January 20, 2009, marked the first day of the Obama Administration. It should also signify the start of the American people’s struggle to insure that this Administration governs in a democratic and progressive manner.
Obama’s inauguration was in many ways a homage to the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln. The implication was that Lincoln provided bold and daring leadership that this President intends to emulate. However, history provides a more complex tale. Lincoln’s Presidency was initially, somewhat hesitantly, dedicated to the mere preservation of the union and the prevention of slavery’s introduction into new territories, not its ultimate abolition. In fact Lincoln upon his accession to the presidency supported the then pending Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which explicitly protected slavery in those states in where the “peculiar institution” already existed. It was only after years of agitation by freed blacks such as Frederick Douglass and white abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison, that Lincoln was eventually moved to issue the Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves in the areas of the South that were still in rebellion.
Many people also believe that Obama will look to the actions taken by FDR and the New Deal in order to formulate legislation aimed at revitalizing the economy. But the progressive aspects of the New Deal were instituted after years of struggle by labor unions and numerous Unemployed Councils that marched, struck and agitated for relief for the unemployed and demanded a cessation of foreclosures.
People have discussed the political courage that LBJ demonstrated by signing the Civil Rights Bill, which he knew would diminish the political prospects of his own party in his own state of Texas and the rest of the south. However, it goes almost without saying that this historic legislation would never have been passed but for literarly decades of civil and human rights agitation.
In Obama we have a worthy successor to Lincoln, FDR and John F. Kennedy, but the question must be asked, where are today’s popular movements for human and economic liberation? Fundamentally, are We the People prepared to assume our roles as shapers of human history?
I believe that we must admit that strong progressive movements aimed at raising a new and more expansive agenda are at this time depressingly weak.
It is true that the past decade has seen a number of important defensive struggles that protected the Social Security Trust Fund from the vultures of Wall Street greed. The immigrants’ rights movement turned out hundreds of thousands of people on May Day which may have prevented the passage of Draconian anti-immigrant legislation.
However, Millions of people either have or will probably lose their jobs this year, yet our unions remain weak and continue to lose membership. Foreclosures are occurring at an accelerating pace and while small groups have evolved to cushion the blow on an individual basis no large-scale movement to fight foreclosures or to demand a more just economic system has emerged. I personally feel as an unemployed individual that I am totally alone without any larger support system, yet it is patently obvious that I am but one of millions. Why aren’t we joining together as our ancestors did to demand justice that means meaningful jobs at a living wage?
Millions if not billions of dollars are still be wasted on foreign wars and over 730 US military bases are located throughout the world. And while I welcome President Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo and to increase our emphasis on finding diplomatic solutions to international conflicts, I am still concerned that his Administration plans to intensify the resource war in Afghanistan, a “war” that is just as immoral and not just unwinnable as was Bush’s aggression in Iraq. We must remember that every bomb that explodes over Iraq and Kabul directly kills people in the “theatre of aggression” but also indirectly kills people here at home who could have received needed services that have been diverted to the war crimes.
Clearly we need a re-intensified peace and justice movement that works on a 365 day a year basis to pressure the Obama Administration to pursue a democratic and peaceful foreign policy that ends the American Empire and establishes foreign relations based on peace, justice and non-interference in the lives of the world’s nations.
Some people believe that we already have a strong “movement” for social change. They will reference this or that “on-line movement”. I say there’s no crime in signing an on-line petition or “attending” a virtual meeting. But having worked in the governmental sector I can tell you that the people’s voice is only heard when it is loud, persistent and personal. Electing Barack Obama was a step in the right direction in our ongoing effort to transform America into Dr. King’s beloved community. Now comes the hard but most necessary step that involves revitalizing social movements that will transform American life and create a just society.