We always need to keep in mind, that there are different types of political activists out there; just as there are different levels of involvement and activities; and there is a co-relation. There are those whose activism has been driven by family heritage: generations of political involvement and community activism from close relatives. Then there are those whose activism has been driven by religion, or philosophy, or something ideological from within. Then there are those whose involvements come via the “academic” route: professionals, bureaucrats, technicians, students, teachers, professors, journalists, reporters and the like.
Furthermore, there are those who get involved because of issues and/or personal need(s). For example, some type of situation comes up within the school system in which their kids are being educated -and from there on in they are moved to be active participants in the political process: because of a newly found awareness.
There is also a group I term “social butterflies”. They view politics the same way they view “Facebook”: a vehicle for meeting, mixing and matching. This group is somewhat frivolous and shallow relative to political-analysis and fealty. Many of them are involved for purposes of self-aggrandizement. They attend marches or rallies dressed in the latest fashion(s); making more than one statement with their action(s). If you mention the word “revolution”, they will probably drop a dime on you in a minute: even if you are only jesting.
And finally, there are those whose involvements are sporadic, and others still who are almost totally uninvolved -for a myriad of personal reasons. These latter groups hardly ever vote or actively participate: however they can sure “bitch” when things don’t go right; and they always have an opinion (no matter how unintelligent). These latter groups represent about half the US population.
Even with all the excitement generated by the ’07-‘08 historic presidential campaign of Barack Obama, half the eligible adults in the USA stayed away from voting in the election. And this is functional. At least political science theory deems it thus.
You see -despite the perennial low turnout- after each election, the instruments of power change hands, while the machineries of government move on legitimately. The implied powers of this nation (and each state) enforce this legitimacy. And by implied powers, I am talking about the army, navy, air force, marines, national guards, local police officers, customs officers, border guards, courts and penal systems, etcetera, etcetera. I am also talking about the many institutions and rituals developed since before independence from England. This is US democracy in a nutshell.
One of the beautiful things about the US system of government is the protection guaranteed to free speech via the US constitution. Thus on any given night, you can see and/or hear the late show hosts on television and radio, making fun of the president in his day to day actions. In some countries you could be charged with treason for doing this. In some other countries you might just disappear forever. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of American democracy. It is probably the single aspect we should most cherish about US politics.
With all this as a backdrop, let me say that those who have been offended by the constructive criticism (and I do differentiate from outrageous, ridiculous and absurd critique) of President Barack Obama, need to get a grip: packed with luggage. And those who have attacked Cornel West for being critical of the president -in the many areas where the administration’s record is disappointing- need to take a trip to the old Soviet Gulag Archipelago.
There are those who accuse Cornel West of harboring some kind of personal animosity towards Barack Obama. They say that West was stiffed by Obama’s transition team, since he didn’t get the type of regal treatment he expected at the inauguration ceremonies. They also claim that Cornel’s critiques of the president -which have been mild in my estimation- are unproductive and not constructive. People puhleaseeeeeeeeeee………………………………………..……………. “you aint seen nothing yet”.
Anyone who has read any of the many books Mr. West has written should see how ridiculous these personal attacks are. When West critiqued Obama’s predecessor (George Bush jnr.) I didn’t hear these kinds of negative comments being made; people discussed the substance of his critique more than anything else then. Wasn’t he rather critical of Bill Clinton’s policies too? And what about Ronald Reagan? OMG: worse yet. How quickly do we forget? Professor West is an equal opportunity presidential critic if ever there was one. The fact that he is harder on republican presidents isn’t lost to this analysis either; West considers himself a left-wing progressive type.
In his wrings and speeches, Professor West has always been passionate about poverty, wars, US military adventurism, injustice (political, economic, cultural and social), race matters, all types of discrimination, civil-inequalities and the like. He has been outspoken on these issues long before Obama even ran for dog-catcher in his own household primary.
Professor Cornel West is not only an academic; he is also a political activist par excellence. He has been fighting the good fight for decades. He didn’t just step on to the activist bus yesterday. He didn’t just start critiquing public policy this morning. He has been involved in political issues all his adult life.
West has been a prolific voice on the left-wing of the US political spectrum. Now, suddenly, after all these years of putting his neck out there, the professor is being accused of letting some personal anger towards the president cloud his judgment. I say this is nothing but “BS”.
Let me proffer that the policies emanating from the Obama administration has been the fodder for West’s generic critique. Let me also proffer that West has been tepid in attacking this half-brother (Obama) primarily because he understands the emotional investment blacks have made in the Obama administration. I suspect that many black political commentators have been as conflicted.
You see, Obama’s presidency will always be measured against its tacit campaign promise of great expectations. He set himself up for this when he chose “change” as his campaign mantra. What too many fail to grasp now is that change (like happiness) means different things to different people. Sure enough, his election was historic; but as I have said before, Obama’s administration can be defined as one of “system-maintenance” more so than of real change. This is primarily what Cornel West and too few others have been trying to get too (maybe not as articulately as I have over the last couple years/lol).
