Time to Break the Silence                        2009


I campaigned hard for Obama and contributed more money to his campaign than I ever did for any politician before.  This because I recognized that his election to the presidency of the United States would be a revolutionary act on the part of the American people.  The history and current reality of racism in the United States is such that most people of my generation, (I am 55), never expected to see a president of African descent in our lifetime.  That a majority of Americans could transcend this deeply entrenched racist societal mindset and elect a president of African descent was in itself a revolutionary act. 


Furthermore, we have been for over two decades, experiencing a political climate which has moved further and further to the right, not only with the Republican policies of the Reagan and both Bush administrations, but even with the Clinton administration which in many ways moved Democratic policy and ideology so far to the right, that Republicans had to move even further right to make room for the Democrats.


Given this recent history, the election of Obama is a real shift to the left compared to what we had before, (not to mention the terrifying alternative to Obama’s success in the election.)  I hold out hope that Obama’s presidency will effect some changes in domestic policy that will be a major improvement over the status quo.  It appears quite likely that he may effect serious changes in our health care system that will, hopefully, result in quality healthcare becoming accessible to everyone in the U.S.  I also hold out hope that he may make some real progress concerning environmental issues.


Aside from these political shifts, I also experienced relief and pleasure in having a president who appears to be a very intelligent, aware, committed, respectful, decent (not to mention, honest!) human being, with a down-to-earth background and style almost unprecedented in any president in my lifetime; someone I can “relate to” more than any president before; a true man-of-the-people.  Furthermore, Obama presents himself as a president who is willing and eager to listen to everyone, even those who disagree with him.  This is most unusual and most welcome.


All that being said, while the election of Obama was a revolutionary moment, it was not in itself a revolution.  While Obama may be better than any president we ever had before or ever imagined we could have, he should be viewed realistically as the centrist that he is, and not be endowed in our minds with all sorts of progressive intent that he does not, in fact, display.  As in any relationship, any red flags we choose to ignore in the honeymoon phase, can end up spelling disaster unless we open our eyes early and take corrective action.


Troubling aspects of Obama’s beliefs and intentions expressed during his campaign are being manifested now.  Most troubling to me are his beliefs that we can reduce terrorist acts against United States citizens by engaging in military conflict with people in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that withdrawal from Iraq needs to take another year.  To date, Obama continues the federal government policy of squandering over a billion dollars every day on military spending, which is used to support wars which only incite increased hostility against the U.S., thus making us all less, rather than more, secure in the world.


Unfortunately, it seems that so many of us placed such unrealistically high hopes in Obama, that former peace activists appear to have abandoned the struggle.  In fact, people of every stripe and struggle seem to be harboring a mass illusion that this president (or any president) can single-handedly change the world (or at least the United States).  This would not be a realistic notion of what a president can accomplish even if we truly had a leftwing or a pacifist president.  Leaders, including presidents, do not act in a vacuum.  Absent a loud voice of the people, the many other powerful pressures (including military and economic advisors already in the administration) will prevail.


As Saul Alinsky pointed out in “Rules for Radicals” in 1971, “It is not enough to elect your candidates.  You must keep the pressure on.  Radicals should keep in mind Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to a reform delegation, ‘Okay, you’ve convinced me.  Now go out and bring pressure on me.’  Action comes from keeping the heat on.  No politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough.”


Today, in mid-2009, the only progressive movement continuing to shout loudly for change since Obama’s election is the LGBT movement.  Unfortunately that movement is making two serious errors of its own.  The first is the narrowing of demands to only the right-to-marriage and the right to un-closeted military inclusion.  All other forms of discrimination and neglect of our needs (including health, family and hate-crime-protection issues) have fallen by the wayside in this near-total concentration on marriage and military service.


The second big mistake is the failure to join in solidarity as a community with other progressive movements.   Even if you do not personally feel connected with other oppressed groups and have no altruistic leanings of the non-purely-selfish variety, there is, in fact, a very valid selfish reason for joining with others.  It is this: whether you think we are somewhat more or somewhat less than 10% of the population, we are in fact a minority, and likely to always be so.  There is power in numbers.  The more alliances we build, the more numbers we can bring to bear.  The more we talk only to ourselves, the more defeats (such as Proposition 8 in California) we will suffer. 


If we are seen by others as friends who fight for their causes as well as our own, they are more likely to support our causes.  If we are seen as isolationists who care only for things that (seem to) affect only us, they will not be motivated to support us.  We, like the president, do not live in a vacuum.  We must form alliances by supporting many progressives struggles for everyone’s rights.  And we must stop narrowing our own demands to the just most conservative and conformist of desires: marriage and the military.


But that being said, it is difficult to form alliances with movements that have ceased to exist.  Most alarming to me is the near total silence of the peace movement in the face of continuing U.S. military aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Obama’s threats of military aggression against Pakistan.  Despite Obama’s willingness to “engage in dialog,” we are not out of the woods of war.  We, in fact, continue to spend about a billion a day of hard-earned U.S. tax-payer dollars killing people abroad while our own states and counties cut every human service to the poor and middle classes, and lay off government workers right and left.  What, in the name of peace and justice, are we waiting for?!


How can we blame Obama for listening only to military and business advisors if they are the only ones talking to him?  Obama does not act alone.  Yes we did prove our power to successfully influence a presidential election.  But the struggle does not end there.  If we leave all the advising to the “professionals” (military generals, corporate interests), then the outcome is quite predictable. 


Obama’s election provides great opportunities for advancing many progressive causes.  But only if we make use of this opportunity, and struggle as hard or harder than ever for the causes of peace, equality, civil rights, economic justice, etc.  If instead, we continue to hold back waiting to see if Obama will prove to be a charming prince who will fulfill all our progressive dreams with no effort on our part, than we are doomed to a future of massive disillusionment and despair. 


We successfully influenced the outcome of the election.  This is no time to rest on our laurels.  Now we must influence the president, the congress, the American people.  We must make our voices heard loud and clear in favor of peace, equality, justice, and using our tax money to serve our human needs.  If we finally have a president willing to listen, then for peace-sake, why don’t we start talking?  Loudly!  We need to inundate Obama with letters imploring him to get us out of both Iraq and Afghanistan, and serve our human needs here at home.  We need to write and sign petitions.  We need to get back out into the streets.  We need to break our silence.  We need to do it now.



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