Barack Obama, Reverend Wright and Black liberation theology

By Malik Miah

The groundswell of broad support for Barack Obama (both among Blacks and whites) is a phenomenon that deserves a serious analysis and understanding. It cannot be downplayed by passing it through the lens of pure-and-simple lesser-evilism.

Some radicals dismiss the mass phenomenon, because Obama is a candidate of a ruling-class party. That simplistic rejection of Obama's campaign and its mass support is sectarian: The issue isn't whether to vote for a Democrat, but rather our response to a development that is having a wide-scale impact. How many times, in state after state, have we ever seen citizens of all races line up for hours to hear an African-American man talk about “hope'', on a platform that is fundamentally no different than his opponents?

While I do sympathise with those activists choosing the Green Party campaign of Cynthia McKinney or the “independent” Ralph Nader for their more progressive political program, I believe progressives and socialists should focus our attentions on critically engaging Obama supporters, identifying with their desire for a “new type of politics and direction for the country” — while explaining that Obama is no answer to stop the aggressive wars of US. imperialism.

In that spirit of critical engagement, an objective evaluation of Obama's support, and why it's grown, is instructive.

Mass appeal beyond electoralism

The mass sentiment for the Obama campaign represents more than pure electoralism. It indicates a possible shift in political consciousness, which can either lead to broad-scale disillusionment or begin to awaken the new young generation to engage in more radical politics when the first African-American president acts like all his predecessors in defending the imperial state.

The Obama phenomenon is a result of fears and frustrations, and of hopes that the country can be better. Most Blacks, of course, are excited by an unprecedented possibility of a “Black president''. Others, including many white workers, are fed up with standing still or going backward as the country enters a recession. Obama taps these multiple anxieties. His mass rallies show the desire for change.

The “messiah effect” is why Obama could take on the issue of “race and racism” in the way he did on March 18 in Philadelphia. It's appropriate to look at that speech and fallout — some 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. — to see the complexities of racial progress.

Outstanding speech

As a Democrat and mainstream politician, Obama's speech was far superior to what anyone on the left or the country likely expected. Some have criticised it for not analysing the institutional racism deeply embedded in capitalism — another case of looking much too narrowly at what Obama means for tens of millions of people.

Overall, this was an outstanding speech. Obama refused to throw his former Chicago minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, under the moving bus for Wright's sermon outlining the history of violence by the rulers of the United States.

(It should be noted that Obama later told the ABC daytime talk show, The View: “Had the reverend not retired, and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and was inappropriate and mischaracterised what I believe is the greatness of this country — for all its flaws — then I wouldn't have felt comfortable staying there at the church.'')

The speech's significance, however, is not what he said or didn't say about Reverend Wright. It is the fact that Obama dared to elaborate on the topic to a national audience even if it hurt his chances to win the presidential nomination or to be elected in November. It confirmed to his followers and detractors alike that he is a different kind of mainstream politician.

Obama outlined the origins of American racism from the dawn of English colonialism and independence to the present — the slave trade, chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation and the racism still prevalent in society, especially among many whites who speak and act certain ways in private, not necessarily consciously but because of cultural upbringing.

Obama told the story of his white Kansas grandmother, who feared Black men even though she loved him. These honest views are felt by all ethnic groups. Everyone has similar family contradictions.

Obama did not discuss institutional discrimination and disadvantages that “people of colour” still face for simply being Black, Latino, Native American or Asian — something a white person has never experienced. That discrimination is why some employment and other opportunities are not offered, or the benefit of the doubt not given, by a mostly white male-dominated power structure.

Yet he went further than I expected, which is the only way to view his comments on Reverend Jeremiah Wright and racial politics. It's why what he said about Wright rang true to the audience:

“Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation [of Reverend Wright's ‘divisive' comments] are not enough.... But the truth is that isn't all that I know of the man.

“The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor.... who served his country as a US marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community (by) housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS…

“Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions — the good and the bad — of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

``I can no more disown him than I can disown the Black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother...''.

Wright is no hatemonger

Reverend Jeremiah Wright is no “hatemonger” as slandered by the right and many Clinton supporters. He did not give a “hate” speech. His sermons are, in fact, in the best tradition of Black liberation theology.

Read what Reverend Wright (now retired) said in his now infamous December 2007 speech:

“We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, Arikara, the Comanche, the Arapaho, and the Navajo. Terrorism.

“We took Africans away from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism.

“We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies and non-military personnel'', he preached.

“We bombed the Black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard working fathers.

“We bombed Qaddafi's home, and killed his child. ‘Blessed are they who bash your children's head against the rock.' [This is a reference to the seldom-quoted final two verses of Psalm 137, which was Reverend Wright's text for this sermon on the dangers of revenge lust — MM.]

“We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to pay back for the attack on our embassy, killed hundreds of hard working people, mothers and fathers who left home to go to work that day not knowing that they'd never get back home.

“We bombed Hiroshima. We bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye.

“Kids playing in the playground. Mothers picking up children after school. Civilians, not soldiers, people just trying to make it day by day.

“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and Black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff that we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards. America's chickens are [here the congregation joins in completing the sentence —MM] coming home to roost.

“Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism. A white ambassador [a US diplomat previously quoted in Wright's sermon —MM] said that y'all, not a Black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador whose eyes are wide open and who is trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised. The ambassador said the people we have wounded don't have the military capability we have. But they do have individuals who are willing to die and take thousands with them. And we need to come to grips with that''.

True or false?

King's precedent

In 1967 and 1968, shortly before his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the Riverside Church in New York City about the Vietnam War. This is what he said:

“The only change came from America, as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs''.

King called for the immediate end to this “madness''. In his 1968 speech at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, he returned to the theme:

“It is said on the Statue of Liberty that America is a home of exiles. It doesn't take us long to realise that America has been the home of its white exiles from Europe. But it has not evinced the same kind of maternal care and concern for its Black exiles from Africa. It is no wonder that in one of his sorrow songs, the Negro could sing out, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child''. What great estrangement, what great sense of rejection caused a people to emerge with such a metaphor as they looked over their lives''.

He added:

“There are those, and they are often sincere people, who say to Negroes and their allies in the white community, that we should slow up and just be nice and patient and continue to pray, and in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out because only time can solve the problem''.

“I think there is an answer to that myth. And it is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I'm absolutely convinced that the forces of ill-will in our nation, the extreme rightists in our nation, have often used time much more effectively than the forces of good will. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words of the bad people and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time.

“Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated Individuals. And without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realise that the time is always right to do right''.

Wright and King delivered the same message of truth.

Black liberation theology

This political mixture of the Black Christian church and militancy has deep origins in the African-American community. It is called “Black liberation theology''. It is rooted in Black nationalism and the traditions of Black radicalism. It goes back to the resistance to slavery. The modern version arose during the civil rights movement. It basically combines the philosophy of the Black Christian church and Black nationalism.

Supporters of the ideology of Black liberation theology believe that the system can be reformed and Blacks can bring themselves up by the bootstraps and become full equals in US society. The advocates see a future where the poor can become middle class and CEOs of major corporations; and, of course, elected US senator or even president of the country — some day.

* * * *

Finding this article thought-provoking and useful?

Please subscribe free at

Help Links stay afloat. Donate what you can by clicking here.

* * *

One of the main intellectual articulators of the theory is the Reverend James Hal Cone of Arkansas. As part of his theological analysis, Cone argues for God's own identification with “Blackness''. He explains in A Black Theology of Liberation:

“The Black theologian must reject any conception of God which stifles Black self-determination by picturing God as a God of all peoples. Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God's experience, or God is a God of racism... The Blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God's own condition. This is the essence of the Biblical revelation. By electing Israelite slaves as the people of God and by becoming the Oppressed One in Jesus Christ, the human race is made to understand that God is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering... Liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity'' (pp. 63-64).

Based on the preeminence of “Black experience'', Cone defines theology as “a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the gospel, which is Jesus Christ''.

Cone's theology asks (and seeks to answer) the question, “What does the Christian gospel have to say to powerless Black men whose existence is threatened daily by the insidious tentacles of white power?” His answer emphasises that there is a very close relationship between Black theology and what has been termed “Black Power''.

Black power is a phrase that represents both Black freedom and Black self-determination “wherein Black people no longer view themselves as without human dignity but as men, human beings with the ability to carve out their own destiny''. Cone says Black theology is the religious counterpart of Black power. “Black Theology is the theological arm of Black Power, and Black Power is the political arm of Black Theology''. And “while Black Power focuses on the political, social, and economic condition of Black people, Black Theology puts Black identity in a theological context''.

Black nationalists (self-identified or not; few are today) — whether of the Booker T. Washington philosophy of seeking to reform the system, or the more militant Black power ideology of Marcus Garvey and the 1960s followers of Malcolm X — all argued that Blacks must pull themselves up and stand on their own two feet.

Wright's United Church of Christ congregation includes middle-class Blacks like Obama but in the majority are poor and working class. Reverend Wright speaks to the reality of Black history and the subtle and actual racism that his typical church goer has experienced.

His sermons are mainstream, and not anti-American — or against capitalism. He is a “patriot'', as Obama described; but he is the Black American version, who serves as a medic for the marines, fights the wars and comes home to face racial discrimination!

To Reverend Wright there is no contradiction in condemning real racism and urging Blacks to take more personal responsibility for the problems of their community. This is not “radical” or “hate” speech. His criticisms are based on hard facts, not make-believe or white liberal conservative views of patriotism. It's that understanding that enables him to make the comparison between the US empire today and that of the Roman era.

In Wright's speech before the National Press Club, he identifed himself with Black liberation theology and pointed out that the attack on Obama and him by the corporate media and others is in reality an attack on the Black community.

Barack Obama, the former Chicago community organiser, learned his roots as a Black man at his wife's church. He learned his internationalist outlook from his white mother, who worked among the poor in Indonesia. But he is not an advocate of Black liberation theology even though he listened to Wright for 20 years. That's why he can say he never heard Wright speak the words he did last December. He did, and probably nodded in agreement — but as a mainstream presidential candidate with a chance of winning the presidency, of course, he must disassociate from Wright.

Those who expect otherwise are not realistic. The way he did so, by rejecting but not throwing Wright under the bus, was a nod to his youthful base and recognition of his historical roots in the Black community.

Obama is obviously aware of what is called the “Bradley effect”, where a certain percentage of whites will never vote for an African American as president. (The Bradley factor refers to Tom Bradley, the African-American former mayor of Los Angeles, who had a double digit lead in the 1982 California governor's election days before the vote. He then narrowly lost due to racial dynamics — whites telling pollsters one thing, and voting the opposite.)

Barack Obama is also a strong proponent of modern-day Black capitalism. He told Business Week (April 14 issue) that, “My opponents to the right like to paint me as this wild-eyed liberal. But I believe in the market. I believe in entrepreneurship''.

(Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson is one of most prominent advocates of the market system and Black capitalism. The concept of Black capitalism has evolved over the decades. It used to mean advocating an independent “Black economy” —- tied to the nationalist goal of “Black control of the Black community” — tapping the US$800 billion spent by African Americans within the US economy. Today it means striving and believing it is possible to become a capitalist like Bill Gates.)

Ironically, there has been more success in gaining a foothold in big business than in the political arena where Obama is the only Black in the US Senate. Several African Americans have become heads of major corporations. Forty years ago there were none. African American Stanley O'Neil, for example, was CEO of Merrill Lynch, one of the largest investment firms on Wall Street. His grandfather had been a slave.

Since the decline of the civil rights and Black power movements in the 1970s, the conservative pro-big business wing dominates the discussion on improving the lives of African Americans. Traditional Black nationalism, including those who reject “Black capitalism'', has few advocates today.

What next?

If Obama happens to get the Democratic nomination and wins the presidency it can sharpen the debates even more. That's good for society. The real test is yet to come when the Republican right launches its inevitable race-baiting. To this point, the integration of elite African Americans in business, media, the military and politics has made that less effective.

The most interesting aspect about the Obama campaign for me, and what should be for those on the left of the political spectrum, is the mass consciousness unfolding in front of our eyes in support of a “colour blind” or non-racial society. It is evident in all 50 states where “race does not matter” the way it did in the past.

Obama's speech on race, and more importantly his campaign, has initiated a broad discussion about US history including its violence, racist past and why young people need to engage in politics. It could not happen if that change in attitudes weren't taking place.

The left in particular should resist a sectarian response towards this unique mass phenomenon for Obama. The critical choice isn't about voting for Obama, or even a third party alternative. Progressive political consciousness at the end of the day is not primarily an intellectual transformation. For most, it occurs by joining struggles to end wars and occupations like Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting racism and ending economic inequalities.

I for one think it is important to critically embrace those backing Obama's campaign. It is not a betrayal of socialist principles to do so.

[Malik Miah is editor of the US socialist magazine Against the Current, where this article first appeared. He is a supporter of the US socialist organisation Solidarity.]

This article was refreshing in its perspective of moving the left to join and influence the mainstream upsurge calling for change after the disastrous twenty-years from the Bush-Clinton dynasties.

Flyby News is an independent news service also looking for coalition building partners for major transformations. Many of my colleagues have their noses stuck so high up in the air regarding the 2 or 1-party system that they forget that our best chance for stopping the tyranny of our current system is in the electoral process, and to join with our majority interests.

When looking up the author and the magazine that he is an editor for, in its "about" section, its fifth point of general agreement for coalitions states:

5) "The capitalist parties, especially the Republican and Democratic parties, are fundamentally anti-working class, racist and sexist. We oppose any form of participation in or support for these parties. We call for the working class and its allies to form a new, independent political party that fights for their needs."

Yes.. we need a multi-party system, but first we have to survive to grow out of the 2 or 1-party system. Perhaps working with Obama for future elections with Instant Run-off Voting would be key to take away the "spoiler vote" and the major party systems; so each individual can vote with their integrity in check and have other priority-options in case their ideal candidate does not win.

I also want to encourage coalition-building activists to challenge Obama for a new 9/11 investigation, but after the election.. in 2009.. and deal with global warming without dangerous nuclear power. But I would rather deal with the masses and Obama on these issues than on the current misdirected path toward imperialism and destruction.

So I applaud Malik Miah for this article to unite for the greater cause. The progressive left can sometimes get stuck in its own ideals. But in joining with the masses for the first legitimately elected US President of the 21st Century, is a major step forward. This could lead to our joining with the masses for other campaigns from the bottom up, such as a NYC petition for a referendum for a publicly funded honest investigation on what really happened September 11, 2001.

For more on this and our section for campaigns for reclaiming a lost USA democracy, see my home page

Thank You


I hear lots about this, supporting Obama and engaging his base, but never anything concrete, no references to any attempts to do so. I've heard from one person who did take around a petition at an Obama rally, one that asked people to say that they'd hold whoever won the Democratic nomination to their pledge to begin withdrawing from Iraq, cut the war spending, etc.

His experience was that few would sign; most approached would not. Same for one on single-payer, which Obama says he's for and works towards.

My question is: engage them how? By doing what? Upholding Black liberation theology don't cut it. Neither does the fact that he builds on and encourages hope, so did JFK.

This was an interesting article, but I am not in full agreement....

At 08:54 11/05/08 +1000, you wrote:
>The groundswell of broad support for Barack Obama (both among Blacks and
>whites) is a phenomenon that deserves a serious analysis and
>understanding. It cannot be down played by passing it through the lens
>of pure-and-simple lesser-evilism.
>Some radicals dismiss the mass phenomenon, because Obama is a candidate
>of a ruling-class party.
And, by now, firmly a member of the ruling class, period. But more to the point, I don't see any "mass phenomenon" stemming from any awakening on the part of American blacks or reduction in the racism that permeates American society. Rather, the popularity of Obama has everything to do with the UNpopularity of George Bush, whose poll ratings, I believe are the lowest of any American president in history. If Obama wins the election (which appears quite likely) it will be due to disgust with Bush and his "neo-con" crew. If Obama loses anyway, that will be mainly a result of racism.

This article's most useful contribution is in its discussion of Reverend Wright and "black liberation theology" in which parallels are drawn with Martin Luther King Jr. (who the US government had murdered after he started focusing on opposing the Vietnam war and supporting worker's struggles). That is interesting, but any relevance to Obama must rather take into account that Obama had to *denounce* (Obama's own word) Wright in order to continue as a candidate of a capitalist party. The significance of the spectacle of a black candidate being forced to denounce his own religious leader is well elucidated in the essay by political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, which I reproduce below.

It appears to me that this article is a desparate attempt to find some hope in current events, and to try to identify some "awakening" on the part of the U.S. working class or of the oppressed Black population in particular. I think that is unrealistic. Rather, I think that any "mass phenomenon" is more akin to the integration of Social-Democracy into the government in European countries, which works to tie the working class politically to the capitalists. Surely the rulers would be thrilled to confine the most conscious sector of the American working class, Blacks, within such a political structure!

- Jeff


When was the last time that you saw a politician asked to denounce a religious leader with whom he or she was associated?

For generations, we have seen a succession of presidents, from both political parties, under the wing of the Rev. Billy Graham.

Historians have recently reported that Graham and his Oval Office acolytes have spoken in racist and xenophobic terms about both Blacks and Jews.

The Rev. Graham recently was lionized as the personal spiritual advisor to presidents, in times of stress, pressure, war and peace.

Neither he, nor his presidential prayer pals have ever been damned or denounced for profoundly racist speech in the palaces of the powerful.

Now, as a Black man begins to climb the greased pole of American political power, he is asked to either defend or denounce a man whom he has known and admired for a generation.

Barack Obama opted for the latter.

He has all but jettisoned the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright from the close circle to the cold periphery of the political realm.

Whence comes this demand for denunciation?

If we are honest, it arises from the specter of white fear, that demand of Black people a higher standard than that of their own.

For what reason has Jeremiah Wright been jettisoned - if not for his proud, open Blackness?

Rev. Wright is an advocate of Black Liberation Theology - a school of Black religious thought that sees the hand of God in the liberation of Black people from bondage.

White Americans are so used to hearing Blacks speak with quiet and pacific tones, that when a man expresses himself fully, as did Rev. Wright, they are, quite frankly, frightened.

(What do they fear, that Blacks will dare remember?)

Through the corporate media talking heads, they demanded that Obama "distance himself" from that scary, Black (uppity?) preacher - and do it fast.

Yowza, boss.

The politics of denunciation is, ultimately, the politics of betrayal. It asks - no - it demands that the candidate denounce those whom the White Nation opposes.

If they don't, then they are presumed to be a supporter of that person, or ideology.

Meanwhile, white conservative preachers can say virtually anything, and calls for denunciation are swallowed into silence.

Former presidential candidate, and Republican supporter, Rev. Pat Robertson, called for the killing of a foreign head of state! (I speak here of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.)

Did the White House denounce this prominent religious supporter? Not to my knowledge (in fact, it would be rather difficult, given the current regime's failed coup d'etat against him).

But Barack, the son of a continental African, cannot be seen calling for Black Liberation; for he seeks not to become leader of the Black Nations, but the world's leading White Nation.

Once again, Blacks, and their deep indigenous concerns, are pushed to the periphery. Their free expression ain't free, for there is a cost.

When I saw his latest dis' of the Rev. Dr. Wright, I thought of a question posed in the Bible, in the words of Jesus of Nazareth speaking to his disciples (in Matthew 16:26): For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?...

What would you do to get a job?
--(c) '08 maj


Rev. 'Icarus', The Obama Campaign, & The Left

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

The Black Commentator

May 10, 2008

The Greek myth is both simple and compelling. Daedalus,
imprisoned on the island of Crete with his son (Icarus),
fashioned wings made of feathers and wax in order for
the two of them to fly to freedom. Daedalus warned
Icarus, however, not to fly too close to the Sun because
the wax would melt and he would fall. The two of them
took off, but Icarus became entranced with flight and,
ignoring his father's warnings, flew higher and higher
until the wax melted and Icarus plunged to his death in
the sea.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright made two mistakes, only one of
which deserves criticism. The first mistake was that of
playing "Icarus." Throwing all sense of tactics aside,
Rev. Wright became enchanted, if not entranced, by the
publicity he received. Clearly angry about his
perception of having been "dissed" by Senator Obama,
this was his time in the Sun, so to speak. As
demonstrated by his performance at the National Press
Club, his speech was compelling, but his approach in the
Q&A failed to take account his circumstances: he was not
in his own church; indeed, he was not in any church.
Clearly, by the time of the Q&A, Rev. Wright was in the
stratosphere, inspired, perhaps by both the sound of his
own voice and the "Amens" he received from supporters in
the room. Yet, the responses he should have paid
attention to were those of the journalists, most of whom
were apparently not part of his Amen Corner. Since then,
he has been plunging into the sea. The problem is that
many people believe that he is taking Senator Obama with
him. I happen to not agree, for reasons I will present

The second "mistake," however, was very different. Rev.
Wright has, throughout his career, dared to challenge
the myth of US history. For the larger society this
"mistake" is of far greater importance than his
performance at the National Press Club, and for that
matter, whether or not he brings down Senator Obama, US
history has a basic narrative: The settlers were heroes;
the indigenous people were either heathens or naive
primitives, but in either case they were in the way of
progress. Slavery was an unfortunate episode that was
cleaned up by the Civil War, though it has never been
quite clear that the former slaves were ever meant to
rule themselves, let alone anyone else. US foreign
policy has generally been benign, nearly always driven
by either a God-given imperative to improve the world or
our sense that the planet would be better off with our
version of capitalism and democracy. Where Rev. Wright
fell into problems was by challenging this myth. Taking
the standpoint of those who have seen the underside of
the "American Dream", he was prepared to speak to a
counter-narrative that identifies the problematic nature
of US history. By doing so he opened himself to
ridicule, but only when his counter-narrative was
treated in sound-bites rather than taken as a whole.

