The Leaders We’ve Been Waiting For

Commentary to come…. 

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


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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.

In our ministry I have fought day and night for seventeen years to end homelessness in San Jose and in America. But Obama, on his web site and written materials, does not even mention homelessness and advances no plan to solve our affordable housing crisis.
In fact, Obama generally has very little program to back up his rhetoric. His health care plan would not even cover all Americans, and would not eliminate the role of insurance company profiteers. He has no program to guarantee jobs for those who need them, and only a vague commitment to living wages. Like the other candidates, his immigration platform promotes building a “border wall” first and sending the undocumented “to the back of the line” to apply to become citizens. He has no plan to stop the relentless expansion of police power in America.

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!



One Response

  1. I’m down! How do we get started? I’ll turn off my tv, for starters. I should probably just throw away my tv, but my wife and brother-in-law still watch it, and we use it for movies, or just to be polite when company is over. but seriously, I think tv is the number one cause of corporate control in our communities today. people think the internet has overshadowed the tv, but the internet you’re on right now has only helped to bolster and strengthen the corporate grip on “private” life in america. What’s a good alternative to tv? Going outside and talking to people? It’s difficult, but some of us still do things like that. And maybe just walking right outside your home and talking to your neighbor would be all that it would really take to strengthen your community. The first, smallest step is always the hardest. The people on the Forbes List of The World’s Billionaires (to name a few) know that, and don’t want that to happen. They know that if people started to turn off their tv sets and tune out of the corporate media programming, more people would start to think for themselves (gasp) or even (brace yourself) HELP EACH OTHER!

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