Thursday, December 4, 2008

Obama’s Plan to Reform the CIA—Who’s In Charge Here Anyway?

Now Mr. Obama must take charge of the C.I.A., in what is already proving to be one of the more treacherous patches of his transition to the White House.

-- “After Sharp Words on CIA, Obama Faces a Delicate Task,” New York Times, Dec 2, 2008

Barack Obama has just been elected president of the United States. Contrary to the popular illusions of liberals and many on the Left, he is not in charge of the system; the system is in charge of him.

He has many options, great room as an organizer to change the system. But I imagine he must wake up and think, “As brilliant as I am, it is pretty amazing I am president of the United States. I have clear plans, great confidence, an iron will, but how the hell do I deal with all these idiots, liars, lobbyists, Blue Dog Democrats, Clintonesque saboteurs, the capitalist class (and yes, I know it exists) the Pentagon, FBI, and CIA. Sheeet, so now I understand what Kennedy went through. The damn CIA and FBI are already investigating and spying on me. Maybe I shouldn’t have jettisoned Reverend Wright after all. The racism is pretty “endemic” and this damn place has more palace intrigue than the Roman empire.”

So let’s be clear. Barack Obama may be able to impact the Department of Commerce and the Department of Education but as he gets closer to the police state, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, and the Department of War (it’s original correct name before it Orwelled itself to the “Department of Defense”), remember that he is an elected civilian dealing with a group of armed thugs. We have to wish him well but we also have to get our own organizing selves in gear, for it is up to him to manage the system and it is up to us to change it.

It may seem contradictory but he is on the one hand one of the most powerful men in the world, in perhaps the most powerful individual position, but on the other, do not think for a minute that he is now “in charge.” If we on the Left, and I mean that in the broadest most popular sense of anyone who sees themselves, inside or outside of the Democratic Party, to the left of Obama—if we don’t understand that the system is far more powerful than him, and that he is both a product of the system and a change agent within it, then we are limiting our own historical role. But within that understanding, we have every reason to demand he stand up to the system and be the change agent he ran as. While it is a materialist analysis of history to understand that Obama is the commander in chief of the empire, it is also true that his job is to push it as far to the left as he promised, and as far to the left as we can demand and enforce as a social movement.

Understanding the functioning of the system does not absolve us from making judgments of him or his actions, nor absolve him from historical responsibility—after all, he ran on a “change” platform. History is moving fast and so is Obama, so while we should not rush to judgment we also have the responsibility to look in the mirror; for those of us like me who enthusiastically endorsed his candidacy we have to look at some important early trends and developments. You don’t want to make “left errors” jumping all over him and second guessing every move before he even takes office. But you don’t want to suspend too much disbelief as he appoints Hillary Clinton Secretary of State and brings Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, two of history’s biggest losers, out of disgrace for fiscal mismanagement and fraud into the bowels of the White House to inflict their pain again.

It’s a fact. I wrote Ten Reasons to Get Out the Vote for Barack Obama. My first reason was that he was a Black man, an intelligent, qualified, liberal Black man attacked by a white lynch mob. My second was that John McCain was a war criminal and Sarah Palin was a fascist. I stand by those arguments. But one of my arguments was that Obama’s victory would limit the power of the Clinton machine. Boy, did I mis-assess that. I had no idea he would simply ask the Clinton’s to bring their entire extended family of war and economic criminals back into the White House with him. So, I’m down to nine good reasons to turn out the vote for Barack Obama. My bad, but you learn as you go along.

In subsequent blogs I want to address some other early trends of concern:
1) Obama’s tendency to reward his enemies and punish his friends. Not a great character trait and already something to be worried about.
2) Obama’s tendency to blow off the Left including left Democrats who gave him his main base of support and volunteers.
3) Obama’s fiscal stimulus package as an anti-environmental pork barrel.

But for the moment, knowing you can barely contain yourself waiting for those other blogs. I want to focus on Obama’s efforts to reform the CIA.

I think we should offer strong support to Obama in his fight with the Right. (And do not forget that the Republicans and Palin are already plotting for a counter-revolution in 2010 just as Newt Gingrich pulled off with his Contract With America against Clinton in 1992, from which Clinton never recovered, choosing to join Gingrich rather than fight him.)

So as we follow the battle with the CIA, we have to remember that Obama ran for and was elected president of the U.S. empire. We have every right, as organizers, to hold him responsible for his actions, but I reject the thinking of some in the liberal and left punditocracy who talk about him is if he has unfettered free will and judge him based on a bizarre sense of voluntarism that reflects more illusions than the average voter. “Why doesn’t he do this, no he should do that?”