For this reason the attack on Rev. Wright must be
examined very carefully because there are multiple
agendas unfolding. The larger problem is that the Obama
campaign was treated to a media onslaught that was
completely inappropriate to the circumstances. Rev.
Wright never spoke for the Obama campaign and on that
basis alone, Senator Obama would have been well within
his rights to simply stop responding to questions.
Certainly both Senators McCain and Clinton have done
that when they have been caught in uncomfortable
situations. There was no reason that Obama should have
been expected to handle it differently. Well, there was
a reason that has something to do with his coloring.

It is in this sense that progressives generally, but
especially those supporting the Obama candidacy (even if
critically supporting it, as is this writer) should
remind people that it is not Rev. Wright pulling the
campaign down but instead it is the media that tastes
blood and is trying to promote an atmosphere of
pessimism. Needless to say both the Clinton and McCain
campaigns (and their allies) have been complicit in

It is also important to emphasize that the Wright/Obama
conflict is largely about a means for the mainstream
political establishment to situate Senator Obama with
those to his Left. To the extent to which Rev. Wright
played into this, it was possible, if not essential, in
the view of the Obama campaign, to distance itself not
only from Rev. Wright but from Wright's message. In this
way the message was being trounced along with the
messenger. No real discussion is being permitted about
the issues that Rev. Wright raised because he is being
treated as an out-of-control old man and his message is
being treated as incoherent at best, anti-American at
worst. Insofar as Rev. Wright's message was maligned as
crazy and inappropriate ANYONE conveying that message
was also so categorized. Certainly by ignoring tactics
and focusing more on proving his own dignity and
correctness, Rev. Wright lost control over the
situation. His own anger and desire for rehabilitation
of his reputation outweighed any sense of the current
political situation. This was a major mistake and one
that many people will have difficulty forgiving. This is

Rev. Wright should be criticized for abandoning tactics
and putting himself before the movement. He should not,
however, be criticized for challenging the myths
associated with US history. Even if one disagrees with
aspects of what he relayed - such as his take on the
origin of AIDS - much, if not most of his argument is
backed up by a genuine examination of the foundations of
the USA and its current role domestically and
internationally. Space to make that argument is
essential. And we, to the Left of Senator Obama, must
continue to advance an accurate sense of the history and
role of the USA. This will put us at odds, at times,
with the Obama campaign which either cannot or will not
agree with such an analysis. Yet if there is a
significant constituency that does, this argument will
gain attention, if not traction.

"Critical support" means walking on two legs, both
offering genuine support, as well as offering sincere
and constructive criticism where there are
disagreements. Rev. Wright apparently decided that now
was a time for lashing out in hurt and anger, rather
than recognizing that the sweetest "revenge" is success.
For those of us to the Left of Senator Obama, success is
more than the election of Senator Obama as president of
the USA. It is really about the building of a social
movement that embraces much of the counter-narrative
Rev. Wright attempted to articulate. With that counter-
narrative, we have the basis for a left/progressive
strategy. Without that counter-narrative, we are simply
wandering in the wilderness, hoping for change.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is Executive Editor of The Black
Commentator. He is also a Senior Scholar with the
Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past
president of TransAfrica Forum.

c 2008 The Black Commentator


eh. As an ex-American myself, and a partisan of the efforts to build
the Reconstruction Party and the Labor Party in the US, I must say
that "critically engaging" Obama's supporters can best be done
through the vehicle of the McKinney campaign. Once the nomination
fights are over, and they can switch their limited resources to the
actual Presidential campaign, I hope to see McKinney's supporters
concentrated on getting the message of working-class political
independence, particularly Black political independence, out to the
masses of mainly working-class voters who refrain from voting in
election after election in the States, as well as those in the labor
movement who have come to the end of their involvement with the
Democrats, e.g. those involved with teh Labor Party ballot drive in
South Carolina. We cannot do it from inside the Democratic Party.
That morass is no place for a socialist. If this is sectarian, so is
the NDP's independence from the Liberals here in Canada.

Permalink - Cover Story: The Working Class is Back. And Guess What. It’s White. - Left Margin

Carl Bloice is Mark's guest Thursday, May 15, 2008

After decades of the major media’s refusal to link the word “working” with “class,” the print pages and airwaves are now alive with talk about the conditions, aspirations and views of working people. Journalists, who only a few weeks ago would have scoffed at the mere mention of there being a “working class.” are now throwing the term around with abandon. The problem is that it being employed to only cover part of that class; African American, Latino, Asian and Native American working people are somehow being left out of the demographic equation.

Up until quite recently there was only the “middle class.” The term always defied precise definition. In contemporary U.S. mass media parlance it has come to be defined by income. That is, people - no matter what they do nine-to-five - who make too little money to be rich and too much to be poor.

On the other hand, traditionally and more logically the working class is defined as being made up of people employed by someone else – usually the rich, but sometimes the government – making refrigerators, waiting tables or data processing. In it are people of all races and creeds. However, as this year’s presidential campaign got rolling, “middle class” began to give way to “blue collar” as the nom-de-choice for describing working people. But that didn’t last long. Soon the group whose votes the candidates were targeting became not just the working class, but the “white working class.”

There is method to this madness.

The experts may argue over just how bad the economic situation is but there is no question we are in the middle of a downturn, and a lot of people are feeling insecure about the future, or are already feeling the pain of unemployment and a rising cost of living. Never mind that – as usual – African American and other non-white ethnic groups are experiencing the negative effects disproportionately. We are being told that economic issues are the concern of white people. Black people do not vote according to their economic interests but on racial identity and, conversely, white people vote their interests and not their racial identity – or so this nonsense goes.

If you want to see how stupid (and devious) all this is, consider the words of former Bush Administration political strategist Karl Rove: “The primary has created a deep fissure in Democratic ranks: blue collar, less affluent, less educated voters versus the white wine crowd of academics and upscale professionals (along with blacks and young people),” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week. African American voters here become a throwaway category, not part of the working class. This despite the fact that they are overwhelmingly working class and make up nearly a third of the Democratic Party.

“MSNBC's Chris Matthews, for example, differentiated between ‘regular people’ and black people,” wrote columnist David Sirota wrote last week. “Pundits refer separately to the ‘working class’ and to African Americans - as if they are mutually exclusive.”

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told USA Today last week, going on to quote an Associated Press article that showed how Sen. Barack Obama's support among "working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me." That was not a poor choice of words. It was part of the effort to make the racial equation the only important one in the primary campaign - and Clinton the Democrats’ logical choice for the nomination.

Then there’s Clinton booster Paul Begala warning that the Democratic Party can't win with just "eggheads and African-Americans." And New York Times columnist Paul Krugman - putting it a tiny bit more delicately - describing Obama’s “deep but narrow base” as “composed of African Americans and highly educated whites.” (Lord knows how you define “highly educated” here or what happened to college educated African Americans of whom there are millions.) Then there’s rightwing luminary Pat Buchanan chiming in that, “What Hillary and Begala are saying is politically incorrect, but it is also patently true” and then going on to rap about “Hillary Democrats” who “are white, working- and middle-class, Catholic, small-town, rural, unionized, middle-age and seniors, and surviving on less than $50,000 a year.”

Actually, MSNBC pundit Buchanan (who by the way recently penned a piece in Human Events called “The Way the World Ends,” in which, citing world fertility rates, he concluded that “God has another end in store for us” and rued that “The Caucasian race is going the way of the Mohicans” by the year 2060) got most of that wrong. He, Rove and some other commentators want us to think that young voters are classless. They overlook the fact that in Indiana, Obama was the favorite among all voters between the ages of 17 and 45 and 47 percent of those between 45 and 60. Yea, some of them are in school, but most, like their parents, work somewhere. In North Carolina he got the most votes in the 17 through 60 year-old category.

In North Carolina, Obama got a larger percentage of votes from members of families earning less that $50,000 a year than those earning more than that amount.

The reaction to Hillary’s statement in the blogosphere was hot. “OK, I think I’ve got it,” Tom” wrote in the New York Times space. “White = hard working, African American, Latino, Asian, Native American, others = not hard working. Thanks for clearing that up, Hillary. The non-use of ‘and’ between ‘hard working Americans’ and ‘white Americans’ is telling.”

“When Clinton says ‘working, hard-working Americans’ she tries very hard not to use the term ‘working class,’” wrote Adam. She “almost slipped but caught herself. What it says is, we still have a class system in America, and we need to change that. Obama is the solution and Obama will win the general election handily.”

On May 8, M.S. Bellows, Jr. writing on the The Huffington Post described a May 7 telephone press conference the previous day, called by Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson, wherein the Clinton campaign “firmly reiterated its intention to keep seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination, spinning both her striking loss in North Carolina and her slender win in Indiana as positive developments - while also appearing to admit that she is not going to win a majority of elected delegates even if Michigan and Florida's delegations are counted - and parsing primary results in starkly racial terms that are likely to exacerbate the tensions of the contest and her increasingly significant troubles reaching out to minority voters.”

“At points, the Clinton representatives' demographic parsing bordered on surreal,” observed Bellows. “Wolfson seemed to imply that gasoline prices are primarily a white issue, suggesting that Clinton's proposal for a gas tax ‘holiday’ had helped her with white voters and promising that she would continue urging that proposal on the stump. In response to a pair of questions about whether African Americans would support Clinton in the general election, Wolfson repeatedly referred to Obama's ‘passionate supporters,’ seeming to conflate the two.”

All this will feed the speculation that’s already out there that there are some in the upper echelons of the Democratic Party who care far less about who wins in November than who captures the party nomination and for whom it’s anybody but Obama. If they keep dissing black voters they could get their way.

There are black, white and brown members of the working class but there is no white working class. The term has been trotted out in an effort to portray African Americans as something apart from the class to which most of them belong. Yes, African Americans know that racism is always a factor in the politics of our country. The last few weeks have made that abundantly clear despite Obama’s attempt to have it otherwise. But I have some news for Rove, Begala and the others. Black working people also know a lot about what their interests are and what side of the bread their butter is on. The price of gasoline is an issue for them as is the home mortgage crisis, the awful state of the educational system, the country deteriorating physical infrastructure, unemployment, healthcare and that ghastly war in Iraq. The effort to set them apart from other working people is as inaccurate as it is nefarious.

What is needed now is for leaders in the unions, churches and working class communities to come forward and say clearly that this splitting campaign is repulsive, immoral and defeating. To say that without unity among the social forces some people are trying to slice and dice to serve their own ambitions, we will never have a progressive majority. Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Click here to contact Mr. Bloice.


05/23/08 - Miami Herald
Transcript of Barack Obama Speech to Cuban American National Foundation

It is my privilege to join in this week's Independence Day celebration, and
in honoring those who have stood up with courage and conviction for Cuban
liberty. I'm going to take this opportunity to speak about Cuba, and also
U.S. policy toward the Americas more broadly.

