'Imperial Power & Counter-Power': (M.A. Jamal's Remarks to the Rose Luxemburg Conference in Germany / Jan. '09
[sp. writ. 12/30/08] (c) '08 Mumia Abu-Jamal]
If one is to address the reactions to the recent election of Illinois Senator Barack Obama to the U.S. Presidency, this can perhaps be best encapsulated by the term, exultation.
For if ever a political figure rode the currents of a stellar alignment, Barack Obama did so.
The exultation was both national and global.
In my 1/2 century of life, I can recall no presidential election that elicited so profound a political -- indeed visceral! -- response.
When one considers what role the left had in such a spectacular political event, again we must look to alignments; not of stars, but of constituencies, which converged to not only elect Obama, but to also close the door to the ruinous politics of the U.S. right wing, represented by the incumbent President, George W. Bush, and his presumed political heirs, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and Alaska's Gov. Sarah Palin of the Republican Party.
While the U.S. left was a constituent part of the larger constituency, it neither drove nor directed the forces that elected Obama. In many ways it was hostage to those forces.
Those forces were youth -- those between 18-28, who mobilized in ways never seen before; it was also African Americans who voted in unprecedented numbers for one they perceived as one of their own; add to this millions of women, some of whom felt, frankly, disrespected by the choice of Palin, who, though a woman, betrayed an astonishing lack of knowledge and expertise on issues, especially given the very real possibility that her running mate, sen. McCain, might not survive the rigors of office.
But one cannot ignore the significant segment of those who felt betrayed or disaffected by the hard-right tilt of the Republican Party -- which ran almost exclusively on the notion that Obama was a "socialist", who in Palin's oft-repeated quote, "pals around with terrorists."
For those beyond our shores, it may be necessary to briefly decode this language. The "socialist" tag was a kind of cleaned - up, classy version of 'communist', the ultimate slur in U.S. capitalist politics, only exceeded by the post 9/11 term "terrorist" (and by calling Obama a "pal" of terrorists, it was tantamount to calling him one).
The last reference was to the alleged friendship between Obama and William Ayers, a Hyde Park educator who, in the 1960's, was a leading member of the Weather Underground, student anti-war and anti imperialist activists, who engaged in acts against property, and who supported the Black liberation movements of the era.
In point of fact, Obama was, by no measure, a leftist.
In the Spring of 2008 issue of The Black Scholar, African-American studies professor, Charles P. Henry makes the point explicitly, citing both Obama's own words, as well as a political biography of him in the New York Times Magazine. (1)
Obama's quoted remarks are instructive:
The Democrats have been stuck in the arguments of Vietnam,
which means that either you're a 'Scoop' Jackson Democrat or you're suspicious of any military action. And that's just not my framework .(2)
Obama's choices were illustrative of two poles of the Democratic Party: Sen. Henry 'Scoop' Jackson was so pro-war that he was called the "Senator from Boeing". (3) ; Hayden by contrast, was a student anti-war activist, and member of S.D.S. (Students for a Democratic Society). (Interestingly, Obama never referred to himself as a Jesse Jackson Democrat either).
This leads us to the next query on the role of the U.S. anti-war movement; in a word, it is moribund.
This, paradoxically, can be traced to the massive demonstrations of Spring 2003 in protest of the imminent Iraq War. For millions of people, this was their first, and last experience of mass action. Sadly, the lesson they learned was of their impotence, not their power, for Bush promptly ignored the protests, rattled the sabers of war, and launched Operation Shock and Awe.
For many people, unused to popular protests, this short-term failure to stop the war blinded them to the rarity that such mass protests represented: never had the nation seen such mass protests before the war was begun. At this stage, the people were a Counter-Power, but they stopped far too soon.
To further analyze the question of whether the election of Obama represents a leftist surge, or if the anti-war movement is in its ascendancy we need only recall that Obama is neither a leftist nor is he anti-war. The early stages of his electoral campaign were explicitly against the Iraq War. As he ran in the later stages, his sound bites announced a troop withdrawal in Iraq was necessary to buttress U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Indeed, given the events occurring as these words are written, there will probably be more U.S. anti-war protests against the Israeli blitzkrieg on Gaza in the next 2 weeks, than there was against the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan in the last two years.
That, I think, succinctly states the case of where we are.
But where we are need not determine where we can go. For people move by inches and by leaps. This was, undoubtedly, a giant step in U.S. history. This was not a day ever envisioned by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln or even John F. Kennedy.
Yet, one of Black America's most revered historians, Vincent Harding, (author of the classic, There is a River), spoke for far more than himself when he said, "So my hopes are very much focused on him, but not on him alone. I see the energy that's been built up over these two years of campaigns, and I see the possibility that we could gather ourselves together and begin to ask, in a very powerful way, not what should Barack Obama be doing next, but where do we go from here? What is our role as committed, progressive citizens to move to the next stages?"
Harding, a close confidante of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ended his comments on the Obama election with this fitting suggestion: "Maybe a democracy needs community organizers more than it needs commanders."(4)
It appears Dr. Harding is suggesting that instead of empire, we need a republic, for if history teaches us anything, it is that the two realities are un- reconcilable. In the days of ancient Rome, the advent of empire spelled the end of the republic.
In 193 C. E., an African seized the throne of Rome. Emperor Septimius Severus extended Rome's power, and strengthened its empire. His sons succeeded him, and exceeded him in cruelty and brutality.
They didn't bring change -- they brought continuity.
Will this empire be any different?
Danke! Aus die Todeszelle,
Hier Sprecht Mumia Abu-Jamal.
1. Traub, James, "Is His Biography Our Destiny?", New York Times Magazine, November 4, 2007, pp.50-55.
2.Hayden, Tom, "An Appeal to Barack Obama", post to email@example.com, November 8, 2007; cited in Henry, Charles P., O"Obama '08 -- Articulate and Clean,"The Black Scholar, (Spr. '08) [vol. 38:no.1}, p.6, fn.17.
3.Johnson, Chalmers, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), p.211. Boeing received some $20 billion in defense contracts in 2006.
4. Wane, Aly (compiled by), "Historical Moment: Black Thinkers Reflect on the Election of Barack Obama", Syracuse Peace Council's Peace newsletter (Jan. '09: #780), p.7.