November 12 – Volume 13, #11
“Power to the People”
Four years ago this month, this nation participated in one of the more amazing events anyone has seen in a very long time. Seeing a black man get elected president of the United States was without question the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever witnessed. Especially a black man with a name like Barack Hussein Obama. Maybe a black man named Tad Covington III or something, but Barack Obama getting elected was off the charts.
But as I wrote upon the announcement of his entering the presidential race in 2007 , Obama was an important symbol of the people’s power. For decades, the nation has been looking for a leader they could get fired up for, who could inspire them. This country has long been looking for someone who empathized with their struggle and who could express their angers, their frustrations, their disappointments. Barack Obama re-wrote the political playbook with his victory in 2008. But that black man’s unlikely ascension to the White House said much more about us than it did about him.
Thing is, most of us didn’t seem to see it that way. Myself included at various times over the past four years. On November 5, 2008 everyone went home and waited for the president to save the day. We worked hard to get ourselves to the voting booth the day before. Some of us even stood in line for several hours to make sure that Obama would win. We had done our parts, the rest was up to Obama.
The defeated had a different strategy. The right-wing was bitterly angry that they had lost the White House, but was even more indignant at having lost it to a black man who many didn’t even consider a real citizen. They were madder than Mike Tomlin after a 20-point Steeler victory. But they didn’t just sit home and be mad. They used their anger constructively and wasted little time in organizing and mobilizing. The right-wing’s most notable institution to emerge from the rubble of their 2008 defeat was the Tea Party. They expressed their opposition to the president most visibly and vociferously during the debate over healthcare. It was the Tea Party that most significantly impacted the public image of healthcare reform, causing the law to be viewed unfavorably by most of the country until very recently. The year after forcing many concessions on healthcare by the democrats, the Tea Party took their political activity a step further, sending several of their representatives to Washington after the midterm congressional elections. This eventually allowed them to seize power to balance out the president’s influence for the next couple of years. More significantly, it stalled many of the measures that those who voted so heavily in 2008 had fought for. Or had we fought?
It was dope to see so many people participate in the political process for the first time by exercising their constitutional right to vote in 2008. But political participation goes far beyond voting. It always has and always will.
After receiving yet another ass-whooping on the national stage, the extreme right-wing is sure to mobilize even stronger than they did last time. Those of us who support the president have to be prepared to meet this fight head-on.
Contrary to popular belief, Barack Obama was elected president, not king. Our government works on a system of checks and balances. And the Republican-controlled congress has shown after four years that they have no interest in governing. And while many of Barack’s supporters bitched and moaned the past four years that he wasn’t working hard enough for them, they also let the GOP off the hook politically for refusing to govern.
Mitt Romney is a total clown who ran one of the worst national campaigns in modern history. And this is even after the disastrous attempts by John Kerry in 2004 and a dude who thought it was a good idea to put Sarah Palin on his ticket without doing even a cursory background check. Still, one of the things that Romney’s failed campaign highlights is that politicians are mainly swayed by the voters. Romney badly wanted to tell Americans that he wanted to close some tax loopholes like the mortgage deduction and that he was going to cut their Medicare, but he knew that saying these things might not only lose him the race, but also potentially send people to riot in the streets.
With all the dirty money in politics and shady backroom deals, I know that it is hard to conceive that everyday, normal, regular people have power. We don’t have all the power, but we have most of it. Over the next four years we have to do a better job of flexing our muscles than we did the previous four.
While Martin Luther King Jr. is given wide-ranging credit for the 1963 March on Washington, it was not the first time that a civil rights leader used the city as a backdrop towards structural change. A. Phillip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had threatened a more militant march into the city two decades earlier. This came after a meeting with Franklin Roosevelt where Randolph made many well-reasoned points about why the black workers, and the black populace in general, merited more equitable federal treatment and protections. FDR was in agreement with all of the points Randolph made but ended the meeting by saying, “I agree with you, now go make me do it.” FDR’s point was that few politicians make decisions merely off what is right, but are moved far more by what’s politically obtainable. FDR didn’t sign Executive Order 8802, which banned defense industry discrimination, merely because of his good will.
This lesson from history is that if you are not happy with where your favorite politician stands on an issue, you have to force them to move. Or you can sit back and bitch and moan, and check out of the system. Pissed off that Obama isn’t moving mountains fast enough while you sit on your fat ass captivated by Honey Boo Boo.
But be clear that while you check out, there are many others working earnestly to make your life worse off. We desperately need structural changes to many of our social institutions, but there are many powerful people highly invested in the status quo.
Americans like everything quick and easy these days. But democracy is not an easy or short process. This ain’t like the miracle diet where you’ve been promised that you can lose 40 pounds in a week while still being able to eat donuts and fried chicken every day.
Democracy is a long, slow-winding process. So don’t be politically naïve and expect that you’ll get everything you want. You won’t get that, I’m sorry. But don’t take your ball and go home. Man the fuck up and keep playing.
