Below is a statement released right before the election day in November 2008. I think it provides some useful perspective on how radicals, or regular people for that matter, would react to the election of Obama. –AW
10/28/08 – Amanecer Election Statement
Looking for Democracy In All The Wrong Places
An Anarchist Perspective on the 2008 Elections
With the 2008 election around the corner, and with Obama ahead in the polls, many people who normally counsel “not getting your hopes up” are sounding hopeful and excited about the possibility that the Republicans might be kicked out of the White House. New voter registrations from youth, people of color, and low income folks are coming in by the millions. These new voters believe that this election means something, and that electing Obama will help make their lives better. These hopes include everything from saving us all from the economic crisis to bringing universal health care to ending the war in Iraq. At the very least, he seems to be a smarter bet than McCain.
In Amanecer, we have been talking about what might come out of this election, and we see three broad paths ahead of us given how big Obama’s lead is in the polls:
1) Obama could be kept out of the presidency through fraud or violence. There is potential for massive disenfranchisement as well. This would put the millions of new voters, Obama supporters, and anyone who takes democracy seriously in the position of demanding a recount or a new election, which would require organizing strong movements independent of the structures and interests that got us here. We know that the Democratic Party is part of that structure, and could not allow grassroots movements to form, which politicians see as uncontrollable and unpredictable. They would rather lose an election than open the floodgates of protest, which could move beyond demanding a new election to confronting power itself, Republican or Democrat.
2) Obama could win the election, and when his election promises go unmet, the hopes for universal health care, peace and fundamental change would die away. The new and energetic voters would sink back into the bitter and sullen silence and disillusionment of the last 30 years, allowing the Right to regroup and continue their attacks on the brown, the poor, women, and the queer community.
3) Obama could win the election, and when his election promises go unmet, millions of people, hungry for change, could bring their demands into the streets. We would hope that they would then build movements in their communities and workplaces to fight for human needs and against the War on Terror.
A Historic Blow Against White Supremacy?
We also can’t ignore that this is a historic election, because at this point, it seems as if we will see the election of the first black president in this country’s history. The long line of white faces in the White House will be injected with some color. For many people of color, this is a moment of joy, a moral victory and bitter pill for the racists to swallow. We share many of these feelings, but in a time when immigrants are treated as animals, caged, spat upon, and blocked with walls; in an era where a black man is still viewed as a criminal or a suspect, locked up in record numbers and thrown away; in an age where a woman of color is still assumed to be a prostitute, a maid, a lazy mother, or a servant, claims of a moral victory feel hollow.
We’ve had enough moral victories, we want a real victory over racism. It’s not simply a matter of changing laws or who’s in the White House. Since this country began it has stolen the land and labor of people of color. Today, it locks up hugely disproportionate numbers of black and brown people, terrorizes immigrants into silence, and continues to steal the resources of the indigenous. White working class folks are told by politicians that it is the brown immigrant that is responsible for their empty wallets and pile of bills, it is the black man outside their windows at night that is gunning for what little they have and must be jailed. Sadly, many buy into this scapegoating. To be white, to be a “real” American, is the only thing that separates them from rock bottom, and is their only protection from the arbitrary arrests and imprisonment that the rest of the population is subject to. Even now, McCain and Palin play to racism, raising suspicions of Obama as a “terrorist” or “radical”, playing on deeply held fears of black men as dangerous, accusations that wouldn’t have been given the time of day if Obama was white. The powerful play on racism to hide the fact that it is the debt collectors and bosses and police who are the real thieves and gangsters, the ones who white working class folks should be locking the door against and kicking out of their communities, We must end racism by uprooting it from the foundations, a white supremacy that doesn’t always necessarily wear a hood, but defends unearned benefits for most white people, and you don’t do that by changing who’s up top.
We also can’t ignore the fact that it very easily could have been Hilary Clinton where Obama is, on the way to the White House. This would have been portrayed as a great victory for women, and again we don’t dispute the joys of a moral victory, but we have to point out how hollow it would have been in the face of reality. We are being asked to believe that the rise of a white, rich woman to power would somehow have an effect on the lives of poverty-wage housekeepers, immigrant women working on assembly lines and poisoned by chemicals, or black women stigmatized as “welfare moms” even as they work day and night to feed their kids, as single moms of all colors do across the nation. As with racism, the roots of gender oppression lie at the foundations. As men buy into the disrespect of women, those who they should be sharing struggle with and not insults and violence, women, especially working-class women and women of color, continue to struggle to get by in a society that has always used them economically, politically, and sexually for its own ends. Those who don’t fit the gender norms are the target of hatred, and are demonized for who they love. The roots infest every area of society, in our relationships, in the workplace, and in our sexualities; we must burn out that which benefits men and heterosexuals at the expense of everyone else, and grow new ways of relating with each other. Again, this can’t be done by changing who’s on top.