Aren’t we the ones who talk about the capitalist system, the white power structure, U.S. imperialism, the U.S. empire, the military-industrial complex, the racist re-enslavement complex, the U.S. as a white settler state? At least I do. So if that is the case, what in the hell do we expect him—the president-elect of U.S. empire—to do? Have a socialist revolution, smash the state, free the slaves, empty the prisons, close down 750 U.S. military bases all over the world, end the war in Iraq and end the occupation of Afghanistan, curb the corporate monsters, put them all in jail for their gross crimes against the people?

Now look. If I was elected president I can promise you I would immediately imprison Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, the Mutt and Jeff, the Jack Spratt and his wife, of corporate malfeasance. They would be serving life in prison for deregulatory fraud and grand theft that has cost millions their jobs, life savings, pensions, and caused untold death and destruction in the Third World. How did these bastards, these discredited losers land on their feet? I do put that at the feet of Obama, there is nothing about “the system” that required those choices. It is his call and already a slap in the face for any economists who argued against the deregulatory assault led by Clinton, again, led by Bill Clinton and taken even further by George Bush.

I’ll go further. If I were president I would appoint Fidel Castro as Secretary of Defense. No one has more brilliantly defended his nation from the assaults of the devil to the North, a tiny island of sanity and socialism that has beat back invasions, assassinations, and the brutal blockade (which we must demand Obama ends immediately). I would appoint Hugo Chavez ambassador to the U.N. so he could pillory U.S. imperialism every day from an international pulpit. (I just talked with President Chavez and he respectfully declined. He explained to me that he is already in a far more powerful position as the head of successful state, elected with mass support, with its own army, his own far greater voice in the world. He reminded me to resist any careerist fantasies, for in fact, we already hold higher positions than president of the Empire—“organizer” as in “left organizer.” I told him, “My bad. I agree, I was just thinking out loud. Bourgeois day dreaming.”)

So Obama wants to end torture and the abuses of the CIA. He really does. He tries to appoint John O. Brennan, an insider at the CIA to bring about some small but important reforms. Now of course there are a few problems with Brennan. As the New York Times reported, “Mr. Brennan withdrew his name from consideration after liberal critics attacked his alleged role in the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Mr. Brennan protested that he had been a “strong opponent” within the agency of harsh interrogation tactics, yet Mr. Obama evidently decided it was not worth a battle with some of his most ardent supporters on the Left.” Good for the liberals for protesting, and good for him for listening. But now what should he do? Apparently the CIA folks are pissed. The rejection of Brennan seems to indicate “that if you worked in the CIA during the war on terror, you are now tainted” and has created anxiety in the ranks of the agency’s clandestine service.

Gee, I wonder why they have anxiety? So now what does Obama do? He has to find someone to reform the CIA who will not be met by an armed revolt by these clandestine terrorists who call themselves counter-terrorists. Imagine the speech of the new reform director of the CIA.

“Don’t worry guys. You just have to work with the new guidelines. You cannot use waterboarding. But relax, you can set up front groups in Venezuela to try to overthrow Chavez, spread disinformation campaigns, foment counter-revolution but boys, be careful on that torture thing. You can tell the prisoners you will rape and kill them or their wives and children but don’t actually do it. On the other hand, if you absolutely and positively need to, remember about ‘plausible deniability’ you did not hear it from me.”

Do we really understand who the CIA is, and what is its job? The CIA is a bunch of murderers and assassins who are spying on you and me and spying on each other, assassinating foreign leaders and assassinating each other. Hey, even if you don’t read history, don’t you go to the movies? Didn’t you see “The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “The Good Shepherd,” “Syriana,” or “Bourne Identity?” These folks are seriously murderous.

So here is Obama really trying to rally the CIA troops around his reform message. “Listen guys, I want to reform you. I also want you to protect me, and by the way, please don’t assassinate me by coming up with some crazy story about, ‘You see, there was a lone gunman, and he was a friend of Fidel Castro or maybe against Fidel Castro, but anyway, we let him walk down the street and geez, a guy shot him dead so we could never figure out if he acted alone, but believe me, it was a lone gunman, you gotta believe that story, a crazy guy, a fluke.’ And by the way, I am protected by the Secret Service so please do not infiltrate them. And tell your friends—oh I forgot—tell your enemies at FBI to stay out of this one out as well. Do not mess with me because I am president of the United States, I know I am because I had this great interview with Steve Croft on Sixty Minutes. Did you know he even shined my shoes during the commercial breaks? That is the level of loyalty I want.”