We meet here united in our unshakeable commitment to freedom. And it is
fitting that we reaffirm that commitment here in Miami.

In many ways, Miami stands as a symbol of hope for what's possible in the
Americas. Miami's promise of liberty and opportunity has drawn generations
of immigrants to these shores, sometimes with nothing more than the clothes
on their back. It was a similar hope that drew my own father across an
ocean, in search of the same promise that our dreams need not be deferred
because of who we are, what we look like, or where we come from.

Here, in Miami, that promise can join people together. We take common pride
in a vibrant and diverse democracy, and a hard-earned prosperity. We find
common pleasure in the crack of the bat, in the rhythms of our music, and
the ease of voices shifting from Spanish or Creole or Portuguese to English.
These bonds are built on a foundation of shared history in our hemisphere.
Colonized by empires, we share stories of liberation. Confronted by our own
imperfections, we are joined in a desire to build a more perfect union. Rich
in resources, we have yet to vanquish poverty.

What all of us strive for is freedom as FDR described it. Political freedom.
Religious freedom. But also freedom from want, and freedom from fear. At our
best, the United States has been a force for these four freedoms in the
Americas. But if we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that at
times we've failed to engage the people of the region with the respect owed
to a partner.

When George Bush was elected, he held out the promise that this would
change. He raised the hopes of the region that our engagement would be
sustained instead of piecemeal. He called Mexico our most important
bilateral relationship, and pledged to make Latin America a "fundamental
commitment" of his presidency. It seemed that a new 21st century era had

Almost eight years later, those high hopes have been dashed.

Since the Bush Administration launched a misguided war in Iraq, its policy
in the Americas has been negligent toward our friends, ineffective with our
adversaries, disinterested in the challenges that matter in peoples' lives,
and incapable of advancing our interests in the region.

No wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo Chavez have stepped into this
vacuum. His predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric,
authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy offers the same false
promise as the tried and failed ideologies of the past. But the United
States is so alienated from the rest of the Americas that this stale vision
has gone unchallenged, and has even made inroads from Bolivia to Nicaragua.
And Chavez and his allies are not the only ones filling the vacuum. While
the United States fails to address the changing realities in the Americas,
others from Europe and Asia - notably China - have stepped up their own
engagement. Iran has drawn closer to Venezuela, and just the other day
Tehran and Caracas launched a joint bank with their windfall oil profits.

That is the record - the Bush record in Latin America - that John McCain has
chosen to embrace. Senator McCain doesn't talk about these trends in our
hemisphere because he knows that it's part of the broader Bush-McCain
failure to address priorities beyond Iraq. The situation has changed in the
Americas, but we've failed to change with it. Instead of engaging the people
of the region, we've acted as if we can still dictate terms unilaterally. We
have not offered a clear and comprehensive vision, backed up with strong
diplomacy. We are failing to join the battle for hearts and minds. For far
too long, Washington has engaged in outdated debates and stuck to tired
blueprints on drugs and trade, on democracy and development -- even though
they won't meet the tests of the future.

The stakes could not be higher. It is time for us to recognize that the
future security and prosperity of the United States is fundamentally tied to
the future of the Americas. If we don't turn away from the policies of the
past, then we won't be able to shape the future. The Bush Administration has
offered no clear vision for this future, and neither has John McCain.

So we face a clear choice in this election. We can continue as a bystander,
or we can lead the hemisphere into the 21st century. And when I am President
of the United States, we will choose to lead.

It's time for a new alliance of the Americas. After eight years of the
failed policies of the past, we need new leadership for the future. After
decades pressing for top-down reform, we need an agenda that advances
democracy, security, and opportunity from the bottom up. So my policy
towards the Americas will be guided by the simple principle that what's good
for the people of the Americas is good for the United States. That means
measuring success not just through agreements among governments, but also
through the hopes of the child in the favelas of Rio, the security for the
policeman in Mexico City, and the answered cries of political prisoners
heard from jails in Havana.

The first and most fundamental freedom that we must work for is political
freedom. The United States must be a relentless advocate for democracy.
I grew up for a time in Indonesia. It was a society struggling to achieve
meaningful democracy. Power could be undisguised and indiscriminate. Too
often, power wore a uniform, and was unaccountable to the people. Some still
had good reason to fear a knock on the door.

There is no place for this kind of tyranny in this hemisphere. There is no
place for any darkness that would shut out the light of liberty. Here we
must heed the words of Dr. King, written from his own jail cell: "Injustice
anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Throughout my entire life, there has been injustice in Cuba. Never, in my
lifetime, have the people of Cuba known freedom. Never, in the lives of two
generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy. This is the
terrible and tragic status quo that we have known for half a century - of
elections that are anything but free or fair; of dissidents locked away in
dark prison cells for the crime of speaking the truth. I won't stand for
this injustice, you won't stand for this injustice, and together we will
stand up for freedom in Cuba.

Now I know what the easy thing is to do for American politicians. Every four
years, they come down to Miami, they talk tough, they go back to Washington,
and nothing changes in Cuba. That's what John McCain did the other day. He
joined the parade of politicians who make the same empty promises year after
year, decade after decade. Instead of offering a strategy for change, he
chose to distort my position, embrace George Bush's, and continue a policy
that's done nothing to advance freedom for the Cuban people. That's the
political posture that John McCain has chosen, and all it shows is that you
can't take his so-called straight talk seriously.

My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: Libertad. And the road to
freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba's political
prisoners, the rights of free speech, a free press and freedom of assembly;
and it must lead to elections that are free and fair.

Now let me be clear. John McCain's been going around the country talking
about how much I want to meet with Raul Castro, as if I'm looking for a
social gathering. That's never what I've said, and John McCain knows it.
After eight years of the disastrous policies of George Bush, it is time to
pursue direct diplomacy, with friend and foe alike, without preconditions.
There will be careful preparation. We will set a clear agenda. And as
President, I would be willing to lead that diplomacy at a time and place of
my choosing, but only when we have an opportunity to advance the interests
of the United States, and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban

I will never, ever, compromise the cause of liberty. And unlike John McCain,
I would never, ever, rule out a course of action that could advance the
cause of liberty. We've heard enough empty promises from politicians like
George Bush and John McCain. I will turn the page.

It's time for more than tough talk that never yields results. It's time for
a new strategy. There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban
Americans. That's why I will immediately allow unlimited family travel and
remittances to the island. It's time to let Cuban Americans see their
mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It's time to let Cuban
American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime.

I will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the
regime with a clear choice: if you take significant steps toward democracy,
beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to
begin normalizing relations. That's the way to bring about real change in
Cuba - through strong, smart and principled diplomacy.

And we know that freedom across our hemisphere must go beyond elections. In
Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is a democratically elected leader. But we also know
that he does not govern democratically. He talks of the people, but his
actions just serve his own power. Yet the Bush Administration's blustery
condemnations and clumsy attempts to undermine Chavez have only strengthened
his hand.

We've heard plenty of talk about democracy from George Bush, but we need
steady action. We must put forward a vision of democracy that goes beyond
the ballot box. We should increase our support for strong legislatures,
independent judiciaries, free press, vibrant civil society, honest police
forces, religious freedom, and the rule of law. That is how we can support
democracy that is strong and sustainable not just on an election day, but in
the day to day lives of the people of the Americas.

That is what is so badly needed - not just in Cuba and Venezuela - but just
to our southeast in Haiti as well. The Haitian people have suffered too long
under governments that cared more about their own power than their peoples'
progress and prosperity. It's time to press Haiti's leaders to bridge the
divides between them. And it's time to invest in the economic development
that must underpin the security that the Haitian people lack. And that is
why the second part of my agenda will be advancing freedom from fear in the

For too many people in our hemisphere, security is absent from their daily
lives. And for far too long, Washington has been trapped in a conventional
thinking about Latin America and the Caribbean. From the right, we hear
about violent insurgents. From the left, we hear about paramilitaries. This
is the predictable debate that seems frozen in time from the 1980s. You're
either soft on Communism or soft on death squads. And it has more to do with
the politics of Washington than beating back the perils that so many people
face in the Americas.

The person living in fear of violence doesn't care if they're threatened by
a right-wing paramilitary or a left-wing terrorist; they don't care if
they're being threatened by a drug cartel or a corrupt police force. They
just care that they're being threatened, and that their families can't live
and work in peace. That is why there will never be true security unless we
focus our efforts on targeting every source of fear in the Americas. That's
what I'll do as President of the United States.

For the people of Colombia - who have suffered at the hands of killers of
every sort - that means battling all sources of violence. When I am
President, we will continue the Andean Counter-Drug Program, and update it
to meet evolving challenges. We will fully support Colombia's fight against
the FARC. We'll work with the government to end the reign of terror from
right wing paramilitaries. We will support Colombia's right to strike
terrorists who seek safe-haven across its borders. And we will shine a light
on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments. This
behavior must be exposed to international condemnation, regional isolation,
and - if need be - strong sanctions. It must not stand.

We must also make clear our support for labor rights, and human rights, and
that means meaningful support for Colombia's democratic institutions. We've
neglected this support - especially for the rule of law - for far too long.
In every country in our hemisphere - including our own - governments must
develop the tools to protect their people.

Because if we've learned anything in our history in the Americas, it's that
true security cannot come from force alone. Not as long as there are towns
in Mexico where drug kingpins are more powerful than judges. Not as long as
there are children who grow up afraid of the police. Not as long as drugs
and gangs move north across our border, while guns and cash move south in

This nexus is a danger to every country in the region - including our own.
Thousands of Central American gang members have been arrested across the
United States, including here in south Florida. There are national
emergencies facing Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Mexican drug
cartels are terrorizing cities and towns. President Calderon was right to
say that enough is enough. We must support Mexico's effort to crack down.
But we must stand for more than force - we must support the rule of law from
the bottom up. That means more investments in prevention and prosecutors; in
community policing and an independent judiciary.

I agree with my friend, Senator Dick Lugar - the Merida Initiative does not
invest enough in Central America, where much of the trafficking and gang
activity begins. And we must press further south as well. It's time to work
together to find the best practices that work across the hemisphere, and to
tailor approaches to fit each country. That's why I will direct my Attorney
General and Secretary of Homeland Security to sit down with all their
counterparts in the Americas during my first year in office. We'll strive
for unity of effort. We'll provide the resources, and ask that every country
do the same. And we'll tie our support to clear benchmarks for drug
seizures, corruption prosecutions, crime reduction, and kingpins busted.

We have to do our part. And that is why a core part of this effort will be a
northbound-southbound strategy. We need tougher border security, and a
renewed focus on busting up gangs and traffickers crossing our border. But
we must address the material heading south as well. As President, I'll make
it clear that we're coming after the guns, we're coming after the money
laundering, and we're coming after the vehicles that enable this crime. And
we'll crack down on the demand for drugs in our own communities, and restore
funding for drug task forces and the COPS program. We must win the fights on
our own streets if we're going to secure the region.