What our president needs to be told is that when you bail-out Wall-Streeters, as a reward for their contributions to one of the worst recessions in US history, without squeezing-out meaningful reforms in terms of how they continue to conduct business, then that’s nothing but “system-maintenance”. What do you call the bailing-out of auto-makers, insurance companies, big bankers, big financiers and the like: change? And you do this without enacting a comprehensive jobs-bill via Congress? Especially when regular ordinary people are hurting? When home-foreclosures are at a record high? When personal and small-business bankruptcies are also at a record high? When salary increases fail to keep up with price increases for consumers (inflation)?
What you have actually done is this: you have shafted main-streeters yet again. I call it system-maintenance; what do you call it?
Obama’s economic policies have helped the large corporations to accomplish record profits since he has been in office. Meanwhile, most of these same companies refuse to heavily invest in R&D (research and development). They also shy away from job-creation, training and worker-education; so even as we retreat from a severe recession we have a jobless recovery.
The Obama administration is not as daring as many of us expected starting out. It has slowly become one that reacts to right-wing anger in the hope of appeasing right-wing critics. On the left -where the critique has been relatively muted- the administration appears to be taking left-leaning voters for granted.
Essentially, I believe that their view is this: leftists have nowhere to go, so why be bold and daring relative to policy-formation. Thus we saw, no aggressive fight for “single-payer” or “public option”, during the debate over health-care reform. Thus we saw no line drawn in the sand over the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Thus the hopes of the needy were sacrificed -as they have been many times in our economic history- for the selfishness of the wealthy, the politically-powerful, and the lobbyists of those who are greedy.
When it came to the fight over deficit spending, social programs were sacrificed for military-budget excesses. Energy relief programs for the poor and needy were gutted while over-priced weaponry was saved. Deficit spending is okay once the gunpowder is being kept dry; but it is obscene when bread and butter issues are being confronted. Look, budgets do nothing else but showcase our basic priorities: and this is the same for individuals; federal, state or local governments; corporations; and individual nations.
Beyond two or three relatively minor political gambits, Barack Obama’s administration is all about maintaining the status quo. And in case you don’t get it, the status quo in this country, represents the rich and powerful staying rich and powerful: many of whom exist within varying degrees of individual greed, waste, power-hunger, corruption and lust.
When you refuse to put radical economic-reform ideas on the table, then you are trying to spin a top in mud. When you refuse to introduce powerful and profound economic reform ideas into the political arena, then you are just blowing smoke with your criticisms of those CEOs and CFOs who abuse the flawed economic system. What we need are ideas around controlling wages, prices and profits; especially for those who experience built-in advantages, and those who also extract unfair (even unjust) edges from the economic system.
Talking about the excesses and abuses of CEOs and CFOs are meaningless and shill; especially if CEOs and CFOs continue to make tens of millions, while regular workers only make tens of hundreds. So the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting shafted: over and over.
Look, talk is cheap. It’s the lawyers and the scotch-whiskey that drive-up the expenses. I guess after all is said and done (one-termer or not), Obama will be always measured against that word “change”. It is time for more than just cheap talk: no matter how elegantly and eloquently presented. It is time for true change. It is time for real change.
Barack Obama has to be told that skillfully getting some focus-group to throw up the words or phrases that could swing your election (“change”/”yes, we can”), is not the same as the literal, metaphorical and figurative connotations of these words and phrases.
When your foreign policy resembles that of your predecessors, then that’s not change we can see, feel or believe in. When your military policy refuses to take into account that there are too many folks economically invested in perpetual war and continuous bloodshed, and that too many of them unduly influence the Pentagon (and the State Department also), then nothing is really going to change. And that isn’t a promising signal for people looking for real change (and not small change) in both the national and international political arenas. And that’s where I come from on a personal level.
Mister President, when you maintain and even escalate wars that are unwinnable; when you fail to shut down Guantanamo; when you continue a policy of ‘renditions’; when you escalate wars and military actions/interventions; when you violate the sovereignty of other countries in phony wars against terrorism and drugs; when you continue to violate the constitution by secretively wiretapping US citizens; when you kill innocent civilians in foreign countries by the thousands -with drone attacks your warmongering advisors deem justifiable; can you really believe within yourself that this is the “change’ you promised?
Mister President, when you fail to take into account the unique problems of black-Americans; instead you liken them to the problems of all other racial and ethnic groups in the polity (without appreciating the uniqueness of black-history here); when you group said problems into a one-size-fit-all national remedy/solution; when you refuse to confront and personally engage the metastasizing black-communities directly; when you refuse to believe that you can be wrong on your social/racial analysis and commentary; when you take more than two years to sit with the congressional black caucus (was it because they “dissed” you when you first told them you were going to run for president?); when you show no real passion as to what’s going on in black-America; when you refuse to advance creative policy-ideas for the third-class education most blacks receive in this country; when you refuse to advance policy-ideas for the million and a half blacks incarcerated in this country’s prisons; when you refuse to believe that many of us have watched you skillfully “play” your most loyal voting-bloc (blacks) with nothing short of antipathy; is this change we can see, touch, feel and taste? Or is it more heartbreak and disappointment coming the black way? The type of heartbreak and disappointment we have come to believe in over time.