Then Obama meets with his top advisors. He asks David Axlerod, “What the hell should I do? I try to appoint “a CIA centrist,” that is, a guy who led the torture but secretly opposed it all the time. Now those damn liberals in Congress tell me he is tainted by his association with what? Of all things, the CIA. So what do I do now? Who isn’t tainted by the CIA? I thought about appointing George Bush Sr. but then I remember he was the head of the CIA. Only a CIA agent or an army general would understand the world of armed struggle and how to have an armed discussion with these guys. David, how do I reform the agency we ask to spy, ask to infiltrate, ask to destabilize and overthrow governments? And if I appoint a master of dirty tricks, who the CIA guys will respect, how do I know he won’t pull dirty tricks on me?”

Obama reads a lot of books. He should read State and Revolution by this guy V.I. Lenin. Lenin said that once you take power you have to smash the state or it will smash you. You have to set up your own intelligence agency to spy on the spies. As Mao explained, threatening to the liberal mind, “a revolution is not a tea party.”

Is Obama going to change the system? I think he will try. He will bring back civil rights as a serious concept, appoint far better judges than the Bush hangmen, defend women’s right to choose, regulate runaway capitalism at least enough to try to save it, throw lots of money at a dying economy, using public funds to bail out the privatizers. He is a liberal, regardless of how he chooses to self-describe. But remember, the New Left was built out of the liberals half-heartedness on civil rights and murderous war in Vietnam—the Democrats’ war. We have to understand Obama’s agenda. In my view he sees that his job is to liberalize, regulate, humanize, and rationalize a dysfunctional empire—he is a reform for the ruling class, not for us. His election offers great opportunities. His contradictions with some of those in power will create openings and his reforms real improvements in people’s lives.

A bit of free advice to President Obama, who I know wakes up every morning to see if I have a new blog post and hangs on my every word. If you proceed with militaristic adventures to prove your anti-terror, anti-Russian, anti-Chinese, anti-Cuban and anti-Venezuelan credentials, you risk more shame and defeat for the empire, and a continued crisis of overextension. You will contribute to the growth of a world Left that is already on the ascendancy and a militant Islam that would have every right to see the U.S. as the main danger. If I was you, and of course I am not, I would consider a real revolution, ending the fundamental drive of U.S. imperialism to take over the world. What? You don’t agree? I understand. But I would proceed with great caution. Remember, I was there when John Kennedy squandered his legacy by selling out the civil rights workers in the South and invading Cuba, how Johnson ended in military and political disgrace by his war crimes in Vietnam. I was a part of Obama’s Army and attended Camp Obama. I turned out the vote for you, phone banked, and my wife Lian and I gave early and often to your campaign. We got great emails from you, Michelle, David Plouffe (a truly gifted organizer) which we returned with money, and even got emails from Joe Biden (whose emails I never returned and almost made me ask for a refund).

You have a unique moment in which you were elected by the Black community, elected by Latinos, and yes, elected by liberals and the Left. If you disrespect that base you may bet away with it for a while. Unfortunately, we are not strong enough to make you pay very much right now. But as someone who made history, remember that those of in the civil rights and anti-war movement made history too. History sometimes moves slowly but sometimes moves rapidly. If there is a period of disillusion with your campaign and a sense of broken promises, then that will help build the grassroots movements and it will, I am sure, bring many of Obama’s Army into a new civil rights and anti-war movement, an anti-racist, anti-imperialist united front. At least that is my hope and what I organize for.

So, I root for Obama, root for him to “reform” the CIA and the army. But I also understand the profound challenges he faces. Let me tell you something I learned about Black elected officials who want to in any way reform the police, the military, and the CIA.

I’m in Newark, New Jersey in 1974 doing an article for the New University Press about what the hell happened in Newark with the betrayal of the election hopes of Kenneth Gibson, the first Black mayor of Newark. It turns out that Puerto Rican militants marched on city hall demanding jobs and an end to police brutality and the Gibson administration put the cops out on them and beat them up. Great, so much for my support for Gibson when he was elected mayor in 1970. But I did not go back to Newark to get my vote back. I came to change the system as a radical journalist at the time.