The third part of my agenda is advancing freedom from want, because there is
much that we can do to advance opportunity for the people of the Americas.
That begins with understanding what's changed in Latin America, and what
hasn't. Enormous wealth has been created, and financial markets are far
stronger than a decade ago. Brazil's economy has grown by leaps and bounds,
and perhaps the second richest person in the world is a Mexican. Yet while
there has been great economic progress, there is still back-breaking
inequality. Despite a growing middle class, 100 million people live on less
than two dollars a day, and 40 percent of Latin Americans live in poverty.
This feeds everything from drugs, to migration, to support for leaders that
appeal to the poor without delivering on their promises.

That is why the United States must stand for growth in the Americas from the
bottom up. That begins at home, with comprehensive immigration reform. That
means securing our border and passing tough employer enforcement laws. It
means bringing 12 million unauthorized immigrants out of the shadows. But it
also means working with Mexico, Central America and others to support bottom
up development to our south.

For two hundred years, the United States has made it clear that we won't
stand for foreign intervention in our hemisphere. But every day, all across
the Americas, there is a different kind of struggle - not against foreign
armies, but against the deadly threat of hunger and thirst, disease and
despair. That is not a future that we have to accept - not for the child in
Port au Prince or the family in the highlands of Peru. We can do better. We
must do better.

We cannot ignore suffering to our south, nor stand for the globalization of
the empty stomach. Responsibility rests with governments in the region, but
we must do our part. I will substantially increase our aid to the Americas,
and embrace the Millennium Development Goals of halving global poverty by
2015. We'll target support to bottom-up growth through micro financing,
vocational training, and small enterprise development. It's time for the
United States to once again be a beacon of hope and a helping hand.

Trade must be part of this solution. But I strongly reject the Bush-McCain
view that any trade deal is a good deal. We cannot accept trade that
enriches those at the top of the ladder while cutting out the rungs at the
bottom. It's time to understand that the goal of our trade policy must be
trade that works for all people in all countries. Like Central America's
bishops, I opposed CAFTA because the needs of workers were not adequately
addressed. I supported the Peru Free Trade Agreement because there were
binding labor and environmental provisions. That's the kind of trade we need
- trade that lifts up workers, not just a corporate bottom line.

There's nothing protectionist about demanding that trade spreads the
benefits of globalization, instead of steering them to special interests
while we short-change workers at home and abroad. If John McCain believes -
as he said the other day - that 80 percent of Americans think we're on the
wrong track because we haven't passed free trade with Colombia, then he's
totally out of touch with the American people. And if John McCain thinks
that we can paper over our failure of leadership in the region by
occasionally passing trade deals with friendly governments, then he's out of
touch with the people of the Americas.

And we have to look for ways to grow our economies and deepen integration
beyond trade deals. That's what China is doing right now, as they build
bridges from Beijing to Brazil, and expand their investments across the
region. If the United States does not step forward, we risk being left
behind. And that is why we must seize a unique opportunity to lead the
region toward a more secure and sustainable energy future.

All of us feel the impact of the global energy crisis. In the short-term, it
means an ever-more expensive addiction to oil, which bankrolls petro-powered
authoritarianism around the globe, and drives up the cost of everything from
a tank of gas to dinner on the table. And in the long-term, few regions are
more imperiled by the stronger storms, higher floodwaters, and devastating
droughts that could come with global warming. Whole crops could disappear,
putting the food supply at risk for hundreds of millions.

While we share this risk, we also share the resources to do something about
it. That's why I'll bring together the countries of the region in a new
Energy Partnership for the Americas. We need to go beyond bilateral
agreements. We need a regional approach. Together, we can forge a path
toward sustainable growth and clean energy.

Leadership must begin at home. That's why I've proposed a cap and trade
system to limit our carbon emissions and to invest in alternative sources of
energy. We'll allow industrial emitters to offset a portion of this cost by
investing in low carbon energy projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
And we'll increase research and development across the Americas in clean
coal technology, in the next generation of sustainable biofuels not taken
from food crops, and in wind and solar energy.

We'll enlist the World Bank, the Organization of American States, and the
Inter-American Development Bank to support these investments, and ensure
that these projects enhance natural resources like land, wildlife, and rain
forests. We'll finally enforce environmental standards in our trade deals.
We'll establish a program for the Department of Energy and our laboratories
to share technology with countries across the region. We'll assess the
opportunities and risks of nuclear power in the hemisphere by sitting down
with Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. And we'll call on the American
people to join this effort through an Energy Corps of engineers and
scientists who will go abroad to help develop clean energy solutions.

This is the unique role that the United States can play. We can offer more
than the tyranny of oil. We can learn from the progress made in a country
like Brazil, while making the Americas a model for the world. We can offer
leadership that serves the common prosperity and common security of the
entire region.

This is the promise of FDR's Four Freedoms that we must realize. But only if
we recognize that in the 21st century, we cannot treat Latin America and the
Caribbean as a junior partner, just as our neighbors to the south should
reject the bombast of authoritarian bullies. An alliance of the Americas
will only succeed if it is founded on a bedrock of mutual respect. It's time
to turn the page on the arrogance in Washington and the anti-Americanism
across the region that stands in the way of progress. It's time to listen to
one another and to learn from one another.

To fulfill this promise, my Administration won't wait six years to proclaim
a "year of engagement." We will pursue aggressive, principled, and sustained
diplomacy in the Americas from Day One. I will reinstate a Special Envoy for
the Americas in my White House who will work with my full support. But we'll
also expand the Foreign Service, and open more consulates in the neglected
regions of the Americas. We'll expand the Peace Corps, and ask more young
Americans to go abroad to deepen the trust and the ties among our people.

And we must tap the vast resource of our own immigrant population to advance
each part of our agenda. One of the troubling aspects of our recent politics
has been the anti-immigrant sentiment that has flared up, and been exploited
by politicians come election time. We need to understand that immigration -
when done legally - is a source of strength for this country. Our diversity
is a source of strength for this country. When we join together - black,
white, Hispanic, Asian, and native American - there is nothing that we can't
accomplish. Todos somos Americanos!

Together, we can choose the future over the past.

At a time when our leadership has suffered, I have no doubts about whether
we can succeed. If the United States makes its case; if we meet those who
doubt us or deride us head-on; if we draw on our best tradition of standing
up for those Four Freedoms - then we can shape our future instead of being
shaped by it. We can renew our leadership in the hemisphere. We can win the
support not just of governments, but of the people of the Americas. But only
if we leave the bluster behind. Only if we are strong and steadfast;
confident and consistent.

Jose Marti once wrote. "It is not enough to come to the defense of freedom
with epic and intermittent efforts when it is threatened at moments that
appear critical. Every moment is critical for the defense of freedom."

Every moment is critical. And this must be our moment. Freedom. Opportunity.
Dignity. These are not just the values of the United States - they are the
values of the Americas. They were the cause of Washington's infantry and
Bolivar's cavalry; of Marti's pen and Hidalgo's church bells.

That legacy is our inheritance. That must be our cause. And now must be the
time that we turn the page to a new chapter in the story of the Americas.

The Perils of Racial Solidarity
Presidential Politics 2008 - The Issues
Wednesday, 21 May 2008

by Kevin Alexander Gray

Is it really the duty of us all, as African Americans to keep quiet about the wars in Africa and Iraq, to shut up about the credit and housing squeezes that are swallowing the wealth of our communities, to be silent about police killings and the continued transformation of America into a carceral state that locks up an absurd proportion of its nonwhite population? Where are we really headed if our duty as African Americans at this time is to bury all our grievances, to be quiet and not disturb white people, in order to "let Obama do what he has to do?"

The Perils of Racial Solidarity

by Kevin Alexander Gray

“[Obama] has to convince white folk that he’s 150 percent with them. So we should just all be quiet and let him do what he has to do.”

A lot of black people I know have hit the mute button. When Hillary brings up working class white voters, when commentators say we’re in the post-racial era, even when Barack had to kick his preacher to the curb. “Where were Obama’s friends?” The Wall Street Journal‘s Daniel Henninger asked. Quiet, quiet, quiet.

The current undertone in the black cultural cosmos reflects the old adage, “If you can’t say some good, don’t say anything at all.” The way to show racial solidarity? Shut up.
Black people always have to navigate race fear; the long Democratic primary season has just underlined that. Joking, comedian Jon Stewart asked Obama if elected, “Will you pull a bait and switch and enslave the white race?” Kinda funny. Except that’s precisely the sentiment that underlies white race fear. I’ve heard the same thing said in seriousness by more than one white person. “If Obama gets the White House what will they want next?” Or, “if Obama wins, blacks will think they’re running things.”

So, one argument for keeping quiet is to avoid confirming or fueling white racist suspicions. A caller on one of the radio shows I did after Reverend Wright’s National Press Club appearance said, “[Obama] has to convince white folk that he’s 150 percent with them. So we should just all be quiet and let him do what he has to do.”

Give a listen to the corporate media, and it’s pretty clear what tune black voices are supposed to be singing. Obama is constantly called on to swear allegiance to America – to prove he isn’t swearing allegiance to blacks. The other way to say that is he’s supposed to swear allegiance to white, not black, America. Meanwhile, the back end of that deal is that black Americans are required to substitute Obama for real structural racial progress. As in, “You got your nominee. See, we’re not so racist or bad after all. Now shut up!”

I was talking on the phone to a friend the day after Obama denounced his preacher. She wasn’t mad at either, just blue over “the whole mess.” Like many others, she saw the media as the culprit for blowing the incident up, and wondered aloud if Hillary didn‘t have something to do with it. She agreed with Wright’s politics, felt the hurt between the two men, and recognized that the over-expansive persona many black preachers carry around doesn’t play everywhere. The Press Club is not a black church. On Obama: “Yeah, he saying what he got to say. He’s a politician.” And her advice to me? That I not write or say anything “that would give the other side anything to latch on to.” In other words, the mute button, the race gag.

Wright was Obama’s “fish.” Or that’s what we called it when I was coming up. It’s the “bad nigger” that all “good blacks” would be wise to avoid: the latest Sistah Souljah or Willie Horton. Farrakhan didn’t take the bait so Wright got the hook. Before Wright, Chris Matthews and his cohorts dangled Jesse Jackson out there often repeating the line that Obama “is not like Jesse Jackson” so as to make Jackson’s name (and his politics, importance, ‘style’ and period) a pejorative.

Who knows who will be the next black bogeyman? Will it be Obama’s fellow Chicagoan Congressman Bobby Rush, a one-time Black Panther? Will it be Trinity church’s new pastor, Otis Moss, who says he likes slain rapper Tupac Shakur and is the son of a Black Panther. What about James Cone, ‘the source’ of that “radical,” “anti-white,” “anti-capitalist” “revolutionary” “socialist” black liberation theology? FOX television seems toracism_again think Cone and his ideology deserve denouncing.