On Our Own, But Not Alone
Over the last few weeks, members of our organization have been experiencing just how precarious capitalism is: we have gotten notices of “shift elimination”, and friends who just had and are about to have children were laid off due to the economic crisis. Some are still bouncing from temp job to temp job, while others are students facing heavy loans, and several of us are caught in the cycle of debt where credit cards and loans go to pay other credit cards and loans.
We know people who are in jail for property crimes, for self medicating, for having the wrong friends, for looking like “gang members”, or for lack of mental health care. We know that the police patrol our communities to make them safe, not for us, but for the landlords, homeowners, and business owners, who want fewer people of color, fewer youth, and fewer poor folks who will “hurt their property values” or “scare away their customers.” We know that prisons get the money that schools and public housing ought to get, which could house and nurture the young, the brown, and the poor.
None of us are sporting fancy cars or anything shiny and new. The economy has never worked for us or the people we love, but we have kept on working, hustling and making the best of things because we had to. We have borrowed money and asked for help from our families and friends when we can’t make rent or when we need health care. That doesn’t make us lazy or unworthy. It just means that we are not rich. We depend on each other and our families to survive, but we give to each other willingly because we know they would do the same for us. This kind of mutual aid may be stressful to rely on and to provide (especially when we or our families don’t have much to give) and it may look inadequate, but it is what working class people have always done to survive. Also, it holds the seeds of liberation, because mutual aid is what we do to survive in spite of the bosses and the government… and when we get good enough at it, we will do away with them both forever.
Crisis? Welcome Back to the Working Class!
We suddenly started hearing that the economy was in crisis, because it had stopped working for the banks and the rich. They had been investing money in highly risky schemes, such as “derivatives,” which are bets on the price of something going up, for example the value of mortgages or the value of the dollar. When the value of those risky investments collapsed, the banks lost the money they had invested so badly, and many have gone out of business or been purchased by other banks. The banks and rich people got scared and asked their friends in Congress to give them the money they lost on their bad investments. The politicians agreed and gave the banks $700 billion (a “bailout plan”) even though members of congress received emails and phone calls more than 100-to-1 in opposition from the public. Imagine what we could have done with that money! How many health care clinics and homes saved and scholarships and solar panels and wind farms and infrastructure and job training programs and sighs of relief for single mothers? Stolen. They build their parachute out of our hopes and dreams, leaving us nothing to catch our fall. The politicians and their media said that we didn’t understand, and that they had to bailout the bankers to save us from the new crisis. When times get tough for the rich, this is what their mutual aid looks like: stealing from us to give to each other.
There is something seriously wrong with the society we live in. As the dust builds up in millions of empty homes throughout this country, people are left to sleep on the streets, families pack into one bedroom apartments, and renters put up with faulty plumbing that never gets fixed and cockroaches that never die. As office and retail space everywhere sits quiet and empty, while factories gather rust and are like haunted houses holding the ghosts of American dreams, people struggle to make ends meet, suffer an endless cycle of pointless job searches, temp work, and frustration, and keep quiet in the face of wages that would insult a dog and bosses who punish every misstep with a smile. Our whole society seems to thwart and misuse the potential of homes, workplaces, and human beings, using them for the good of the rich or not at all. When we’re told that this is just “how the world works”, it doesn’t add up. Common sense tells us that the way things are set up makes no sense at all, so the question becomes, if that’s the “way the world works”, who is it working for? Because it sure isn’t working for you or me.
