Commentary to come….
WE ARE THE LEADERS WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR
by Sandy Perry
My people’s suffering
pierced me, entangled
my soul like barbed wire:
gripped my heart:
I went to cry out at the crossroads,
I went out to weep, enveloped in mist,
I touched the doors and they wounded me
like sharp-pointed knives,
I called out to the impassive faces
that I adored before like stars,
and they showed me their void.
— Pablo Neruda
I voted for Barack Obama in the California Presidential Primary on February 5. However, for me this was definitely a case of the “lesser evil” in a bad beauty contest. As fine a person as he may be, Obama cannot lead the nation to the kind of “change” he talks about. Only we the people can do that.
Anyone who examines the campaign finance reports can see why. Obama, like Clinton and McCain, and George Bush for that matter, is bought and paid for by the same corporate masters who have been running America for decades. These corporations have no intention of allowing any change that will diminish their profits or power.
So why vote for Obama at all? Obama’s role is similar to that of John Kennedy when he ran for president in 1960. He has the same great style, charisma, and popularity. People today forget that Kennedy’s actual record as President was undistinguished. He repeatedly dragged his feet when it came to supporting the African-American freedom movement, and appointed outright segregationists as judges to appease the Southern Democratic Party. But his style made a difference. In the heat of the 1960 election, he electrified the African-American community by intervening to help free Martin Luther King, Jr. from prison in Georgia.
Obama’s style might make a difference too. An Obama presidency might provide an opening for today’s economic justice movement, just as Kennedy did for African-Americans. But the important thing to remember is that without our efforts, nothing will happen.
There was an illuminating debate in the primary campaign about the respective roles of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon Johnson in the civil rights movement. Corporate politicians in general are incapable of leadership in a social movement. The social movements lead them. They are puppets on a string who react to situations that the people create. This was true of Johnson in 1965 and will be equally true of President Obama in 2009.
What America’s youth, students, poor and working people really need today is not a candidate but a strategy. It is not enough to just get out in the streets as we did in the 1960s. The system in those days was expanding and still had room for reform. As King said then, it was not necessary to build a widespread organization in order to win legislative victories.
The dispossessed of today, however, confront an entrenched, global corporate system that is plunging into deep crisis. It has no maneuvering room. Labor-replacing technology has reduced wages and eliminated jobs, and they aren’t coming back. We cannot reform America without a fundamental change in the way wealth is distributed.
This is much more dangerous and unstable than anything we have faced before. We need to study, assess, discuss, and learn how to empower and unite our communities independently of corporate control or interference. We need to develop programs that protect our human rights and meet our basic needs and around employment, housing, health care, culture, and justice. Our leaders are those in our own ranks who have a vision of a better future, and the courage and intelligence to fight for it. Let’s get busy!