On several of the black radio shows I did, callers were split down the middle on Wright and Obama. Most callers – white and black – had no trouble understanding the differing prospective of a church born out a history of enslavement versus one that often condoned or turned a blind eye to enslavement. Most agreed with Wright’s take on American history and where the country is today in regards to its relationship with the rest of the world. On Joy Cardin’s Wisconsin Public Radio program, most callers were sympathetic to Wright even after his Press Club appearance. They thought he had the right to say what he said, how he said it and when he said it. As for Obama, callers were most anguished about him having to reject his minister and play the denouncement game.

And with that anguish came the slam on Wright, which for Obama’s supporters, on black radio, was pretty much the same slam they gave Tavis Smiley. He hadn’t maintained the gag rule. Smiley’s violation occurred when he criticized Obama’s refusal to address or attend any gathering that seemed too black, including Smiley’s “State of the Black Union” in New Orleans and the Memphis events around the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Black folk started “hatin’ on” Smiley because they saw him as “hatin’ on Obama.” After a period of “not feeling the love,” Smiley left his morning spot on the popular Tom Joyner radio show. (I have to say I didn’t lament Smiley’s departure: not because I agree with his “haters, ” but because of his ties to Wal-Mart.) The logic I heard during the time Smiley took his lumps was: “Look, Obama’s already got us, we aren’t the people he needs to convince” and, “if he spends too much time with us we know how white folk will react.” Translation: “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.” Yet racial solidarity is the name of the game not only among blacks. The race card is in play among some of Hillary Clinton’s white support. The difference is that a higher percentage of Clinton’s supporters -- some 17 percent of white voters in Pennsylvania -- expressed, “they wouldn’t vote for a black under any condition.” 81 percent of voters in West Virginia said race was an important factor in their vote.

Why are whites who support Clinton racist and Obama’s black support not labeled as such? My response has been that fundamentally racism is about power and blacks hold little if any power over whites. Blacks have long voted for white candidates.
Hillary is accused of campaigning on racist implications: that people would not vote for a black solely because of race. Fair or not, when your campaign represents a racist perspective, you might get called a racist. Moreover, if Obama used a similar language about ‘hard-working American blacks, not being represented,’ or something like that he would be re-labeled “the black candidate.” Clinton is allowed to be the “women’s candidate.” Both can be “generational candidates” but neither can be “race candidates.”

Ask me to pick between Wright or Obama? Well I agree with history.

“The United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law…”

Wright said that, and I agree with all of it.

And like Wright, I agree that progressive politics in the last 40 years has affirmed the Cuban peoples' revolution, aided the anti-apartheid movement, opposed Reagan's war in Central America, and have maintained that Zionism is racism. But I’m an unapologetic secularist. I’m not into ‘damning’ or waiting for God’s wrath to smite anybody. I believe the people, on earth, are responsible for change. And just as important, I believe Obama is a piece of the story not the whole story.

In the end, I’m against unthinking, uncritical and blind solidarity be it racial, gender or sexually-related, etc. If solidarity makes you fall in line without asking where you’re going, don’t be surprised if you end up lost, or worse.

Kevin Alexander Gray is lead organizer of the Harriet Tubman Freedom House Project in Columbia, South Carolina, which focuses on community-based political and cultural education. He is also a contributing editor to Black News in South Carolina. Gray served as 1988 South Carolina coordinator for the Presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson and as 1992 southern political director for Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's Presidential bid. He can be contacted a
nkagamba- at-


In Miami recently, Barack Obama called for new Latin American policies in his first major policy declaration towards the region. The speech was classic Obama: substantive, centrist, subtle and pragmatic, above all drawing a sharp difference between Obama's support for "direct diplomacy" versus John McCain's status quo policies towards Cuba and the region. As a measure of how far the anti-Castro Cubans have shifted towards the center, Obama's speech was praised by his hosts, the Cuban American National Foundation.

As a measure of Obama's own evolution to the center from the left, however, Obama committed himself to maintaining the economic embargo of Cuba which he questioned when he ran for the US Senate in 2004. Nevertheless, the speech will be well-received in progressive circles as a breakthrough from past policies aimed at isolation and undermining of the Cuban government.

Obama also cited Franklin Roosevelt's presidency and "good neighbor" policies several times, a course proposed by the Progressives for Obama network*:

What all of us strive for is freedom as FDR described it. Political freedom. Religious freedom. But also freedom from want, and freedom from fear. At our best, the United States has been a force for these four freedoms in the Americas. But if we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that at times we've failed to engage the people of the region with the respect owed to a partner....

We cannot ignore suffering to our south, nor stand for the globalization of the empty stomach. Responsibility rests with governments in the region, but we must do our part. I will substantially increase our aid to the Americas, and embrace the Millennium Development Goals of halving global poverty by 2015....

We cannot accept trade that enriches those at the top of the ladder while cutting out the rungs at the bottom. It's time to understand that the goal of our trade policy must be trade that works for all people in all countries.

Yet while there has been great economic progress, there is still back-breaking inequality. Despite a growing middle class, 100 million people live on less than two dollars a day, and 40 percent of Latin Americans live in poverty. This feeds everything from drugs to migration to support for leaders that appeal to the poor without delivering on their promises....

That is why the United States must stand for growth in the Americas from the bottom up.

This rhetoric is sure to be welcomed as well, after many years of failed US efforts to impose corporate trade policies on Central and Latin America through NAFTA, CAFTA and the derailed FTAA. However, in the absence of government spending and regulatory measuresfrom Latin America, the US and wealthier nations--the Obama proposals imply a continuation of private sector economic development and modest proposals of micro-loans, education and job-training and small business development.

But while these are positive, if cautious, policy steps, the dangerous flaw in Obama's speech was his apparent commitment to supporting the US counterinsurgency war In Columbia, secretive drug wars across the continent, and a veiled threat against Venezuela:

We will fully support Colombia's fight against the FARC. We'll work with the government to end the reign of terror from right-wing paramilitaries. We will support Colombia's right to strike terrorists who seek safe-haven across its borders. And we will shine a light on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments. This behavior must be exposed to international condemnation, regional isolation and--if need be--strong sanctions. It must not stand.

It should be obvious to Obama that these are likely to become failed policies on a par with the long US embargo of Cuba. But consistent with his pledge to send more troops to Afghanistan and possibly attack jihadists in Pakistan (in violation of that country's declared opposition), Obama proposes to continue US intervention in Colombia's civil war even to the point of supporting cross-border raids into Venezuela or Ecuador, a policy that will inflame tensions across the region.

Towards Venezuela, Obama is burdened with the contradictions of the liberal national security hawks, admitting that Hugo Chávez was elected democratically but asserting that Chávez doesn't "govern democratically." Obama ignores Venezuela's own successful "bottom up" efforts to alleviate poverty with public investments from its national oil company. He further ignores Venezuela's own voter's recent ballot box rejection of a sweeping Chávez initiative. Like many liberal hawks, Obama differs with the Bush Administration's attacks on Chávez because they are ineffective: "Yet the Bush Administration's blustery condemnations and clumsy attempts to undermine Chávez have only strengthened his hand." Not a word about US complicity in the attempted coup against Chávez, nor the remarkable Venezuelan mass movement that resisted that coup.

In the extreme discomfort of American centrists, including the media, at accepting the democratically chosen government of Venezuela with all its various shortcomings, one can see a lingering imperial assumption beneath the rhetoric to the contrary. It can be said, of course, that Chávez, with his own blustering rhetoric, doesn't make liberal centrist acceptance easier. But there is an understandable history here, not only the old history of conquest and the Monroe Doctrine but the immediate history of the 2002 attempted overthrow of Chávez with American complicity. If Barack Obama can ask us to better understand the black anger of his pastor Jeremiah Wright, surely he himself should be able to understand the volcanic rage that echos across Latin America in voices like those of Hugo Chávez and before him, Fidel Castro,.

According to sources in Caracas and Havana, Hugo Chávez himself may privately dismiss all this Venezuela-bashing as mere election-year posturing. "If it helps Obama get elected, okay, we'll talk later," in the paraphrase of one close observer. But Obama could sink himself in a US counterinsurgency quagmire in Columbia, which could spiral into greater tensions with Venezuela and Ecuador. There is a better alternative that Obama and his advisers ignore, the distinct possibility that the anti-government guerrilla movement in Columbia (FARC) may be gradually convinced to evolve into a political force, as the IRA did in Northern Ireland. The FARC emerged in a time of dictatorships across the continent, but in recent years many (former) revolutionary and guerrilla leaders have come to power democratically, from Nicaragua to Uruguay to Bolivia. The conditions for transforming the armed conflict in Colombia into a political one, while difficult, have never been more favorable, but not if an Obama Administration continues backing the Uribe government, riddled with its own death squads and drug traffickers, with American money, arms and Special Forces. (The recent extradiction of several Columbia drug traffickers to the United States was an effort to secure a trade deal, not to change the essential character of our client regime in Bogota.)

To make matters worse, Obama endorses the drug war paradigm that street gangs are the new enemy:

As President, I'll make it clear that we're coming after the guns, we're coming after the money laundering, and we're coming after the vehicles that enable this crime. And we'll crack down on the demand for drugs in our own communities, and restore funding for drug task forces and the COPS program. We must win the fights on our own streets if we're going to secure the region.

This formulation is upside down. Street gangs like Mara Salvatrucha or 18th Street are symptomatic of the overall crisis of poverty, discrimination and repression in which the United States has collaborated in Central and Latin America. These particular street gangs were created in places like Los Angeles among hundreds of thousands of child refugees of the US-sponsored Central American wars. They formed gangs for security and identity, they become involved in the drug trade because there were no legitimate job opportunities for undocumented exiles, and they became violent because they were born and raised in the trauma of war. Of course, it is legitimate both in terms of policy and politics for Obama to defend a law enforcement approach as part of the mix, but a war on gangs, like a war on drugs, is hopeless, counter-productive and immoral without a war on the greed that is devouring hundreds of millions of young people in Latin America. The funding to "win the fights on our own streets" would eclipse any budgets for jobs or education for inner-city youth. The irony should not forgotten either that the United States has been involved in corruption, dictatorships and the drug trade, from the casinos of Havana in the 1950s to the drug sales on the streets of LA that funded weapons for the contras in the 1980s.

Finally, Obama's vision of the region as a more equal partnership will be tested by the ambitious energy development plan dropped into his speech, The rhetoric appears balanced, but in the context of existing power relationships the outcome could deepen Latin America's role, once again, as a resource colony of the United States.

We'll allow industrial emitters to offset a portion of this cost by investing in low carbon energy projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. And we'll increase research and development across the Americas in clean coal technology, in the next generation of sustainable biofuels not taken from food crops, and in wind and solar energy. We'll enlist the World Bank, the Organization of American States, and the Inter-American Development Bank to support these invesments, and ensure that these projects enhance natural resources like land, wildlife, and rain forests. We'll finally enforce environmental standards in our trade deals.

