Amy Goodman

Unchaining history

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

You could almost hear the world’s collective sigh of relief. This year’s U.S. presidential election was a global event in every sense. Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, represents to so many a living bridge—between continents and cultures. Perhaps the job that qualified him most for the presidency was not senator or lawyer, but the one most vilified by his opponents: community organizer, on the South Side of Chicago. As Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin mocked: “This world of threats and dangers is not just a community, and it doesn’t just need an organizer.”

But perhaps that’s just what it needs. Obama achieved his decisive electoral victory through mass community organizing, on the ground and online, and an unheard of amount of money. It was an indisputably historic victory: the first African-American elected to the highest office in the United States. Yet community organizing is inherently at crosscurrents with the massive infusion of campaign cash, despite the number of small donations that the Obama campaign received.

Sen. Obama rejected public campaign financing (sealing that policy’s fate) and was flooded with cash, much of it from corporate donors. Those powerful, moneyed interests will want a return on their investment.

A century and a half earlier, another renowned African-American orator, Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave and leading abolitionist, spoke these words that have become an essential precept of community organizing: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. ... Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

There are two key camps that feel invested in the Obama presidency: the millions who each gave a little, and the few who gave millions. The big-money interests have means to gain access. They know how to get meetings in the White House, and they know what lobbyists to hire. But the millions who donated, who volunteered, who were inspired to vote for the first time actually have more power, when organized.

Before heading over to Grant Park in Chicago, Sen. Obama sent a note (texted and e-mailed) to millions of supporters. It read, in part: “We just made history. And I don’t want you to forget how we did it. ... We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.” But it isn’t enough for people now to sit back and wait for instructions from on high. It was 40 years ago in that very same place, Grant Park, where thousands of anti-war protesters gathered during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, demanding an end to the Vietnam War. Many from that generation now celebrate the election of an African-American president as a victory for the civil-rights movement that first inspired them to action decades ago. And they celebrate the man who, early on, opposed the Iraq War, the pivotal position that won him the nomination, that ultimately led to his presidential victory.

Another son of Chicago, who died just days before the election, was oral historian and legendary broadcaster Studs Terkel. I visited him last year in their shared city. “The American public itself has no memory of the past,” he told me. “We forgot what happened yesterday ... why are we there in Iraq? And they say, when you attack our policy, you’re attacking the boys. On the contrary ... we want them back home with their families, doing their work and not a war that we know is built upon an obscene lie ... it’s this lack of history that’s been denied us.”

The Obama campaign benefited from the participation of millions. They and millions more see that the current direction of the country is not sustainable. From the global economic meltdown to war, we have to find a new way. This is a rare moment when party lines are breaking down. Yet if Obama buckles to the corporate lobbyists, how will his passionate supporters pressure him? They have built a historic campaign operation—but they don’t control it. People need strong, independent grass-roots organizations to effect genuine, long-term change. This is how movements are built. As Obama heads to the White House, his campaign organization needs to be returned to the people who built it, to continue the community organizing that made history.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column. Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. She has been awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and will receive the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Smoking Crow
Past Columns
Statues of Limitations

August 23, 2017

Real Election Fraud

July 12, 2017

White House for Sale

June 21, 2017

Produce the note

February 4, 2009

A long train ride

January 21, 2009

Israeli voices for peace

January 7, 2009

Voices of resistance sing on

December 31, 2008

Bush and the monkey wrench guy

December 23, 2008

A tale of two Nobel nations

December 9, 2008

A view from the South

November 19, 2008

Events
Today
Cascade Games Convention

9:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Garage Sale and Health Fair

12:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Bellingham Folk Festival

4:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Xanadu

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

The Flick

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Space Trek, Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Mason Bee Management

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Smoking Crow Opening

9:00am|Smoking Crow

Plant Society Field Trip

10:00am|Birch Bay State Park

Nordic Ski Ambassadors

10:00am|SnoPark at Salmon Ridge

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Howard Miller Steelhead Park

March on Bellingham

10:00am|Bellingham City Hall

Winter Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Of marching and mending

12:00pm

Travel to Cuzco and Machu PIcchu

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Cedar Weaving Workshop

2:00pm|Lynden Library

Teddy Bear Biographies

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Learn to Grow a Vegetable Garden

2:00pm|Sumas Library

Mona Openings

2:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Mysticism in Art

2:00pm|Skagit County Historical Museum

Exploring Port

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

The Fight Against Human Trafficking

3:00pm|Everson Library

Kindgom Quest

4:00pm|Village Books

Music and Memories

5:00pm|Swinomish Casino & Lodge

Robert Burns Supper

5:30pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Ensemble Electra

7:30pm|Jansen Art Center

The Good Lovelies

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Village Books
Tomorrow
Cascade Games Convention

9:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Bellingham Folk Festival

4:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Xanadu

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Howard Miller Steelhead Park

Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Bellingham Chamber Music Society

3:00pm|First Congregational Church

Nonfiction and Memoir Writing Group

3:00pm|Village Books

Southside Community Meal

5:00pm|Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Way North Comedy

7:00pm|Farmstrong Brewing Co.

Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Monday
Cuban Salsa Classes

6:00pm|Bell Tower Studios

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

see our complete calendar ยป

Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1