“I’m one of your middle class Americans. And quite frankly, I’m exhausted. Exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for and deeply disappointed with where we are right now…”
--Velma Hart, a supporter of President Obama speaking at a Washington DC town hall meeting, September 20, 2010
We are entering the third year of President Obama’s administration. Many people who enthusiastically voted for him in 2008 believed that the first African-American president would usher in a new phase of American politics, a reversal of the right-wing politics of the Bush/Cheney years.
But then reality inexorably followed: The deepening economic crisis; the bailing out of Wall Street and the rich by taxpayers; the mass unemployment reaching almost 20% and child poverty rising to 30%; millions of foreclosures; the expansion of wars, including the so-called “war on terrorism;” the failure to enact single payer health care or Wall Street regulation worthy of mention; the massive attacks on public sector workers and services on the city and state level; the attacks on public education; the policy of more austerity for workers, pensioners and the poor to supposedly “deal with the deficit;” and the rise of right wing populist Tea Party Republicans to control the House after the Democratic Party mid-term defeat in the fall. To cap it all off, was Obama’s rotten deal with the Republicans to extend the outrageous Bush tax cuts to the rich.
In truth, if anyone had bothered to really listen and read beyond Obama’s “hope” rhetoric, they would be aware of his pro-corporate, imperialist agenda as the Democratic Party corporate presidential candidate three years ago. Justice newspaper warned its readers and the workers and young people we could reach against any illusions and about the direction of a future Obama administration:
“If Obama wins the presidency, there is no doubt his popular, youthful base will be bitterly disappointed as his administration carries out a big business agenda as events unfold. But for many - young people in particular - the disappointment will be a political education,” (Justice, June 2008).
At the moment, tens of millions of progressive voters feel betrayed and disappointed with Obama’s policy which is intended to protect and extend the profits and privileges of a corrupt corporate America at the expense of everyone else.
For African-Americans the question is far more complex. President Obama garnered 97% of the African-American vote in 2008, and maintains an approval rating of 91% in the black community. This is mainly due to the pride felt for the first African-American president and against the unrelenting attack by right wing and racist elements on FOX News, the Tea Party circus and the Republican mass propaganda outlets.
Nevertheless there is growing disillusionment in the African-American community as the economic crisis has opened a new chapter in the ongoing historic class and racial oppression African-Americans face in the age of alleged “colorblindness.”
An Economic Tsunami
In the economic tsunami that followed the economic crash in 2008, while the rich and Wall Street were bailed out, people of color were hit hard on every front. The home foreclosure crisis continues and it’s getting worse. According to State of the Dream 2010 – Drained: Jobless and Foreclosed in Communities of Color: “The foreclosure crisis has morphed. Initially driven by predatory lending, unemployment is now feeding the viscous cycle. In 2009, nearly 60 percent of mortgage defaults were triggered by unemployment.”
In December 2009, unemployment “for African Americans stands at 16.2% and 12.9% for Latinos, compared to 9% of whites” according to the same source. The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) estimates that wages and salaries lost from 2008 to 2012 will reach the staggering estimated amount of $142 billion for African-Americans and $138 billion for Latinos, out of a total $1 trillion loss for the entire nation.
As President Obama’s Deficit Commission proposes austerity measures aimed to put the crisis on the backs of working people and the poor, “…today’s children of color will predominantly be on the hook for paying for the profligate spending and poorly designed policies of the past 12 years…” (Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, What People of Color Should Know About Tax Cut and Deficit Reduction Huffington Report 12/14/10).
Inevitably, the deepening economic despair and crisis is accompanied by a worsening social crisis. The rise of youth and black-on-black violence has gripped entire communities of color around the country. In Chicago, a new epidemic of violence has plagued the city and brought it national attention. The dismantling of the postwar urban housing projects like Cabrini-Green and the rise of gentrification, along with the lack of decent jobs, and the perpetual state of racism, poverty, and despair have now created virtual block by block gang and turf-wars.
In 2009 alone there were over 500 murders. In the month of April 2009, more people were killed in Chicago than US soldiers in Iraq. A shocking 80% of the murder victims are black, and according to Chicago police superintendent Jody Weis, most violent crime occurs in just 9% of Chicago’s city blocks. This situation allowed politicians from the Illinois Democratic Party to make calls for the National Guard to quell the violence. These are the same big business politicians who are busy carrying out policies of social and public austerity that have produced and even worsened this crisis.
Last year, as the crisis worsened, a sharp debate broke out among civil rights leaders, grassroots activists and some Congressional black caucus members of the Democratic Party about the need for a “black agenda.” Left academics Dr. Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson began to raise their voices about the state of black America and the virtual refusal of Obama to address the ongoing political, economic, and social crisis.
The dueling all-star “town hall” forums by Tavis Smiley’s, Reverend Al Sharpton’s “National Action Network” and Ben Jeallous’s NAACP efforts with the March to Washington Rally on October 2nd all revealed the lack of a militant and accountable leadership that represents the aspirations of the vast majority in the black community and is capable to act against the corporate agenda.
Criticizing the dead-end of Tavis Smiley We Count! Forum in March 2010, Black Agenda Report editor and columnist Dr. Jared Ball commented: “… the already blood-soaked, broken and dead carcass of a murdered black radicalism was further kicked around, then adorned, by Tavis Smiley and all those gathered at his annual black political all-star game.”
The Time is Now for a New Movement
It is shocking to contrast the current state of the black leadership pandering to various wings of the Democratic Party and the corporate elite with Malcolm X’s message: “Policies change, and programs change, according to time. But objectives never change. You might change your method of achieving the objective, but the objective never changes. Our objective is complete freedom, complete justice, complete equality, by any means necessary.” (Malcolm X, December 20,1964)
The same could be said about Martin Luther King Jr.: “We called our demonstration a campaign for jobs and income because we felt that the economic question was the most crucial that black people, and poor people generally, were confronting.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Look Magazine, 1968.)
A year ago the debate was if “we need a black agenda” in the age of Obama. The answer to the question is that an agenda that speaks to the reality that African American workers and youth face is urgently needed. It must be linked to a wider working class agenda to address the economic, political and social storm capitalism has unleashed on working people and the poor, particularly on communities of color. This agenda would include the demand for jobs for all at a living wage, construction of affordable housing, defense of union rights, pensions and health benefits, and a massive public works program paid by taxes on the rich and Wall Street to create millions of good jobs that could alleviate the stress working people are facing every day.
The change working people, youth, the poor and people of color wanted and thought they voted for in 2008 with Obama has ended in disappointment, bewilderment and a worsening crisis. It has revealed the reality that socialists explained all along that you will not have radical change without a mass movement to challenge the power structure of capitalism and the unelected dictatorship of Wall Street who own the political system.
The crisis has also revealed the urgent need to organize in our communities, workplaces and schools against the coming attacks on living standards and democratic rights that are planned by the Republicans and Democrats. The mass movements that we saw unfolding in the recent student protest in Britain, the fight back and workers strikes against austerity throughout Europe and the inspiring prison strike throughout Georgia’s prisons are signs that radical change begins placing the blame of oppression and degradation at the door step of capitalism and its parties. Building a movement for an egalitarian democratic socialist society to permanently uproot the seeds of racial and class oppression is paramount.