The best that can be said of this speech is that it's a brave beginning, a break from Bush, and that the progressive changes sweeping Latin America hopefully may educate and move Obama towards a far greater partnership project than he now envisions. By contrast, FDR was bolder in his "good neighbor" policy. He rejected US military intervention, and supported Mexico's nationalization of its oil resources against the lobbying pressure of the US oil multinationals. Obama's position seems more reminiscent of the early John Kennedy, who trapped himself at the Bay of Pigs glamorized the Special Forces, and offered a moderate/centrist Alliance for Progress as America's answer to the Cuban model in Latin America. Instead of reform, the mano duro policies of dictatorships and death squads swept the region with US support and training for repressive army and police forces. Now that Latin America, on its own, has swept those dictatorships away and is following its own democratic path, it is presumptuous of Obama to propose himself as the savior of Latin America from Hugo Chávez, guerrillas and drug lords, all of them symptomatic responses to US policies over many decades.


* NOTE. In its founding call, Progressives for Obama demanded a new Good Neighbor policy towards Latin America, as follows:

"Nor can we impose NAFTA-style trade agreements on so many nations that seek only to control their own national resources and economic destinies. We cannot globalize corporate and financial power over democratic values and institutions. Since the Clinton Administration pushed through NAFTA against the Democratic majority in Congress, one Latin American nation after another has elected progressive governments that reject US trade deals and hegemony. We are isolated in Latin America by our Cold War and drug war crusades, by the $500 million counter-insurgency in Columbia, support for the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela, and the ineffectual blockade of Cuba. We need to return to the Good Neighbor policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, which rejected Yankee military intervention and accepted Mexico's right to nationalize its oil in the face of industry opposition. The pursuit of NAFTA-style trade policies inflames our immigration crisis as well, by uprooting countless campesinos who inevitably seek low-wage jobs north of the border in order to survive. We need balanced and democratically-approved trade agreements that focus on the needs of workers, consumers and the environment. The Banana Republic is a retail chain, not an American colony protected by the Monroe Doctrine."

About Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden is the author of The Other Side (1966, with Staughton Lynd), The Love of Possession Is a Disease With Them (1972), Ending the War in Iraq (2007) and Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader (2008).

May, 31 2008

"What is Obama's attraction to big business? Precisely the same as Robert Kennedy's. By offering a 'new', young and apparently progressive face of the Democratic Party -- with the bonus of being a member of the black elite -- he can blunt and divert real opposition. That was Colin Powell's role as Bush's secretary of state. An Obama victory will bring intense pressure on the US anti-war and social justice movements to accept a Democratic administration for all its faults. If that happens, domestic resistance to rapacious America will fall silent." -- John Pilger


From Kennedy To Obama; Liberalism's Last Fling

By John Pilger

In this season of 1968 nostalgia, one anniversary illuminates today. It is the rise and fall of Robert Kennedy, who would have been elected president of the United States had he not been assassinated in June 1968. Having travelled with Kennedy up to the moment of his shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on 5 June, I heard The Speech many times. He would "return government to the people" and bestow "dignity and justice" on the oppressed. "As Bernard Shaw once said," he would say, "'Most men look at things as they are and wonder why. I dream of things that never were and ask: Why not?'" That was the signal to run back to the bus. It was fun until a hail of bullets passed over our shoulders.

Kennedy's campaign is a model for Barack Obama. Like Obama, he was a senator with no achievements to his name. Like Obama, he raised the expectations of young people and minorities. Like Obama, he promised to end an unpopular war, not because he opposed the war's conquest of other people's land and resources, but because it was "unwinnable".

Should Obama beat John McCain to the White House in November, it will be liberalism's last fling. In the United States and Britain, liberalism as a war-making, divisive ideology is once again being used to destroy liberalism as a reality. A great many people understand this, as the hatred of Blair and new Labour attest, but many are disoriented and eager for "leadership" and basic social democracy. In the US, where unrelenting propaganda about American democratic uniqueness disguises a corporate system based on extremes of wealth and privilege, liberalism as expressed through the Democratic Party has played a crucial, compliant role.

In 1968, Robert Kennedy sought to rescue the party and his own ambitions from the threat of real change that came from an alliance of the civil rights campaign and the anti-war movement then commanding the streets of the main cities, and which Martin Luther King had drawn together until he was assassinated in April that year. Kennedy had supported the war in Vietnam and continued to support it in private, but this was skillfully suppressed as he competed against the maverick Eugene McCarthy, whose surprise win in the New Hampshire primary on an anti-war ticket had forced President Lyndon Johnson to abandon the idea of another term. Using the memory of his martyred brother, Kennedy assiduously exploited the electoral power of delusion among people hungry for politics that represented them, not the rich.

"These people love you," I said to him as we left Calexico, California, where the immigrant population lived in abject poverty and people came like a great wave and swept him out of his car, his hands fastened to their lips.

"Yes, yes, sure they love me," he replied. "I love them!" I asked him how exactly he would lift them out of poverty: just what was his political philosophy?

"Philosophy? Well, it's based on a faith in this country and I believe that many Americans have lost this faith and I want to give it back to them, because we are the last and the best hope of the world, as Thomas Jefferson said."

"That's what you say in your speech. Surely the question is: How?"

"How? . . . by charting a new direction for America."

The vacuities are familiar. Obama is his echo. Like Kennedy, Obama may well "chart a new direction for America" in specious, media-honed language, but in reality he will secure, like every president, the best damned democracy money can buy.

As their contest for the White House draws closer, watch how, regardless of the inevitable personal smears, Obama and McCain draw nearer to each other. They already concur on America's divine right to control all before it. "We lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good," said Obama. "We must lead by building a 21st-century military . . . to advance the security of all people [emphasis added]." McCain agrees. Obama says in pursuing "terrorists" he would attack Pakistan. McCain wouldn't quarrel. Both candidates have paid ritual obeisance to the regime in Tel Aviv, unquestioning support for which defines all presidential ambition. In opposing a UN Security Council resolution implying criticism of Israel's starvation of the people of Gaza, Obama was ahead of both McCain and Hillary Clinton. In January, pressured by the Israel lobby, he massaged a statement that "nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people" to now read: "Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognise Israel [emphasis added]." Such is his concern for the victims of the longest, illegal military occupation of modern times. Like all the candidates, Obama has furthered Israeli/Bush fictions about Iran, whose regime, he says absurdly, "is a threat to all of us".
On the war in Iraq, Obama the dove and McCain the hawk are almost united. McCain now says he wants US troops to leave in five years (instead of "100 years", his earlier option). Obama has now "reserved the right" to change his pledge to get troops out next year. "I will listen to our commanders on the ground," he now says, echoing Bush. His adviser on Iraq, Colin Kahl, says the US should maintain up to 80,000 troops in Iraq until 2010. Like McCain, Obama has voted repeatedly in the Senate to support Bush's demands for funding of the occupation of Iraq; and he has called for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan. His senior advisers embrace McCain's proposal for an aggressive "league of democracies", led by the United States, to circumvent the United Nations.
Like McCain, he would extend the crippling embargo on Cuba.

Amusingly, both have denounced their "preachers" for speaking out. Whereas McCain's man of God praised Hitler, in the fashion of lunatic white holy-rollers, Obama's man, Jeremiah Wright, spoke an embarrassing truth. He said that the attacks of 11 September 2001 had taken place as a consequence of the violence of US power across the world. The media demanded that Obama disown Wright and swear an oath of loyalty to the Bush lie that "terrorists attacked America because they hate our freedoms". So he did. The conflict in the Middle East, said Obama, was rooted not "primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel", but in "the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam". Journalists applauded. Islamophobia is a liberal speciality.

The American media love both Obama and McCain. Reminiscent of mating calls by Guardian writers to Blair more than a decade ago, Jann Wenner, founder of the liberal Rolling Stone, wrote: "There is a sense of dignity, even majesty, about him, and underneath that ease lies a resolute discipline . . . Like Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama challenges America to rise up, to do what so many of us long to do: to summon 'the better angels of our nature'." At the liberal New Republic, Charles Lane confessed: "I know it shouldn't be happening, but it is. I'm falling for John McCain." His colleague Michael Lewis had gone further. His feelings for McCain, he wrote, were like "the war that must occur inside a 14-year-old boy who discovers he is more sexually attracted to boys than to girls".

The objects of these uncontrollable passions are as one in their support for America's true deity, its corporate oligarchs. Despite claiming that his campaign wealth comes from small individual donors, Obama is backed by the biggest Wall Street firms: Goldman Sachs, UBS AG, Lehman Brothers, J P Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse, as well as the huge hedge fund Citadel Investment Group. "Seven of the Obama campaign's top 14 donors," wrote the investigator Pam Martens, "consisted of officers and employees of the same Wall Street firms charged time and again with looting the public and newly implicated in originating and/or bundling fraudulently made mortgages." A report by United for a Fair Economy, a non-profit group, estimates the total loss to poor Americans of colour who took out sub-prime loans as being between $164bn and $213bn: the greatest loss of wealth ever recorded for people of colour in the United States. "Washington lobbyists haven't funded my campaign," said Obama in January, "they won't run my White House and they will not drown out the voices of working Americans when I am president." According to files held by the Centre for Responsive Politics, the top five contributors to the Obama campaign are registered corporate lobbyists.

What is Obama's attraction to big business? Precisely the same as Robert Kennedy's. By offering a "new", young and apparently progressive face of the Democratic Party - with the bonus of being a member of the black elite - he can blunt and divert real opposition. That was Colin Powell's role as Bush's secretary of state. An Obama victory will bring intense pressure on the US anti-war and social justice movements to accept a Democratic administration for all its faults. If that happens, domestic resistance to rapacious America will fall silent.

America's war on Iran has already begun. In December, Bush secretly authorised support for two guerrilla armies inside Iran, one of which, the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, is described by the state department as terrorist. The US is also engaged in attacks or subversion against Somalia, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bolivia and Venezuela. A new military command, Africom, is being set up to fight proxy wars for control of Africa's oil and other riches. With US missiles soon to be stationed provocatively on Russia's borders, the Cold War is back. None of these piracies and dangers has raised a whisper in the presidential campaign, not least from its great liberal hope.

Moreover, none of the candidates represents so-called mainstream America. In poll after poll, voters make clear that they want the normal decencies of jobs, proper housing and health care. They want their troops out of Iraq and the Israelis to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbours. This is a remarkable testimony, given the daily brainwashing of ordinary Americans in almost everything they watch and read.

On this side of the Atlantic, a deeply cynical electorate watches British liberalism's equivalent last fling. Most of the "philosophy" of new Labour was borrowed wholesale from the US. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were interchangeable. Both were hostile to traditionalists in their parties who might question the corporate-speak of their class-based economic policies and their relish for colonial conquests. Now the British find themselves spectators to the rise of new Tory, distinguishable from Blair's new Labour only in the personality of its leader, a former corporate public relations man who presents himself as Tonier than thou. We all deserve better.

