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Can a Campaign Become a Movement, or at Least an Engaged Citizenry?

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The election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States raises the hopes of many (in the U.S. and internationally) for a change in course from unilateralism to cooperation; from concentration of power and economic resources in the hands of the few to a more equitable balance; from continued erosion of Constitutional protections and imbalance to justice; from more than a generation of "me" to a reinvigorating of "we." A lot of hope. However the true question is whether a citizenry that actively engaged for a campaign will remain engaged for the changes that must happen.

Obama has become an icon since accepting his party's nomination. On one hand an icon of hope and progress, on the other a demon set to undermine the "American way." Underneath that he is a human being with strengths and weaknesses, susceptible to the same forces as any of us. The question is how much of his integrity will resist the erosive force of the power he will soon wield? Since the first Clinton administration, the Democratic party's response has been to "lead toward the center." Meanwhile, the Republican party's response has been to run to the right. Within that long strategy, the center has moved further and further right, and more and more into the sphere of corporate interest and influence. Witness that both Obama and McCain volubly supported the $700 billion (plus) bailout of Wall Street and financial interests, while touting the struggling "Main Street." We cannot be "centrists' at this critical moment for the life of the planet and those upon it. Many of us have been under no illusions of the "radical" leanings of Obama. It became obvious that Clinton and Obama were only fingernails apart in their positions during the primaries - Clinton is an avowed centrist (as Bill became while in office). This is not to denigrate the other character and experiential strengths that Obama brings to the White House. However, in terms of policy, he is not "left" or even "progressive" despite McCain campaign rhetoric that he is a "socialist." The messages sent during the Obama campaign raise worries for many - particularly in his role of Commander in Chief. While ardently arguing for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, he embraced Afghanistan as a "just war." While promoting negotiation and collaboration, he also argued he would engage in unilateral, preemptive military strikes. He moved further and further into the full embrace of unquestioned support for Israel. Throughout the campaign, Obama collected an entourage of advisors. Now he evaluates who will move to positions of power within the Obama administration. His first choice of Rahm Emanuel is telling regarding the influence of existing Democratic party power brokers (the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)). The DLC describes itself as a "centrist" Democratic organization to which Obama was connected though not involved in 2007, but now apparently embraces. Emanuel is a significant figure within the DLC (and seen as an "enforcer" by many). The pressure is on Obama to move to the defined "center," but can he resist doing so? I believe that he can with the citizenry as an active, vocal force behind him. Either the powerful engagement of the people in the Obama campaign must remain active participants in the dialogues, or there is a need to transform a political campaign into a social movement. As the house continues to collapse around us, we need bold action - not the promise of action. Obama has a mandate and the hopes of the world riding on his shoulders. He needs to take that momentum to first recraft the direction of the Democratic party leadership and power brokers or he will be stymied by his own party before he ever takes the oath of office.


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Rowan Wolf is an activist and sociologist living in Oregon. She is the founder and principle author of Uncommon Thought Journal, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano's Journal Today.

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