Look; trust me when I say that I can go on and on like the energizer bunny, enumerating the many areas wherein blacks have been treated horribly by the democrats we vote to elect. I can enumerate many more areas where the black community needs immediate help and governmental intervention: but it’s not coming anytime soon. Maybe we need to be less demanding; don’t you think?
The black community went out in record numbers and voted for Barack Obama without making any demands on his campaign. Most blacks knew that they had to be tactical and quiet with their overwhelming support: history had to be made and that was the top priority. But history has been made, so where is our dividend? Isn’t that the way the political game is played here?
Are we now (as blacks) supposed to act-up like “niggahs”? Isn’t it time that the political system better address our political needs? How long are we to act like the things we drastically need must be begged and pleaded for? As if we shouldn’t be rewarded for our fealty to democrats? As if we haven’t been humiliated enough in this country? If you engage the political process, and the political party you heavily invest in, continually refuses to heed your cries and pleads, then maybe it is time to play out a different endgame.
We need a president who is passionate about addressing the gun-violence plaguing communities of color. We need a president who is committed -through thoughtful and intense government intervention- to reducing the murder rate in communities of color. Blacks make up one in eight (or seven?) Americans (the last census was an obvious undercount), and yet half of all murder victims in this country are black. We need a president committed to reforming gun-control laws in a sensibly progressive way -given constitutional interpretations. This is a fight worth undertaking: join NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg in this effort.
We need a president who can empathize with the social maladies, the psychological issues, and other physical, economic and social conditions that lead black women to abort half of all their pregnancies. We need a president to address the structural unemployment afflicting communities of color, where on any given day, anywhere between thirty-four to fifty per cent of all black men are jobless. We need a president who understands the implications of only one in four black males graduating from high school. We need a president who realizes that presently almost twenty percent of all black men live semi-wasted lives, in and out of prisons, substance-abuse rehab facilities, the parole-system, homeless shelters and various mental institutions. We need a president who understands that rigor-mortis sets in real early for the average black male in the good ole US of Amnesia.
Look, we need this president to understand that a one-size-fit-all application is not suitable given the pressing needs of the communities of color. For many years now, I have enumerated the many distinctive issues facing the black community. Anyone can go into my archives and reread the countless articles done on this topic. I have taken my lumps for the many times I have written and spoken about them. Whether it’s on the blogs, in the newspapers, periodicals or magazines, or on television or radio; raising issues around the prevailing conditions in too many inner-city communities of color, is not popular. Even blacks attack you for saying some of these things.
When -as a nation- you fail to address racism, in all its inhumane shapes and forms, can you really talk about change? The same racial discrimination in housing, employment/ unemployment, business- opportunities, economic development, education, the justice delivery system (DAs, lawyers, cops, judges, et al, and included) that has been in existence for eons, still pervades today. In the USA, blacks confront injustice as often as Arnold Schwarzenegger confronts infidelity: everyday.
As I write this, it is Memorial Day 2011. Blacks (including black-Hispanics) make up more than one third of the armed forces. And yet the mainstream media jealously guards one of its well known secrets: blacks are treated as badly in the military as they are in the outside world. Okay, so it is not close to being as outlandish as it used to be back in the day; but it is still dehumanizing and inhumane. And it is still pervasive in US society. We just don’t complain as much we used to. We have learned to suffer in relative silence. We need to stop that.
I challenge mainstream-media folks to do stories about this. Do a story about racism in the military: interview ex- soldiers who are black and Hispanic -who have no fear of reprisals. Do some surveys with those who are no longer in the military. Tell me what you find. I know the stories many ex-soldiers tell me. I have heard them from the day I arrived in this country in 1973. The stories haven’t changed much from Viet Nam, to Iraq, to Afghanistan: same old; same old.
We need our president (no matter how educated, intelligent or contemplative) to understand these and other things, relative to what blacks experience on an everyday basis in this country (and world). I would love to have my college arrange (and host) a two hour public debate between Cornell West and Barack Obama. We could learn a whole lot as to where Barack Obama comes from on issues and ideology.
One of these days the writings of Cornel West will be amongst the fuel for the civil unrest that blacks will lead; with poor people of all races, nationalities, ethnicities and religions joining in to truly change the system as we know it. Those who feel the pain of injustice will eventually do what has to be done.
You see, there are two ways to play the “change” game. There is the “inside” strategy, and then there is the “outside” strategy. With the inside strategy, you vote and participate in the conventional politics of the day. You elect (hopefully) effective leaders to take your issues to the corridors of power; wanting them to be addressed in a timely and satisfactory manner. When that fails, you retreat to the outside strategy; and that’s when you summon the “Locke” within: that’s when you are willing to petition the heavens for real change. That’s when you hit the streets real hard because real change never comes easy. Power never compromises without a gun to its head.
Stay tuned-in folks. One day,” a change is gonna come”: I just don’t think it is anytime soon.