Earlier, I had organized in Newark in 1965-1967 with the Newark Community Union Project (NCUP), going door-to-door to build an “interracial movement of the poor.” I worked with Black residents of the South and Central wards on rent strikes, police brutality marches. NCUP was a great organization led by “community people” meaning the Black residents of the community and “the students” that is, the Black and white students who came to Newark as others came to the South with CORE and SNCC. It was an exciting time. Eventually Black people decided that the best reform tactic was to burn the city down, and the system responded by killing 32 unarmed residents. So out of that “fire next time” a mass united front was created to elect Kenny Gibson. I never liked Gibson, he was from Prudential Insurance and didn’t even pretend to be a liberal, let alone a leftist (and at that time in history it was not absurd to dream a Black candidate could be on the Left) but I strongly supported his election and the broad united front that brought him to office.

So, eight years later I am back in Newark to see my old friends and doors opened. I interviewed 30 Black leaders, residents and city council people to figure out what the hell happened. How could a reform mayor end up turning on the poor? By this time I was not shocked, at all, I just wanted to know the specific story of how this sell-out happened, by now I had come to understand the painful reality of many Black mayors and power structure’s capacity to coopt and subvert the most modest liberal agendas (and as such, appreciated the greatness of Richard Hatcher in Gary and Harold Washington in Chicago even more).

So I’m interviewing a city hall insider about Ken Gibson. “Why doesn’t he control the police? Why isn’t he bringing about reforms?” And the brother tells me, “Listen. When Kenny got into office he goes into the office of Dominic Spina, the Mafioso chief of police, the Black-hating, gun-toting, racist mf who we all wanted out of there. So before Kenny can open his mouth Spina takes out his gun and says, ‘Look, congratulations on getting elected. So let me tell you how it’s gonna be. I am the general of an army. I am armed, my folks are armed. Do you have an army? Who will protect you? I tell you what, I will. I’ll make sure somebody doesn’t shoot you. In return, stay the fuck out of the Police Department business. As long as you know you work for me everything will be fine.”

So, I imagine that is what Obama’s conversations are like with the CIA and I know he is a tougher guy then Ken Gibson. But the structural challenge remains. I hope the best for Obama, I really do, I think he is an amazing version of himself and I strive to be as good at my strategy as he is at his. I strive to be as good an organizer as he is, as he out-organized McCain and Hillary and now my job is to both ally with and at times, try to out organize him.

In his effort to reform the CIA and outlaw torture, Obama is already being sabotaged by his fellow Democrats. (So what else is new?) Before Obama can even find an acceptable head of Murder Incorporated, his great buddy Senator Diane Feinstein from California undercuts him big time. She tells the press, “I think you have to use the non-coercive standard to the greatest extent possible,” raising the possibility that an imminent terrorist threat might require special measures. So Obama is thinking, “With friends like Feinstein, who needs enemies?” And based on this clarification of the policy, imagine the new head of the CIA explaining the guidelines, “Now remember, the president has issued a strict prohibition on any torture…except in rare cases where imminent national security is involved. You guys use your judgment. Hey, stop the damn laughing, this is as serious as a heart attack.” His grunts reply, “OK boss, so why are you cracking up, you can’t even lay down the law with a straight face.”

In this context, I support Obama’s efforts to reform the CIA. I am deeply moved by his resolute statement: “There will be no torture. I will close down Guantanamo prison.” I don’t know what he should do with the CIA, except abolish it, but in the world of the present, his proposals on torture and Guantanamo are small but important reforms.

I know it sounds Orwellian to support “the reform of torture” but I do. I know that some who propose this just want to stabilize the empire or feel that torture is “counterproductive.” But maybe, just maybe, it will prevent some real people, some real prisoners of war, some real Iraqis, Afghanis, some real Blacks and Latinos from not being tortured, or not being tortured as much. And in a world I can’t control I don’t dismiss this reform and hope it can be carried out.

I am an organizer. I try to understand what I think from practice, that is how my mind works. I was in prison for a year and a half. I did 30 days in solitary. I was in prison because of my participation in militant demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. So, I can tell you, a year in a half in prison is worse than 12 months. Getting out on parole would have been a very good reform for me but my parole board did not think so, and denied me twice. They did not like my anti-war actions and wanted to teach me a lesson. So, I’m talking to my fellow prisoners, who call guys like me, “short-timers.” They told me, that they were sorry I had to do a year and a half but it sure beats 25 years to life. We understood the small but significant gradations of reform. Being in the general population able to play basketball and lift weights and have your own cell is a lot better than being in a dorm with 20 prisoners half of whom are great and some of whom are crazy. It is a lot better than 23 hour lock ups in tiny cells, with the lights on, food like shit, and screws who wake up in the morning to drive you insane if they can succeed. Some guards, screws, are a lot better than others. Some are actually decent, many are cruel, and some are downright sadistic psychos. So pardon me if I still believe in reforms, for those who don’t I suggest you remember that the next time they are torturing you, I want you to repeat, “Shit, I don’t care, you’re all imperialists anyway, why would I want the CIA to eliminate torture.”

