Friday, May 23, 2008

Independence and Organization

Photo: Bill Fletcher, Jr.

'Healthy Tension':
Report on P4O
Meeting in D.C.

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Last night (5/22) a Progressives for Obama event was held at a restaurant in DC. We had about 40 people and collected about $400 for the campaign. Speaking were myself and the noted writer Barbara Ehrenreich.

The meeting had several aims including, winning over progressives who were not yet committed to the campaign, as well as encouraging both financial contributions and volunteer work. Because the meeting had people who were both already committed as well as those who were ambivalent there was a certain level of 'tension' that existed that I believe was actually quite healthy.

I found it important to note how it was that I came to support Obama. Barbara Ehrenreich also explained her journey as well as how supporting Obama was not inconsistent with being a feminist.
Where things became interesting was in our willingness to express where we have had (and continue to have) disagreements with Senator Obama, in my case, around certain matters of foreign policy (e.g., the Middle East). Nevertheless, we discussed the potential opening that the Obama campaign presents for progressives.

This opening does not mean that we abandon our disagreements, but rather that we understand the 'moment' and the opportunities it presents. One critical issue that came up in various forms was the concern about what comes next, i.e., what happens after November whether we win or not. In fact, an individual came up to me and stated that she was not convinced that she and others should support Obama rather than voting with their hearts.

This led into an important, though incomplete, discussion concerning the need to build independent, mass electoral organizations that are guided by progressive politics.

(Note: This was a major theme of the article that Danny Glover and I wrote about in our article in The Nation in 2/2005--"Visualizing a Neo-Rainbow").

I walked away from the evening feeling very strongly that while the Progressives for Obama motion should NOT attempt to be an organization as such, there is a critical need to think about post-November and the long-term strategic need for a mass, progressive electoral formation.

I believe that many of us share the worry that a victory could be Pyrrhic if we lack the vitality to build a progressive force that can halt slippage to the Right by the Senator from the great state of Illinois, should he be elected; or for that matter, to resist any pro-active efforts to the Right should someone from the dark side of the Force be elected.

[Bill Fletcher, Jr. is co-author of "Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and A New Path Toward Social Justice" See:]

1 comment:


These are really interesting observations and they point to the challenges that progressives and revolutionaries face. We must fight the society of the spectacle. When people are in the spectacle they forget the simple truth that the people, not great leaders, make history. Most of the worries that Bill reports come from people who are WATCHING and worried that Obama will do this or won't do that. What matters is what we do.

Obama is riding a wave. We are the wave--the wave is the movement. It is the strength of the social forces and their level of organization that will determine what Obama can or can't do.

For example, Obama has liberal foreign policy advisors like Zbigniew Brzezinski. But his advisers are still U.S. supremacists. They do not believe in the equality of nations (for instance, on the issues of Iranian nuclear energy and the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The treaty allows for the development of civilian nuclear energy and it also calls for the nations in possession of nuclear weapons to work actively towards full disarmament. It is then the U.S. (under the leadership of the military industrial complex) not Iran that is in violation of the treaty. Of course, that is irrelevant if you start from the premise that the U.S. is superior to all other nations). U.S. supremacy and the structural inequality between nations is not a tenable situation if we want peace.

But none of Obama’s advisers will guide him that way. The peace movement as a part of the social movement backing Obama’s campaign must actually provide the analysis and the plans to get out of Iraq—we must do more than protest against the war, we must lead the country out of war. Joe McCarthy was not hysterical— many New Deal policies were drafted by Communists in Roosevelt cabinet because they actively worked in that movement.

Obama will move to the left if the movement is strong enough to give him political and social cover as he moves. The reason the Kennedy’s were assassinated is because they moved further than their actually organized social power allowed. (That is why, the coup in Venezuela failed. The social movement that backs Chavez was stronger than the social forces that backed the coup.) Competent leadership matters but not as much as organized social power. Progressives, Leftists, and Revolutionaries must stop asking Obama to do their job for them. He has already brought together the most progressive social forces in the country. It is time we did some organizing too.

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