Those who own the buildings and companies and houses aren’t hurt by the waste, and they shake off a recession like dirt from their shoulder. The nice thing about being rich is there is always a pile of cash to cushion your fall, and if you lose yours, you can always get a new one from the government. But when people on the bottom are tired of hurting and demand some help, and when they dare to question why the fat cats can’t pull their own weight for once and pay their dues to society, then all we hear about are the evils of “sharing the wealth”. When a candidate such as Obama is demonized for making a simple comment about “spreading the wealth around”, it’s time to start asking a question: where did the wealth of the rich come from? How did all this individual and corporate wealth come about? From the hands and minds and pockets and souls of ordinary working people. We built the factories and buildings in which wealth is produced, we assembled the computers and machines which drive the system, we built the roads and airports through which the wealth flows, and we cook and serve food to those managers and decision-makers and wash their dishes and raise their children. Every single dollar of that wealth passed through our hands and was created because of us. Whose wealth is it now? In a world and society where we are all connected and dependent on each other, where do you draw the lines between each person’s wealth? They call it ”socialism”, and “irresponsible”, and “sharing the wealth”, we call it taking back what’s ours in the first place.
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Cooperate!
The economic collapse that we are living through now is no surprise if you remember what happened 80 years ago. When the stock market crashed in 1929, it came along with the droughts of the Dust Bowl and collapse of the speculative bubble of the time. Millions of people lost their savings, their jobs, their homes, and were forced to migrate to find work. Every single dispossessed person had to beg, steal or hustle for food, shelter, clothing, and medicine, since the official charities could never have completely provided for them or their families.
People organized networks of mutual aid and solidarity to help each other survive: evictions were met with “un-evictions” where people simply moved the furniture and belongings back into the houses of their unlucky neighbors. Collective kitchens were set up in churches, armories, and union halls, which were also made to open up at night to house the dispossessed. Where that wasn’t available, homeless workers set up tent cities, called “hobo jungles.” At work, people who could not make ends meet on what the bosses wanted to pay, banded together and struck for higher wages and job security. Often they sat down, occupying the factories to keep scabs (strikebreakers) from taking their jobs. Rather than facing the elimination of their co-workers through lay offs, workers would demand instead that all workers share reduced hours.
Our grandparents were learning how to take what they needed through organizing and cooperation. They also learned the importance of defending each other from the bosses, the landlords, and the Sheriffs who came to evict and jail them. As anarchists, we say that the principles of mutual aid and solidarity that have helped working people in this country survive economic crises in the past, should be dusted off and put to use immediately in every situation where people are suffering. Politicians can’t save us, but they can sure help the bosses rob us blind.
Throw Politician from the Train
Whenever someone talks about changing the way things work in this world, we are told that theories and ideas are fine, but it’s people that are imperfect, it’s people that are the problem. Really? We are not the ones who gambled with people’s well-being and future, who invaded another country and sacrificed lives for lies. Throughout history, it is not us on the bottom who have destroyed everything we touched. It’s not people who are the problem, it’s all those few on the top who have stolen and cheated and danced while our hopes and dreams burned. While people work two jobs, getting by on four hours sleep a night, as yet more families say goodbye to their homes, top executives from AIG, recently the recipient of welfare from the government, took a half-a-million dollar vacation. Who’s the problem now? And even though we can all agree that people are imperfect, that’s exactly the reason why we need everyone discussing, acting, experimenting, and working together to figure out how to get out of this mess and move towards our dreams. It’s when a few get to decide that the imperfections get free play to ruin us all.
Which brings us back to where we began, this historic election and moment in time. The truth is that whether McCain or Obama wins, everything we have said will still be true. Will an Obama presidency be different from a McCain presidency? Of course. But we will still be stuck in an endless cycle of frustration, hurt, disappointment, violence, and waste either way. We keep on hoping for relief, for a temporary “fix” to get us through in the form of that new candidate with hope on his tongue. Nothing could be more understandable. But at a certain point, we have to come to terms with where we are at. Our parents and grandparents struggled with the same demons we do now. Do we want our kids and grandkids to have to fight the same battles, to have to feel the same pain and fear? Or do we want to start building them a bridge to a better life?
That’s the big decision to make this November. It’s time to start thinking about what you want. Not what the candidates are proposing, or what the media says is important, but what you and those who are close to you would like to see happen. We need real democracy, not the same old hypocrisy. So it’s vital to realize that the way out of this mess will be through uniting with others, through community action, and by using the methods of mutual aid that we have always used to survive, only now turning them into a form of resistance. We must figure out how to realize the goals of our communities, no matter who’s in office. If a candidate supports one of our demands, good. We’ll make them keep those promises, because we’re tired of relying on politicians only to be let down once again. We’re also tired of seeing things we’ve won taken away a few years later. The only way to protect the victories our communities have fought for is to take control of those battles, never let a politician assume command of them, and be ready to defend what we’ve won. On the other hand, if a candidate doesn’t support what we want, then we’ll fight against them to make it happen anyway. The point is that the only way things have gotten better throughout history is through the uncontrollable and unpredictable movements that people have organized for themselves, and politicians have stood aside or jumped onboard when they’ve had no choice. It’s time to realize that it is in that power where hope really lies.
