This is an update to an essay I wrote last December. The original essay can be found at: https://eee.uci.edu/07f/20070/riseup_fire_dec07.html
Please read that first for context. This update deals more specifically with the history just made in the democratic primary nomination....
As always, I'd like to begin by offering peace and respect to my sisters and brothers all across the globe living the best they can; and respect to all souljahs working to serve our people and their interests worldwide.
As I argued in the initial essay, there have always been oppressive dynamics throughout history, and concurrently, resistance to that oppression. But I argue in the essay that while oppressive dynamics have not changed, times have…and as the saying goes…timing is everything. We have been seeing a movement in the making: youth mobilization, or as I argued in the essay...hip hop is growing up.
This movement is grassroots based on people power, and in the new world order of YouTube and MySpace, people power has more ways of getting its message heard. Result: The largest mobilization of the community in years for a rally in a small rural town with people coming from cities all across the country (Jena 6 rally) to yes, the very first black candidate to get a major party nomination. In truth, Obama should not be credited for organizing this movement, but is more accurately the beneficiary of it. He has tapped into something that has been growing for some time...the crossroads where the technology revolution met community based organizing. There are a number of other examples of successes like petition drives, online network and organization building, fundraising, etc. This movement is creating new spaces to learn, live, and grow.
As I watched Obama give his speech Tuesday night after securing the democratic nomination, I could not help but feel the weight of the historic moment. As an insurgent campaign, it demanded respect, and to add the racial narrative, made it even more unbelievable. To be honest, I thought Obama had a better chance of being the next American Idol than American President. lol. I already knew the strategy from his national speech at the convention in ’04 when he blasphemed that this is the United States of America…I have discussed with my classes the fact that Obama was starring as Invisible Man and was hoping to pull it off long enough to win the election. Thanks to Reverend Wright, that became impossible and race came to the forefront in the form of black liberation theology. So Obama had to prove he was "safe" to middle America because the truth is America is not ready for a unapologetically black president but may be (and that is a very BIG MAYBE) ready for a candidate that happens to be black, or biracial.
I’ve told my students that if Obama got the nomination it would ONLY be due to them – the youth – and the movement they are just now nurturing. I work closely with hip hop activists and this election in my mind is seen differently from a youth perspective…this election is about past v. future and grassroots v. establishment...There are many hip hop activists that are critical of Obama for some of the reasons that have been discussed in the Black Agenda Report but they don’t want to get into policy discussions, they want to empower the people…and the people want to be inspired…so here we are.
While intellectually I can agree with some of the critiques of Obama that the BAR and other dissidents offer, I think many are missing a much bigger picture. What he will do is still in question but my gut says he is not the puppet of corporate interest BAR believes he will be. Obama just knows the game and knows he won’t win any other way. Period. Come out black and proud?? His chances would have been somewhere between “negro please” and “never gonna happen”. Challenging a politician for being political is basically like being mad at a dog for barking. It is not only wrong because it won't change reality, it is also a bit self-righteous.
If I can keep it real for a minute, there’s a reality we all know and live daily in the institutions we work in. Yes it would be nice if he could be forthright about race, class, fascism, etc. but structurally impossible in politics…and everywhere else on this planet. As I like to say, we may be anti-capitalist but we cash our checks monthly to pay our bills so we can fight another day. We may speak truth to power in our writings and classes, but we work at institutions that perpetuate the VERY SAME inequalities we fight…hierarchies in society …credentials…status…or just look at student enrollment or faculty numbers/status/salary by race, class and gender…and I can go on and on… if we expect Obama to change the structure or not be a part of it…we must hold ourselves to the same standard…are we ready to quit Corporate University because they do not practice what we preach? No, because we need some space to reach youth and challenge structure even if it alone doesn’t change it. And quite honestly there is NO space on this planet where we are free to live out our convictions completely in this social structure...yes some have died for their convictions, but that is the price, let’s be clear. And then what about those left behind? So we do what we can with what we have…And I think Michelle Obama and her children deserve our support for the sacrifices they are making to try to do just that.
On a personal note, my vote in the California primary for Obama was about two things. I no longer believe in that “do not choose between two evils” argument. If voting strictly on conviction I would “go green” and support Cynthia McKinney's candidacy but will not in the real world, and can't in good conscience. I’m sure millions of Iraqis now dead and displaced, thousands of dead, mostly young GIs, thousands more badly wounded GIs and many many thousands more suffering from post traumatic stress disorder would give anything to have seen an Al Gore presidency. Ralph Nader be damned.
But my vote was also about standing with my people. As far as I’m concerned being with the people is where I need to be. Are they always on the right side of intellectual answers to racial and class issues that face them? No, but what they do is survive anything and everything so I will go with their spirit over all intellect. With them I know I’ll be okay. Without them, I’ll be miseducated and lost. So keep hope alive…or in 2008, we say…yes, we can. Obama is only as good as he makes others feel...energized and engaged...and in this day and age...that's pretty damn good.
“ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!”