As an organizer you learn from the people. If you care about those who live in slum housing, you work for rent control, or just to force the damn landlord to provide some heat. It is not enough, it is a building block of a revolution, and yet it can be a critical part of a revolution. You have to talk to folks about how their experience is part of their race and class experience, how slum landlords are part of a broader capitalist system, how the landless in Brazil and those fighting for water rights in indigenous communities are their allies, and yes, how the Democrats are not. But you can’t argue, “Look, this candidate wants to institute rent control and this one wants to evict you but it doesn’t matter ‘cause they’re both imperialist pigs.” Well, you can argue that, but I can assure you you’ll be a pretty lonely. By my definition, “an organizer never walks alone.” If you can’t relate to the people’s needs you will never be a successful organizer.

So, I understand the limits of Obama, and try to build a movement to his Left. I can understand Obama’s dilemmas but I can’t understand or tolerate his liberal pundits and apologists who try to explain reality to us, as if they themselves have no role in changing it. “The mayor, the senator, the president, is under a lot of pressure from the Right, so let me explain why we can’t do what you want.” Soon you come to see that former leftists in the Department of Apologia come to see you and the movement as the main danger. They keep talking about pressure from the Right as inevitable and legitimate, but they hate pressure from the Left and often are in bed with the Right more than they are its captives. Former leftists in power can often be your worst adversaries. I prefer those who have no illusions or pretensions that they are on your side. In that sense, I often get along far better with corporate capitalists than Democrats. The capitalists at General Motors, Trailways, Texaco and many others I have boycotted and negotiated with are less pretentious and more right to the point. They want to make a profit, and you have a movement. They just want to know, “What can you do to hurt me and what do you want?” Sometimes you even can find some level of communication with them. As with the mafia, they explain, “I may be discriminating or polluting the environment or trying to close down your plant and lay you off, but it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.”

I believe in the role of people and the role of systems. I hold Barack Obama responsible for his actions and the system responsible for setting the parameters of his actions and the movement, if and when it reconstructs itself, as responsible for changing the system, putting pressure on the system, getting people in power to do what they don’t want to do because we are holding some cards.

So, I wish Barack Obama well. As my grandmother Sarah would say, “You wouldn’t want his problems, you have enough of your own.” He is trying to reform the system; I am trying to reform it myself in more radical ways. I do not have the hubris to say I want to overthrow it, but I would if I could. But right now I don’t know how that is possible, and I am more than happy to believe we in the U.S. can bring revolutionary ideas and radical movements into the scope of history and fight to stop the excesses of the empire as forces far more powerful than us in the Third World take on the heavier lifting of a more frontal battle. Our job is to push the empire as far as we can from the inside; the Third World does it from the outside. (This is my inside/outside strategy.)

Obama is trying to fight for civil rights, for environmental progress, for civil liberties. He is trying to reform a system that he understands too well is evil (thus, Michelle Obama’s wonderful slip of the tongue, “For the first time I am proud of this country.”) Now in fact I was proud of Nat Turner and Sitting Bull, proud of the slave revolts and the abolitionists proud of the Communist Party the New Left, proud of SNCC, and CORE and the Panthers, and yes, proud of George McGovern, one of the true decent liberals. And I put Obama in that camp, at least I can hope. But I do not want his job nor was I elected to carry it out.

He is the first Black president of the United States. He is a proud Black man who did not have to tell the white folks he was Black, they understood too well, as did 98% of the Black community that voted for him. He has his work cut out for him, and we have our work cut out for us. Obama is an ally and an opponent. (It is contradictory but that is why Mao wrote On Contradiction.) It is a pleasure to work to support him against the Right and put big time pressure on him from the Left. Welcome to the system, brother. I wish you all the luck in the world because my people need you to succeed, as we need to succeed on our own terms.