The journey of black people in America most dramatically shows the snail’s pace at which democracy trudges along. As black people, each generation has had to battle for constitutional rights to make our perilous existence in this country a little bit better. Some of the founding fathers such as John Adams, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay were morally opposed to slavery, but knew that there were already enough issues that were causing a divide among the 13 colonies so they didn’t feel like the fate of black people was nearly important enough to risk splitting up a highly unstable union in 1776. Nearly 100 years later, it was a great thing to become emancipated in 1865, but black people still were denied basic political rights until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And although the power of the ballot was important, the economic discrimination that blacks had been subjected to since our arrival in the Western World was left largely unaddressed in civil rights victories of the 1960s. The affirmative action laws that followed shortly after this period were imperfect attempts to try and correct this historical injustice. And while many obstacles still remain, blacks have certainly benefitted from there being an actual law on the books that explicitly outlaws racial discrimination. Our ancestors had many more intense battles than we’ve fought, battles where the odds were stacked against them far more than they are against working-class Americans of all backgrounds today. Most importantly, we would do well to remember that none of this was done because of the benevolence of white politicians. Black voters forced them to deal with these issues.
Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me will tell you that I am not a patient man. So believe me, I feel the angst of those who feel that change doesn’t come nearly quick enough. This is true today. It was true when freedom fighters of the early 20th century engaged in domestic political skirmishes that they would never enjoy the benefits of eventually winning. Understanding the slowness of the system does not mean that we should not fight for faster and more dramatic change. We absolutely should. But also realize that the goal of The Constitution is to work towards a more perfect union. America is a great country, no question. But America is a long, long, long, long way from the place that it could be. But it’s the duty of each generation to not only fight to move us toward this more perfect union, but to fight to protect the rights that have already been won. Because best believe, there are always going to be people who are fighting to take us a step back. And after such a severe and thorough ass-whooping in this election, the barbarians will be at the gate once again; eager to politically lynch the president since they won’t be able to achieve the fantasized literal one that they have given more than subtle hints to since Obama was seeking the land’s highest office initially.
We have to be there to meet them in kind with our own torches. But not only to protect the republic, but also to light a fire under the president from time to time.
Although the Republicans have attempted relentlessly to paint the president as a left-wing socialist, nothing could be further from the truth. While I wish that he governed like an out-of-control liberal, the fact is that he has not. President Obama is a left-center democrat for the most part at a time where I believe that the country is more liberal than conventional wisdom suggests. The man we just re-elected president has done some good things like reforming the student loan program, signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act, ending Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell and extending the age that young people can be on their parent’s health insurance.
But the man we re-elected president also has deported more illegal immigrants than any other president. His administration has been particularly aggressive in pursuing people for marijuana possession, even launching federal raids on several medical marijuana growers who were in compliance with their state laws. President Obama didn’t fight hard enough to push the insurance companies out of the healthcare business altogether. He extended the troops in Afghanistan longer than they needed to be, resulting in unnecessary loss of life and revenue. This dude actually renewed the fucking Patriot Act, an outrageous affront to the liberal cause on behalf of this former constitutional law professor. Barack Obama may be many things but a lefty socialist ain’t one of them.
In politics it is often the loudest voices, instead of the more rational ones that produce the waves that shift the political currents. The violent waves made by the Tea Party made the president and his party drift further right at times than they’ve needed to because they felt their base had abandoned them. If we do that again, the timid democrats will shift to the political right once more. They won’t fight for things like immigration reform, green energy, school reform or marijuana decriminalization if they don’t view these fights as politically advantageous.
I believe Obama to be a good and decent man. Many of these politicians are. Even some of the Republicans, as hard as that is to believe at times. But the first goal of any politician is not to do good, but to win elections. After all, a political loser can’t do anybody any good whatsoever. We have to embolden the Democrats to fight harder and let them know we have their back when they go to the mat for us.
The best way to actually affect change is on the local level. While Obama’s victory was significant, most of the power in the past four years has actually lied in Congress. And the Republican-controlled Congress used that power to defeat Obama at all cost instead of fighting for the American people. They have to be held accountable for such treasonous acts.
We need to vote these buffoons out of office, but there is much that each one of us can do individually before the next election in 2014. Keep yourself informed about the issues. It’s dope that so many people tune in to politics in an election year. But stay engaged by checking out national public radio or reading a reputable newspaper online. And although broadcast news is absolutely the worst place to get information, if you must watch TV, check out “60 Minutes,” “Meet the Press,” or “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Other than that, you’re honestly probably best served by watching Colbert and Jon Stewart instead of some of the so-called professional journalists. Once you’re informed about the issues, find out where your congressman and your senators stand on these matters. And if you find that he or she doesn’t stand with you, let them know about it. Write your congressmen letters. Blow up his office phone. Send her e-mails until her inbox gets full. These congressmen have routine town hall meetings and other events with constituents. Find out when they are scheduled, and go to them where you can ask the representatives who work on your behalf some questions directly rather than trusting Bill O’Reilly to ask them for you. Your local public servant at all levels probably has a Facebook or Twitter page. Go on there and antagonize him until you get a straight answer in case he dodges you. And tell your friends in California, Vermont, Georgia and Hawaii to do the same thing. When you get information, don’t be stingy with it. Share information with other people who might be too busy to read “Huffington Post” or “Congressional Quarterly.” And if you’re really dissatisfied with the status quo, there are scores of underfunded third parties out there that surely could use your help in getting their message out.
Democracy is listed as a noun in the Oxford American dictionary, but it’s really an action word. For democracy to function at peak-levels, it requires action on behalf of the people.
A properly functioning democracy has never been about the president unilaterally doing things that are going to make your life better. Politicians have to be moved to action.
Even the casual observer knows that the other side will work harder than ever to try and fuck up President Obama’s 2nd term agenda. We have to work hard not only to make sure that they aren’t successful, but also to make sure that the president keeps his word to us.
Peace and God bless,