Monday, January 07, 2008

A dangerous distraction

I wrote this post more for Alas than here. One advantage of the last 9 years, is that it's hard to maintain illusions you might have about the potential of a Labour government. But we're going to hear a lot of rhetoric about the importance of keeping Labour in power over the next year. Those who haven't had their friends kidnapped at gunpoint and declared guilty by the Prime Minister might even believe it.

This piece by Grace Boggs linked, widely, by bloggers I respect. I agree very much that viewing Obama's candidacy in the context of the movements that made it possible is vital, and will show Obama lacking. Although I disagree with some of Grace Boggs interpretation of that struggle.* But the paragraph of her argument that was mostly widely quoted, is the one I disagree with most strongly. Maybe I've interpreted her in a way diffently from what she intended:

But neither Obama’s ethnicity or Hillary’s gender is enough to earn my support. Neither is calling on the American people to confront our materialism and militarism or challenging and proposing alternatives to corporate globalization. At this critical period in human history that is what we should be requiring of ourselves and of any presidential candidate, whatever their race, gender or religion.
The American people are not a problem that could be solved by a president calling them to be more virtuous. Yes we must organise to fight and resist capitalism and imperialism, but the President is the enemy in that fight, not the standard bearer.

Capitalism and militarism are systems that are the job of the American president to maintain. Holding American presidential candidates up to ideals they would never meet is far better than pretending, or believing, than a multi-millionaire lawyer is an ally of the working class. But if you create an image of the ideal American Presidential candidate then you are propagating the idea that the right American president could make things better. We make our own history, it is not made for us by our leaders. Democratic party candidates for president are not our leaders in building another world.

Whether or not we win the writers strike, how strong the movement for housing in New Orleans becomes; whether the protests over what happened in Jena were a one off or a springboard; whether the strikes in Buenos Aries continue to grow; how so many other protests, strikes, and movements develop over the coming year. Those questions are critical to how far we get towards liberation over the next four years, which Democrat and Republican candidate wins the nomination for president is not.

Vote, don't vote; support don't support; endorse, don't endorse. But don't limit the world you dream about by the crumbs promised by Clinton, Obama, or Edwards, and don't expect anyone better to come along. The work we need to do isn't done anywhere near the voting booth.

* In particular, the characterisation of the sit-ins as 'small groups' - the freedom movement was a mass movement in cities and towns across the south, and it wasn't small in the North either

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