“Let Obama follow, while the people lead.”

Sage words from anti-racist activist Tim Wise.

obama

I was about ten feet away, just below the podium, when the future-president visited Austin in February of 2007. Thousands turned out on a cold (by Texas standards) and cloudy day to hear him. Barack Obama made all the right moves, making fun of Dick Cheney and later donning a cowboy hat, and the crowd loved him for it. He gave a sweeping speech casting his campaign as one in a long line of social justice movements that have transformed America over the past century or so.

I frankly thought it was disgraceful to exploit the stories of those movements and their achievements for personal political gain. I still believe that. Obama’s campaign was unrivaled in its organization at the grassroots throughout the country and in its fundraising from small donors. But those donations were still dwarfed by the money pouring in from the rich and corporations. A campaign for president that did not confront kyriarchy or any of its components head-on is no social movement.

The empire, of course, lives on. 40 are dead, including women and children, from another U.S. airstrike on a wedding party in Afghanistan, where Obama wants to escalate the war. The siege and imprisonment of Gaza, which Obama has defended, continues as Israel launched a new attack inside the strip yesterday. Gay citizens were left behind in this election.

But I’m hopeful today.  I certainly wasn’t annoyed last night when Obama led a Chicago crowd of 225,000 in a chant of “Yes we can” as he paid homage to those movements and told the story of 106-year-old (African-American woman) Ann Nixon Cooper.  When Indonesian schoolchildren are inspired to dance with joy at the election of a new U.S. president, you know something went right this time.

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