Towards African-American Unity and a Black United Front

Written by the Nationalities Commission
Wednesday, 14 May 2008

"Power never takes a back step--only in the face of more power."
"Dr. King wants the same thing I want--Freedom."
--Malcolm X

On what would have been Malcolm's eighty-third birthday, it is appropriate that we speak to the urgency for unity and the critical need for a functional national Black united front. Malcolm argued for unity across religious, class and ideological lines on the basis of nationality. Our movement has attempted to implement organizational expressions of his call for unity. Such vehicles like the Congress of African People (CAP), the National Black Assembly (NBA) with its Black Agenda, the African Liberation Support Committee (ALSC), and the Black Radical Congress (BRC) with its Freedom Agenda have all met with varying degrees of success but with little sustainability. We have to turn the corner on building united front organizations to those that are actually sustainable--the conditions of our people demand it.

In this period of neoliberal globalization, in which we see the gutting of social-welfare programs that due to national oppression never fully provided for the needs of Black people, our communities are faced with stagnant or declining incomes, double-digit unemployment, a crisis of home foreclosures and bankruptcies. Add to these depression-like conditions the fact that Black males are facing a criminal justice system that incarcerates them at more than eight times the rate of whites. If they are not locking our young men up, they are shooting them down in cold blood with no fear of prosecution. The Sean Bell case in New York City is just the latest case in point. Moreover, there is the federal government's criminal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the growing attacks on our communities through gentrification, the use of our youth as cannon fodder for imperialist wars, and the criminalization of our youth. This latter phenomenon is causing our community elders to fear their own children and grandchildren. It's clear that that we need an instrument of struggle to fight back.

While some may argue that there is a vacuum of leadership in our communities, we would argue that there is leadership, but it is one that has retreated from the progressive agenda of the Civil Rights and Black Power eras. As Brother Malcolm would say, "I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they'll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action." Today, through corporate and government funding from the likes of groups like Wal-Mart and regional and local developers, we have organizations doing for our people rather than empowering them to do for themselves. The result is demobilization and fragmentation within the Black Liberation Movement (BLM). The national Black community's response to Katrina is indicative of this condition.

During the Civil Rights movement, it was the program and tactics of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the left wing of that movement, which played a leading role during that period. They were not the groups that got all the press and money but they were some of the forces that set the line of march for the movement. Similarly, it was revolutionary nationalists and developing Marxists who set the direction within CAP, the National Black Political Assembly, and ALSC during the '70s.

The Achilles Heel of these young radicals was their lack of a basic united-front framework that would engage the many organizations and activists in developing programs, tactical plans and slogans to guide coalitions and campaigns. Instead, sectarian maneuvering and struggling with allies as if they were the enemy became the practice of the day, which has led to our current situation where the middle and right wings of the BLM are playing the leading roles. While we cannot ignore the role of the state in damaging these efforts, more forces having had a basic united-front approach would have allowed us to better withstand the state's penetration of our efforts.

Having correctly summed up the sectarian, undemocratic membership policies and patriarchal error of the '70s New Communist Movement, Black, Asian, Latina/o and Anglo-American leftists entered the Rainbow Coalition Presidential candidacy of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. However, the Black Left was not playing the leading role in the Jackson Campaign. It was the National Black petit bourgeoisie that was taking the lead and fighting for a more prominent role in the Democratic Party. Despite their hard work on issue development and grassroots mobilization, some of these forces, like Jackson, were seduced by their class origin to become "power brokers" for their nationality and class in the Democratic Party. Instead of creating counter-hegemonic and popular forms of organizations, they relied exclusively on the Jackson campaign organizations for their education and mobilization of the masses. So, as Jackson sought to pull the reins on the "Rainbow Challenge" in the interests of the Democratic Party, the left forces were not able to challenge Jackson's retreat from the Rainbow program.

As the Black Left entered the '90s, the increased power of neoliberal globalization; the massacre in Tiananmen Square in China; the demise of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union; and the question raised at the anti-globalization protest in Seattle, "Where are the People of Color?" were indications of the fragmentation, the lack of a coherent approach to Black Liberation in the US and the overall weakness of the Left in the era of postmodern identity politics with its aversion to a guiding political narrative.

In the mid-'90s the Nation of Islam, under the leadership of Minister Louis Farrakhan and Minister Ben (Chavis) Muhammad, stepped into this vacuum of leadership in the BLM to propose the Million Man March. Held on October 16, 1995, the march attracted some 1.5 million men. Many speakers spoke in support of voter registration and Black self-help programs. They were also very critical of the Republican so-called Contract with America, which was seen as an attack on programs like welfare, Medicaid, housing programs and student aid programs. However, its male-only focus, religious overtones, and the Nation of Islam's top-down organizing style kept many Black leftists away or at arm's length. Two years later, fed up with unemployment, homelessness, teen pregnancy and Black-on-Black crime fueled by the crack epidemic ravaging our communities, several hundred thousand Black women gathered in Philadelphia on October 24 for the Million Woman March. Broader in composition and led by grassroots women from the East Coast, South and mid-West, this march was held without the slick marketing and big-name speakers at the Million Man March. This march was followed in 1998 by the million Youth March and the Million Worker March in 2004. However, a major weakness of these efforts was the lack of organizational development after the demonstrations, as well as declining numbers after the success of the Million Woman March.

The formation of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) in June 1998, drawing some 2000 participants, would break the cycle of "show up but no follow-up" associated with the Million More Marches. The BRC was inclusive of the various ideological trends in the BLM, e.g. socialists, communists, LGBT, feminists, and revolutionary Black nationalists. In the years following its formation, the BRC would develop over a dozen chapters and carry out local and national campaigns like Education Not Incarceration and Fightback against the War. It was also involved in issues like HIV/AIDS, police violence and in defense of the Charleston, SC dock workers (who had been charged with inciting to riot as they sought to defend their rights and living standards.)

However, in the last five years it has become increasingly clear that some of the initial leaders of the BRC were overextended and needed to pull back. It has also become clear that the infrastructure envisioned at the founding Congress could not be sustained with limited resources and a volunteer staff. So while it has seen a reduction in the number in chapters and Local Organizing Committees, the BRC has advanced a radical analysis on various topics through its listserve, leaflets and newsletters.

This June 20-22 the Black Radical Congress will hold its 10th anniversary congress at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. At this congress, the BRC will address such issues as the state of the Black Liberation Movement and what the BRC should look like as an organization in order to respond to the current crisis facing Black people. Other issues to be addressed are how one funds an effective organization with independence and sustainability as guiding principles. Lastly, the congress will deal with leadership and governance for the organization. Notwithstanding the good work of the BRC, it remains just another organization in the fragmented Black Liberation Movement and has not lived up to its initial hope and potential as a space that successfully and for a sustained period brought together diverse radical ideological currents within the Black Liberation Movement.

Although the devastation and neglect caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Coast provided a golden opportunity for a united approach, this has not been realized. As Malcolm would say, "Our people have made the mistake of confusing the methods with the objectives. As long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different methods, or tactics, or strategy. We have to keep in mind at all times that we are not fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society." Thus, there have been struggles around issues like organizing methodology, leadership accountability, patriarchy, how to promote grassroots leadership, and the role of "base building" in the context of building the Black united front on the ground in the Gulf Coast Reconstruction efforts.

This has led some of the Black left forces associated with Katrina Solidarity work to call for a Black Left Gathering on May 30-June 1 at the Sonia Hayes Stone Center at the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill. This gathering will look at the current state of the BLM, the Gulf Coast Situation, and its relationship to the overall building of a national Black united front. It will also look at the issues of the war in Iraq and its impact on the delivery of basic human services to Blacks, other people of color and the general working class.

While much of the attention of the masses is focused on the Obama campaign, we salute the Black left forces who are planning to meet to strategize on how to build unity of action of the Left and radicals of the Black Nation. Both of these motions are composed of activists and revolutionaries who have grasped Malcolm's message and are correctly summing up the errors of the movements of the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s and are in the process of trying to regroup and to rebuild a potent and effective Black Liberation Movement. In fact, Freedom Road has members working in both of these formations. We believe that these two motions need to come together in the spirit of Malcolm's call for a functional national Black united front. At the same time, we recognize that building such unity on the ground and in practice is a process rather an event. Thus, we applaud both efforts for participating in each other's events as speaker and participants.

Moreover, both gatherings will address the aftermath of Katrina and the failure to implement an adequate, democratic and rapid reconstruction. Each will examine the assaults on Black communities across the country through police murder of youth, gentrification and more. It is here that we urge that the two groups, regardless of what organizational forms they decide on for their work, combine efforts in a community-based national campaign. The "We Charge Genocide" campaign, which is up and running, presents at this moment the greatest possibility for cooperation, addresses some of the most pressing needs of our people, and can contribute in a powerful way to the rebuilding of the Black Liberation Movement.

If the Obama campaign and all that it has inspired is to have a lasting impact, it will necessitate the existence of a mass-based, viable Black Left that practices a united-front approach. If there is to be anything to build upon after the November elections, irrespective of who wins, there will need to be a strong left presence, and there will especially need to be a Black left motion that is pushing the envelope. Malcolm's orientation was toward the building of a broader and broader movement. This is as relevant today as it was in 1965. Just as relevant is the notion that if the radicals in any movement do not cohere, the forces in the middle will start to vacillate, and those on the right will gain dominance. We have seen that before, and we must not let it happen again.

--Nationalities Commission
Freedom Road Socialist Organization/OSCL


The mass support for Obama is not at all the same thing as a mass organization.

  • The people in this mass have no link to one another, but only share a common link with Obama.
  • This mass support has no voice of its own, and the only voice to be heard is that of Obama's campaign rhetoric, which does not even pretend to offer any basic change.
  • This mass support is not institutionalized, but is only organized by the electoral process itself and so will undoubtedly disappear once the election is over.
  • This mass support has no real unity, for people in it represent different social classes and support Obama for a number of quite different reasons. A multi-class mass can not imply or lead in any new direction.

It is gratifying that young people are registering to vote in great numbers, but what is the significance of this? The Obama campaign is lending greater credibility to our representative democracy, but we must ask ourselves what is the implication of this if a government is neither for the people nor of the people?


The inconvenience of Reverend Wright's speech brought out the elegant manner in which Obama would be able to handle awkward situations. His presidency ideally will focus about moving forward and correcting the previous presidencies flaws, disregarding the retired reverends crude words; thus leaving behind terrible situations that cost the lives of many including, including those who perished in my country Panama. As an audience we often which to be entertained and filled with the hope of a better tomorrow, as is the idea in most of Obama’s amazing speaches. The promise of change if accomplished, I only hope will diminish the medias over exposure on the race issue, and in the division of polls to accommodate the race factor.