Februrary 15, 2003, we thought we could stop the Iraq war: we couldn't. Even though millions of people marched globally in the biggest single mobilization of protest in world history it wasn't enough. The powers that be, being as the were designed to be and always have been, they ignored us and moved ahead toward war.
March 19, 2003, we thought we could stand in the way of the Iraq war and prevent mass murder: we couldn't. Even though we disrupted business as usual, the real important business of the usual, the business of global capitalism, the banking and manufacturing, financial speculation, oil production, mono-crop agriculture, mining, and most importantly in the US, mass credit based consumerism, it was all unfazed by the few outbreaks of direct action in the streets of San Francisco and New York. Too few people reached for the real levers of power. They were rounded up by the police, processed, and after the threat receded they were released. Business as usual prevailed.
The war happened and has been happening since then. Perhaps a million... let's face it, who knows how many Iraqis have been killed? There have been ups and downs, mostly downs, and further downwards the spiral of violence and militarism as Iraq's society has been pulverized into what might best be described as an occupied civil resource war zone. And lest we forget, it's all for us, the consumers and so-called middle class of the global north, and also for the major corporations who are fueled by the warfare state's peace winning actions.
The war, however, has been a boondoggle. The “coalition” troops have become disenchanted en mass and have created their own movements to end the fiasco. Meanwhile even the senior US military leadership has lamented the handling of the whole ordeal. Iraq's people themselves have struggled just to survive, as most folks do under circumstances like theirs. Anti-imperialist protest fill Iraq's streets on a weekly basis. The US antiwar movement which mobilized its largest numbers before the first US solider set foot on Iraqi soil has for its own sake continued to mobilize people in opposition to the war. From 2003 through 2006, protests, especially on the commemorative dates of the invasion, March 20th or thereabouts, have gone down in most major US cities. Not much has come of them in a direct sense, but they have helped foster a new political atmosphere. In a way this has been huge. The antiwar movement has kept alive a politics commensurate with real peace, not the fake peace of neoconservatives and the neoliberals.
Capitalizing on the antiwar movement a candidate emerged from the Democratic Party who spoke to more than just that concern. Barack Obama's mercurial rise has been on the tails of several major social movements, and from the beginning his campaign for the US presidency seemed like more than a longshot. Although his origins as a major political figure rest on the antiwar movement, he has invoked the immigrants' rights movement, women's movement, Gulf Coast Right of Return movement, and more to build support in the US for his candidacy as president. He has yelled “si se puede” at rallies, and built his campaign off of vague democratic slogans such as “change we can believe in,” and “hope.” Does he believe it? Is he a part of let alone accountable to our movements? What will an Obama presidency mean for social justice and the environment? These are some of the questions facing radicals as November 4 dawns on us.
Now the catch from my end; I have been a staunch critic of Obama's political career when asked my opinion. I've held off on writing about him or even talking about him favorably with friends and colleagues because I have perceived in him a will to power that is incommensurate with my commitment to real democracy, social justice, and ecological sustainability.
I still do.
That said, I see in his candidacy a potential that is lacking in all other possibilities, but it is not lacking in him. Rather, it is lacking in us. Obama may win at this point. All third, fourth, and fifth party candidates don't stand a chance. McCain, however, does stand a chance in somehow pulling off an upset between now and election day, especially given the recent history of Republican candidates fortune at the polls, polls influenced by tactics of voter repression. It wouldn't be the first time that the US voted along racial lines to support the status quo also. Patriarchal appeal plays a huge role in McCain's presidency. Even though his VP nominee is a woman, she represents to many American men the ideal woman, the virtual 2nd in command, saying yes to whatever the commander in chief calls for. Even though she sports a “first dude” as her husband in Alaska, on the national level her politics are clearly about the subordination of women's lives to men's power. The real first dude at this level is McCain.
What to do?
Vote Obama. Vote for him because he won't do anything truly democratic. In fact, his administration will likely be a close replay of the Clinton years. Worrisome indeed. But herein lies the opportunity. Obama has relied a great deal on our movements to build his appeal. He first identified with the antiwar movement and later with the immigrants' movement and most recently with a number of other social justice causes. The far right of the Republican Party has tried to smear him with this by identifying him with Acorn and 1960's radical Bill Ayers. This they think will turn voters away from Obama. Perhaps it will, but it energized far more potential voters to support him before it turned one away. Obama's possible presidency presents us with an opportunity unlike any other we have seen in a generation. Soon a politician may be elected, largely owing to his popularity and identification with insurgent social movements that have been boiling beneath society. What to do?
Mobilize. Make the pot boil over. Their already exists a well financed and staffed political machine hurling Obama toward election day, building his leads in key states and challenging McCain in the swings. Unfortunately there has also existed, for quite some time, a political machine behind Obama building up his potential staff of advisers on every issue from the economy to US foreign policy. This political machine is made up of savvy Washington insiders and long-time Democratic Party operatives. They will build the Obama administration by drawing from their own ranks to fill key positions in government. They will not end the war. Nor will they move to bail out the millions of Americans who have been preyed upon by US financial lenders. They will not move to socialize healthcare, nor will they rebuild our public schools. Their agenda does not involve Gulf Coast Reconstruction, at least in a just and democratic sense. They are beholden more to big coal and the nuclear industry than the environmental movement.
What needs to happen between now and February when hopefully and Obama administration moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is movement building. Organizers of all stripes need to start laying the foundations for mass mobilizations, direct actions, strikes if need be. For the first time in a long time this nation is about to have a president who owes a large part of his political fortunes to the politics engendered by insurgent social movements. The opportunity this creates for achieving our movements' aims in enormous, but only if we organize for it. There must be pressure applied immediately upon the Obama administration. There can be no honeymoon. The day after he takes office we need to fill the streets as we did on February 15, 2003 to stop the horrendous war. We need to see millions more marching in Chicago and LA on May Day, to say no to racist borders. We need to be prepared to be disruptive and irresistible, all in order to force the change that Obama's candidacy has promised us, but has so far worked to structurally prevent himself from achieving.