My name is John Presta and my book titled Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers did it, is my first book and will be released on January 20, 2010. That is the first anniversary of the Obama Administration. I finally did it. I not only completed a manuscript, but I was able to get it published by the perfect publisher, the Elevator Group.
The book I set out initially to write was a celebration of books and bookselling.
I wanted the world to know about the achievements of this special group of people: your local independent bookseller. I hoped to bring attention to the great things independent booksellers do for their communities everyday and hope that an increasing number of independent booksellers will tell their stories. I wanted to do for bookselling what Barack Obama has done for politics. The book details the success of two independent booksellers, me and my wife Michelle, how we helped launched the political career of Barack Obama with a hands-on approach. In bookselling, we call it “hand selling.” We hand sold Barack Obama to anyone that would listen.
I wanted to inspire interest in books and in bookstores. I point out in my book the importance of several Chicago area bookstores to Barack Obama’s political life and his personal life. It starts with our own store, Reading on Walden Bookstore. There was his community bookstore, 57th Street Books, along with its sister store down the street, Seminary Coop Bookstore. Obama also love to visit Powells Bookstore (of Chicago), just east of 57th Street Books. Obama received the endorsement of Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky at Women and Children First Bookstore in December of 2003. The endorsement was huge for Obama and was likely, as author Malcolm Gladwell would say, the Tipping Point of that campaign.
The back-story of the book is simple, how to overcome obstacles. An obstacle is a barrier worth overcoming. The barriers in Obama’s way were plentiful and we worked to remove those barriers. It is about getting up after you have been knocked down. The obscure State Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, lost a Congressional race to an “entrenched incumbent,” Congressman Bobby Rush. Obama was knocked down and we were knocked down with him. We felt it as intensely as he felt it.
In the early fall of 1999, we met Dan Shomon, campaign manager at that time for the obscure State Senator from Hyde Park in the Chicago area, Barack Obama. Shomon wanted our support for this man named Obama. Our initial response to Shomon was lukewarm. Because of Shomon’s persistence and tenacity, he was able to convince us to eventually support Obama and support him in a big way. We organized a candidates’ forum for the Congressional race against Congressman Bobby Rush. The candidates’ forum was a smashing success for Obama. 600 people attended the event and were introduced to Obama. The community came to love Obama. Unfortunately, Obama lost this race to Bobby Rush. He had “lost the battle, but he won the war,” in the words of long-time aide Al Kindle.
Obama, in his own words, was “spanked” by Rush, but proceeded to pick himself up the next day because he believed in himself and his message. The book is about how my wife Michelle and I were emotionally effected by this defeat and how we picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves off and helped Obama in future elections. The obstacle was this haunting defeat. For us it was the elephant in the room.
Immediately after his defeat on March 21, 2000, we ordered a dozen copies (signed) of his book, Dreams from My Father, and placed them on the shelf. And they stayed on the shelf from March 2000 through March of 2004. We would not and could not remove them. On March 17, 2004, the day after Obama won the Democratic primary for United States Senate, the books vanished. They were bought quickly.
There was another elephant in the room. This man Obama, we believed, would one day become President of the United States. Could Obama overcome a crushing defeat in a Congressional race and inexplicably, come back and win a statewide, United States Senate race against some of the most formidible opponents in Illinois politics. Then capture the White House? What are the odds?
For us it was not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. We would stand by Obama, despite the loss. We stood by him in a tough primary fight in 2004 for a seat in the United States Senate, and this time he won. He personally asked us to support a local statewide candidate in 2006, as a test of his political muscle and political relevance and again he won. In spite of the opposition of the entrenched party leaders. Then in early 2007, he announced for the Presidency. And through a long struggle from lessons he had learned back in 1999, he won the Presidency. I started to write my story during this period. And two years later, a book is born. The book is a recording of American History of the Obama Presidency.
The book explains why were we so heavily recruited by the Obama campaign. Why would a little child, Sofia Clute, call us “Obama’s bookstore.” She would say to her dad during that period, “Daddy, take me to Obama’s Bookstore.” In our community, we will forever identified with Obama.
We were an ordinary bookstore run by ordinary people that made extraordinary achievements. We believed in ourselves and believed that books are not luxuries but essentials. We believed that books have transformative value and that books teach valuable lessons about life such as being physical health, spiritual health and financial health.
This is the story of how our community involvement led the Barack Obama campaign to our little bookstore. We were reluctant to embrace this obscure State Senator and it was not until Dan Shomon, the Obama’s campaign manager in 2000, mentioned that Obama was an author. He wrote a book titled Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. That got our attention. It mattered little to us that the book had limited commercial success to that point. That is not what great literature is about but it is about the writing. And Obama’s book was well written. The book was a great introduction to this man, Barack Obama. It parallels the life of the book, Dreams from My Father, and the life of the man, Barack Obama.
We reinvested a large part of ourselves into the community and as such our level of community involvement. We further extended that reach beyond the doors of the bookstore and into the streets of the community to help make the community a better place to live for all. Businesses not only should reinvest back into their communities, it I essential.
We discuss our transformation from being just booksellers to community activists. How it all began after a series of break-ins at our store, which motivated us to not sit idly and allow these terrible things to happen to us and more important, to happen to our beloved community.
The story is about how this bookstore transformed our lives and how the bookstore transformed other people’s lives. We give examples of specific books that can help people transform their lives. It is, if you will, a book about books, a biography of books, a short history of books.
The easy part for me was getting it all down in a readable form. The difficult part was finding the right publisher that would stand behind the book and be as enthusiastic as I was about the book and its content.
Again, mission accomplished.
I discovered, through the social networking site www.Linked.com, Sheilah Vance, President and owner of the Elevator Group. Sheilah started her own publishing company in 2005 and knows what it takes to win elections and keep the electorate energized. Sheilah is also learning what it takes to sell books. Sheilah is a former member of Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee and former press secretary to Robert P. Casey, Sr. when he ran his successful campaign for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1986. Sheilah recognized my story in Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots of how everyday people can make a difference that changes the country and the world will let the electorate see that they, too, could be the next Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots. Sheilah is planning a promotional campaign with buttons and rally signs at book signings, campaign style. This book will be a campaign.
A political campaign.
A political grassroots campaign to sell books. A great campaign would be to make the book number one and outsell Sarah Palin’s book. This book has a better message and I actually wrote it myself, although my publisher, Sheilah Vance, did a great job in editing the final manuscript. Help me make this book a bestseller and recapture the narrative from the Republicans.
Let’s help to rally the base of the Democratic Party. Yes, we don’t like the health care legislation that was passed. It is just the beginning. Had McCain been elected, we wouldn’t be having this health care discussion of a “bad bill.” We might be discussing “no bill.” At best, some watered-down, non-binding, “patient’s bill of rights.” It is what we expect from the party of “no,” the Republicans.