A New World Is Not Only Possible, But Necessary
It’s time to be bold, it’s time to be daring. We advocate nothing less than a new society. Food, clothing, shelter, health care; all those things should be available to everyone. But we want something much more too. We want every person to be able to realize their dreams and potential. We want real community, where we share the work and joys and pain of life together, not locked up from each other by fear and competition. We want real democracy where we make every decision that affects our lives directly. We want real work where we do what we love, share the tasks that are necessary, and are a slave to no higher power but the good of ourselves and our communities. We want real equality, where racism and sexism are smashed to pieces, where who you love is celebrated regardless of gender. At the end of the day, this is a vision we can all get behind, but you won’t ever see it in a politician’s platform. We have been so drained and beaten up and sickened by the cruelties of this society that we have lost faith in anything better. But our time has arrived. Let’s take up the words of Fannie Lou Hamer as our battle cry and say: “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
We have only one humble proposal to make. Don’t be afraid to talk to your neighbors and co-workers and those who are close to you. Chances are that things will get worse and if help comes from above, it will not be enough. If the election is stolen by fraud or violence, we know that the only effective action can come from below, not from political parties. The police and government, with their allies in the media, will silence those who question the failure of democracy. Whatever happens, the solution is in neighborhood, community, and workplace assemblies.
In Argentina, in 2001, an economic crisis led to bank and factory closures, those on the bottom losing jobs and life savings while a few continued to get rich. In response, people took to the streets, but it didn’t stop there. They began to gather and talk to one another, on street corners, in parks, sometimes in abandoned buildings. From this simple beginning, neighborhood assemblies were born. In one case, all it took was a message written on a wall: “neighbors, let’s meet Tuesday at 9 p.m.” Out of this were formed regular assemblies, and they began to create means of survival and mutual aid, such as gardens, day cares, and community kitchens. Sometimes they marched to demand food, other times they took over abandoned banks, and turned them into community centers. Workers, laid-off due to the crisis, met outside their closed workplaces, and decided to re-open them under their control, everything from factories to hotels. This is how we turn waste into power, individual misery into community fulfillment, a crisis into the beginning of a new world.
In contrast, if we let the political parties guide the response, then they will only allow or support means that will keep them in the running for power. A recent example is the 2006 presidential election in Mexico. Exit polls indicated that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, candidate of the center left PRD, had won by 500,000 votes. However when the Federal Election Tribunal called the election for his opponent by 243,000 votes, on July 8th, 2006, Obrador, the PRD, and numerous social movements called for massive public meetings to discuss how to address the crisis. These vast public meetings led to the decision to occupy 12 kilometers of the main road in Mexico City against the fraudulent election. Thousands of protesters formed encampments, and began a campaign of occupations of government buildings and banks, shutting down business as usual and costing the economy 35 million dollars a day. These protests continued sporadically until December when public support for the civil disobedience had faded. Obrador’s proclamation of himself as the “Legitimate President” of Mexico and the symbolic protest “goverment” that he set up, limited the scope of the movement. The struggle became about him, and not the needs or desires of the people.
This response from Obrador and the progressive political parties to a stolen presidential election, was not successful in winning a full recount of the votes and did not get Obrador into office. It also didn’t win anything for movement participants, who risked their lives in hopes that Obrador could help them realize their dreams. As anarchists, our interest is in seeing spaces opened up in each of our neighborhoods and workplaces to give people a chance to discuss what we really want and need, and to build the relationships of trust and cooperation with our neighbors and coworkers that will realize those goals, and be strong enough to overcome setbacks and repression. A huge public meeting, as well as marches and rallies, called by a political party to discuss how to get themselves into political power after a fraudulent election, would be a hard place to have a real conversation. Good organizing and real resistance comes from talking to each other and not being talked at.
It’s time to get together with those who share what you’re going through and talk and dream and act and create. It can start with simple discussion, as it did in Argentina, but to win we need to be be organized, we need to be strong, and we need to have a strategy. The key is that all those things must come from ourselves. The rich and their cronies in Washington think that we are dumb, lazy, and scared; incapable of action. Their arrogance will taste like ashes when they see the power we are capable of.