Presidential elections don’t create change. Grassroots social movements, putting pressure on politicians, does. However, who’s in the Oval Office creates the context we have to work within. If anyone doubts that, Bush-Cheney should be hard evidence.
For the first time in 40 years, there’s a huge wave of “mainstream” progressive energy—much of it fueled by young first-time voters and African-Americans– ignited by a presidential candidate: Barack Obama.
Having voted for Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000, I understand choosing Third Party candidates. I self-identify as a “socialist-feminist Green”, making Cynthia McKinney my ideal candidate. But, frankly, given the overwhelming systemic obstacles to Third Party presidential candidates, it seems pointless to invest activists’ time, energy and limited finances there.
Certainly, Barack Obama is a “wild card”.
His similarity to some Hillary Clinton’s positions, is too centrist for many progressives and Leftists. Media-hazing he’s gotten about his pastor, trade and Israel, show Obama hasn’t proven “reliable” enough for the Corporate elites. Some hope Obama is a progressive “Trojan Horse”. Others contend his election will be exploited to deny that racism is a force in American life. I see-saw between these two positions.
Undeniably, Obama inspires..
Leftists and progressives have fought “defensive” battles against a powerful right-wing backlash since 1980. With FACTS are on our side, we forget the profound need for inspiration. We must seize the opportunity to interact with this unexpected upsurge of everyday people becoming political engaged.
We can challenge Obama supporters to get active about issues they care about, confronting the “magical thinking” that just electing Obama “‘change” will come.
Ignorance of history, what American gadfly-author, Gore Vidal calls “the United States of Amnesia”–obscures how change actually happens. Most people under 40 know little beyond Rev. King sound-bites about the civil rights movement (and even less about Chicanos, American Indians, the women’s movement , environmentalism or union organizing).
It’s up to progressives and Leftists to address these collective knowledge gaps. Massive labor movements heightened during the 1930s Great Depression won workers’ rights, minimum wages, safety, Social Security, a social safety net for the poor. Franklin D. Roosevelt acted to save American capitalism’s biggest crisis. While Republican Ronald Reagan took aim at welfare and unions, it took Democrat, Bill Clinton to dismantle the social safety net with “welfare reform” and waging all-out war on labor with NAFTA. Drawing Obama supporters—especially youth, people of color and low-income workers– into activism beyond just electoral politics means the possibility of PEOPLES’s victories—-whether Obama wins the election or not.
Local struggles can benefit: “green cities” initiatives, military recruiters in schools without equal education, the housing crisis and job losses while Corporations get bailouts and tax breaks. Linking local issues to Senate bills. Obama supporters can challenge their candidate on his Senate votes and what he’d do as president.
Some progressives sneer at the 3008 Election “identity politics” . But, it’s long overdue to dig more deeply into how corporate capitalism maintains power. An “intersectional” understanding of race, gender, class and other elements—that are regularly exploited by those in power—can only strengthen our grassroots movements. The results in the West Virgina primary exposed how class solidarity is still undermined by racism. Some of the nation’s poorest white people supported Hillary Clinton–who’s policies exported jobs and destroyed welfare– rather than vote for a Black man.
The racist foundation of the United States, makes electing the first African-American president “history-making”. But, sooner or later, Obama supporters must recognize a painful reality: whether Barack Obama will be an FDR or a Bill Clinton depends on We The People.
People’s experience with the Obama campaign can be an expansive introduction to People Power or disillusionment that reinforces political passivity. Which way this wave of political energy goes has less to do with the results of a rigged system’s election than it does with how progressives and Leftists respond.
I say, jump on this wave and ride it for all its worth.
Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis,Minnesota activist, independent journalist and host of CATALYST: politics& culture at http://www.kfai.org