from statesman.com

Texans for Obama grew from book club to much more
The group had humble beginnings but has blossomed with senator’s presidential run.
By Suzannah Gonzales


Monday, February 18, 2008

Before any official presidential campaign, Texans For Obama started as a book club, an idea born over Shiner on a red couch in South Austin.

Ian Davis and Matt Earhart, a community organizer and a high school U.S. history teacher who are both in their late 20s, were making fun of Davis’ wife, Amy Everhart, asking her why she doesn’t invite them to her book club meetings.

“No dudes allowed,” Davis remembers her saying.

“Fine,” he told her, “we’re forming our own book club on Barack Obama, and everyone’s invited because Barack’s a unifier.”

Soon after, Davis reserved the domain names obamabookclub.com and texansforobama.com. He called community activist David Kobierowski for his energy and enthusiasm.

Word on the book club was put out on meetup.com. Earhart handed out fliers as people exited a Dixie Chicks concert. As Obama signed his book at the Texas Book Festival in October 2006, Kobierowski gave a flier to the Illinois senator.

“David, this is great!” Kobierowski recalls him saying with a fist pump. “Grass roots — this is exactly what I want to see all over the country.”

At their first formal meeting on “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream,” Kobierowski expected to do some networking with like-minded people. Davis thought it would be a monthly excuse to drink beer and talk politics. Earhart expected it to be himself, Davis, Everhart and a couple of other lonely readers and politicos.

But 30 to 35 people showed up at El Sol y La Luna on South Congress Avenue in December 2006. More than 80 came to their second meeting at Scholz Garten the next month. And by the third meeting at Mitchie’s Gallery in February 2007, when they watched Obama announcing his candidacy via live webcast, it was clear that their group was going to be more than a book club.

“We ran into something here,” Earhart said. “We started early on this.”

In the two weeks after the announcement, with the help of more than 400 volunteers and the University of Texas group University Democrats, members of the Obama book club led organization efforts for the rally at Auditorium Shores attended by 20,000 people.

It was a turning point for the group. By then, those who had stuck with the book had finished it. The book club faded away. And Texans For Obama emerged.

They already had shifted to texansfor obama.com, which got five to 10 hits a day in December 2006 but 20,000 page views one day last week.

Davis’ and Kobierowski’s cell phones continually ring. People want stickers, signs. They want to help.

Texans For Obama members have been helping Obama’s campaign staff as volunteers. They were at the grand opening of Obama’s Texas campaign headquarters in downtown Austin on Saturday. On Tuesday, Obama will attend campaign rallies in San Antonio and Houston, according to a campaign announcement Sunday.

In Austin, Texans for Obama will host two parties at Scholz Garten: a Tuesday event to watch the Wisconsin election results and a Thursday event to watch Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton debate at UT’s Recreational Sports Center.

After the March 4 primary, they’ll get back to the book club. This time, they’ll encourage others to start their own clubs on either of Obama’s books.

Although Davis and Kobierowski previously have volunteered for political campaigns, Earhart hadn’t been active politically since he was 19. Their Obama movement grew organically. Still, they never expected this.

Said Earhart: “I’m just the teacher who started a book club.”

sgonzales@statesman.com; 445-3616

Obama campaign rallies set

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who focused on stumping in other states last week while New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and her husband, Bill, crisscrossed Texas, plans to arrive in a big way with Tuesday rallies in San Antonio and Houston.

The public is invited to Obama’s ‘town hall’ at La Plaza de Guadalupe, 1327 Guadalupe St., in San Antonio. Doors open at noon Tuesday; those who want to attend are encouraged to R.S.V.P. at http://texas.barackobama.com/sanantonio.

Obama is scheduled to attend a Tuesday evening rally at Houston’s Toyota Center, 1510 Polk St.; those who want to attend are asked to request a ticket at http://texas.barackobama.com/houston.

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