For Barack Obama’s campaign, the Zen surprise came out of the negative space. In the art of Sumi-e, the negative space (the white space between the brush strokes) is as important as the brush strokes themselves. This is what holds the painting together and makes it take shape and meaning. For the Obama campaign, the ebony-inked brush strokes are Obama himself. The negative space is the countless campaign contributors, supporters and activists who have found meaning and identity in his campaign. They are the ones that have created the surprise—that a young less well-known senator would be the front-runner against a veteran like Hillary Clinton.
On Sunday ValleyZen attended a private event for Barack Obama hosted by Sara & Sohaib Abbasi (photo) in their Atherton home. (Sohaib is the CEO of Informatica). The Sohaibs graciously greeted eminent Silicon Valley leaders. Even some prominent Silicon Valley Republicans and Independents were in attendance, a testimony to the momentum that Obama’s campaign has gained.
We gathered around an intimate patio space to hear Obama speak and take questions for over an hour. Here’s a brief video excerpt Drue filmed (also embedded below). In it, Obama talks about the role social media has played in his campaign.
Zen & The Obama Campaign
Eileen Donahoe (photo) is the National Finance Chair of Women for Obama. Donahoe told me, “Barack has a natural Zen approach to things – he is calm and curious – does not get flustered easily, and is inclined to come up with creative new ways to find solutions that have not occurred to others before.”
Owen Byrd, a director of Silicon Valley for Obama and a member of the National Finance Council agreed. “There is a serenity to this campaign that I’ve never experienced in any other campaign ethos. There is a (Zen) clarity of focus and transparency…Right before the Iowa Caucus, Newsweek interviewed Barack on a bus.
‘How do you feel?’ the reporter asked.
‘Calm,’ he said.
Obama’s Use of Technology
Barack Obama has been widely credited for innovative uses of grassroots social networking and viral campaign techniques. Over a year ago, his campaign recruited Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes to help with these initiatives, building My.BarackObama.com. The campaign has successfully leveraged the voices of bloggers and influencers in online communities to get the message across.
Roger Hu is a Team Coordinator for Silcon Valley for Obama. He gave ValleyZen a firsthand story about the use of technology in the campaign. The Silicon Valley for Obama Palo Alto office had racked up huge long distance bills. Something needed to be done, and fast. So they ditched the phones and switched the whole team to Skype. All the retired teacher-types made the transition beautifully. Soon the whole office was outfitted with hip headsets. “We turned that office into a massive telemarketing operation with just a DSL modem and any donated computers we could find…At one point we maxed out all 16 computers.”
ValleyZen invites the other campaigns to share their experiences with Zen & technology in the 2008 Election. We look forward to meeting with them and covering them in a future ValleyZen post if they are in the Bay Area.
Bill Fenwick & Drue Kataoka