Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama Transcends Racial Divisiveness with Historic Philadelphia Speech; Bill Fletcher on Movement Building

Obama really surprised me this morning with his
"A More Perfect Union" speech in Philadelphia. He spoke again about the unfulfilled promise of Brown v. Board of Education and the intensifying inequality in our schools and the need for a multiethnic coalition involving immigrants and everyone to come together to meet the challenges of our time.
But he caught me off guard when talking about Rev. Wright.
He resisted the tremendous political pressures to disassociate himself from his pastor and the African American community. He did this through an incredibly brilliant framing of his 'progressive' values through the telling of human stories which were connected to our nation's founding in Philly and our future with the story of young white campaign volunteer Ashley Baia. He managed to embrace both Rev. Wright and Obama's own white grandmother who he said had expressed prejudice and discriminatory attitudes at times that made him cringe. "These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love."
Obama also masterfully transcended the divisiveness of petty racial politics and individual racism to point the finger at the institutional racism and classism in American society and the “real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.”

It is also encouraging to me that, like JFK, Chuck D, KRS-One or Malcolm X before him, Obama always manages to tie the future of our nation also to the energy and idealism of young people and their movements. He concluded:
"I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren."

Thinking more long-term beyond the November election longtime movement and labor leader Bill Fletcher identifies 2 important goals for progressive activists -
Burning Cane: Bill Fletcher: Obama, Enthusiasm, & Movement Building

But when the campaign is over, whether it is at the Democrat convention or in November, if there is nothing to build upon, the enthusiasm will evaporate as it has on so many other occasions after energizing electoral campaigns. I would suggest two steps:

1. Progressives for Obama:

While there are many progressives who have entered into the Obama campaign and are doing good work, there needs to be an independent voice and location to push progressive politics. I spoke the other day with someone working in the campaign that - as enthusiastic as she is - acknowledged that a number of the proposals her committee has been developing have simply been overlooked. My guess is that more of that will happen and the candidate will be increasingly influenced
by financial
contributors and those forces he believes to be most significant. If the
progressive voice is only one among many, it will be drowned out. Progressives need to figure out where they can make a difference in the larger campaign as well as explain to their respective constituencies why they are taking the step of supporting Obama; what to expect and what not to expect from the candidate; and what can be done now.

2. Build locally-based, independent political organizations:

Electoral activism and energy is so easily and quickly lost. For those who have become motivated through this campaign, they should be
encouraged to build organizations in their communities and social movements that reflect progressive politics. Such organizations should be grassroots based and, among other things, aim to identify, train and run progressives for local elected office. Holding a President of the USA accountable - be it Obama, Clinton, McCain or Huckabee - will necessitate organization at the base, organizations capable of both putting people into the streets as well as getting them to the polls.
There are tremendous dangers AND opportunities in this election season. Casting caution to the wind and uncritically supporting any
candidate is a recipe for disaster. We must expect that there will be immense tugs to the Right on any elected official. If progressives are not prepared to push back and keep Obama’s feet to the fire then every reservation that many of us have about his candidacy will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

1 comment:

Gary Reed said...

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