my bank, wherever I went.

By the Wednesday before the election, I was filled with the audacity of hope that I could win a delegate seat. I had talked to all of my friends and they were very excited for me. Most people didn’t know what a caucus is and I had first-hand experience after campaigning for Barack at the Nevada caucus in Las Vegas, so I was confident in giving explanations. I had my cheerleaders, including Lucy, lined up to come to the caucus wearing Barack Obama Mama tee-shirts and hand out my flyers, asking folks to vote for me. That evening I received an email from the California Democratic Party saying that the “final delegate list” had been chosen and to “click here” to review the list, which I did. But my name was not on the list. The 102 candidates were now 23. I was stunned and heartbroken, I cried, and then I got mad. I left a message for the local Obama contact, asking for 1) the names of the people who made the decision to take 80 people off the ballot, and 2) exactly what criteria were used to identify the final delegates. To this day, I have not received a reply to my questions.

Wanting to honor my friends and their friends and allow them to make alternate plans for their Sunday, I again sent out 130 email messages telling folks I was no longer on the list. They were saddened to receive this information and advised their friends that it was off, Lakshmi is not on the ballot. I was so upset, I left several messages on numbers I had for Barack’s offices, saying how unfair this process was. How could a grassroots Obama supporter who worked so hard be kicked off the ballot like that? How about 900 such supporters in California? I was outraged. I got a message late Thursday that the California Democratic Chairman Art Torres wanted all candidates to be on the ballot. Later that evening I received a message from Barack Obama’s staff that he wanted each and every person who applied to be an Obama delegate to be on the ballot. I was very impressed with Barack doing this and I had a firsthand experience of what an incredible president he is going to be, a president not just for politics as usual, but for each of us.

The following morning I sent out more emails, telling my friends that I was back on the ballot. They were confused. I was on, then I was off, now I’m back on. It was a total fiasco. Many of them had made other plans and weren’t going to reverse them. I know I lost several votes.

The election at Beebe Memorial Church on Sunday was absolutely phenomenal. It was grassroots politics at their best. A rainbow of ethnicities, young and old, men and women gathered in a celebration of their love for Barack Obama. Lucy told me that in over 50 years of being involved in politics, she had never seen anything like it. People were lined up around the block. Everyone was happy, laughing, sharing an experience that we all knew was history-making. This great man Barack Obama is a magnet who encourages each of us to be as great as we can be, to be a part of his team, to experieience ourselves as community. We did that on Sunday in Oakland.

I was not elected to be a delegate, but I am eternally grateful for having had this life-changing experience, to be a part of this historical event. When asked by reporter Christien Kafton of NBC11-TV if I could be talked into switching my vote at the convention, I replied “Look, I am committed to Barack Obama for the rest of my life. There is no one who could make me change that.” And that is exactly the truth for me.

Lakshmi Kerner works in the Human Resources Office at Peralta Community College District in Oakland. After meeting Barack Obama in February 2007, she engaged the services of a graphic artist to create her “Barack Obama Mama” logo; a friend then created a website for her, barackobamamama.com, where she tells the story of meeting Barack and the impact he has had on her life. On her website there is a link to her Barack Obama Mama Store where she sells items like tee-shirts, hoodies and other apparel, mugs, note cards, buttons, bumper stickers, etc. Lakshmi sends 100% of the proceeds of all sales to Barack Obama’s compaign. She is the proud and loving single mother of her bi-racial son Derek, and she has a strong heart connection with Barack and his mother.