Eric Mann is a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality, Students for a Democratic Society, and the United Auto Workers. He is working on his next book, The Twenty Five Qualities of the Successful Organizer: A Journey in Transformative Organizing. He is a co-host of Voices from the Frontlines, KPFK Pacifica, Los Angeles, 90.7 FM, Mondays at 4-5 PM PST, and streaming live on the web at Read more On "Obama’s Plan to Reform the CIA—Who’s In Charge Here Anyway?"!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama vs. McKinney: The Black Commentator, Bob Lederer, Ronald B. McGuire

Debate, Criticisms from McKinney Supporters about Ten Reasons Why We Should Turn Out the Vote for Obama

McKinney supporters have been reading and responding to my article.

Debating Obama vs McKinney

The Black Commentator
has released a special election edition of Ten Reasons along with many good pieces analyzing election issues and choices. One exchange of comments about my article at Black Commentator Readers Corner Blog reflects the debate between McKinney supporters:

Another Cynthia said…
I DO respect the people who will vote for Mr. Obama for the reasons outlined in [Eric Mann’s] thoughtful and well-written article, but after much soul-searching and consideration of all the "variables", I simply cannot go into that voting booth on Tuesday and say that what I want is more of what the democrats are offering.

I will be voting for Cynthia McKinney. My conscience just will not let me do otherwise, because peace through economic justice is my goal.

USAmerica's uber-glorification of militarism and competition in the name of unlimited personal fortunes for a fraction few, is laying waste to our children's future and indeed to the future of this planet and every species on it, and I cannot vote for a candidate who doesn't see that and say that.

Anonymous said…
For another Cynthia - "I cannot vote for a candidate who doesn't see that and say that."

Perhaps part of the reason we hope for Mr. Obama is that he has given some reason to believe that he sees the problems and understands that he cannot be elected in this country if he articulates the problems and his solutions.

I love Ms. McKinney (actually donated once), but I know my vote to her might as well not be cast for all the change that will come from it.

As I said earlier, maybe taking down the theocratic GOP and some of the Democratic Party will deflate the process and allow room for other parties. But Green won't grow without plenty of care and attention, and it's not going to get that under the 2-party system.

Vote for McKinney Only Where Obama Is Safe

Many McKinney supporters also seem to be weighing this option. In a statement that people are forwarding and posting, Bob Lederer weighs my Ten Reasons alongside Ronald B. McGuire’s piece “McKinney or Obama? Don't Waste Your Vote!”:

I should preface this by saying I have never had any faith in national (as opposed to local) electoral politics as being a significant arena for radical struggle -- if anything it has often been a distraction at best and co-optation at worst. That said, I am attaching two messages concerning the election, both of which make a lot of valid points that are food for thought as we approach Election Day. As to the second message, by Eric Mann, I certainly respect the views of him and others who see the priority of pushing for Obama to get the highest possible vote and the value of inspiring many progressive young people, especially Black people, to become voters and have raised expectations for social change. But ultimately I am persuaded (as argued in the first message below by Ron McGuire) to cast my vote for Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente -- they have the most radical politics of anyone running today....

The only reason I feel comfortable NOT giving Obama another vote to defeat McCain -- who I think is far more dangerous for all the reasons Eric Mann lays out below -- is because I live in a state (New York) where it is overwhelmingly clear that Obama will win anyway.

McGuire's piece makes similar points to Amee Chew's article, Support Obama, Vote McKinney? Not a contradiction at the Black Agenda Report.

Read more On "Obama vs. McKinney: The Black Commentator, Bob Lederer, Ronald B. McGuire"!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Part One: Responding to Criticisms of Ten Reasons We Should Work To Elect Obama (from Kasama and others)

First let me thank everyone who has been reading, discussing, forwarding, blogging and emailing me about Ten Reasons We Should Turn Out the Vote for Barack Obama. You have been very generous to me and my article. Let’s keep the dialogue and debate going.

There has been a very engaged discussion on my article at Mike Ely's blog Kasama (already 54 comments’ worth), a debate on both sides of my position that captures many of the views and criticisms of others.

I have posted a long response to that discussion over there--"Aren't We In An Anti-Racist United Front?"--but I also had a couple of key points that I wanted to make here:

Trying to make our disagreements clearer, let's think about the U.S. Civil War from an anti-racist, anti-capitalist point of view. By the logic of some Kasama comments (see excerpts below) as well as many similar critiques I have received through other venues, the Left should have sat out the Civil War on the grounds that the North was racist capitalist. Lincoln was a half-hearted opponent of slavery, in fact he said his only goal was to restore “the Union” and the war was not an anti-slavery war. On the other hand, there were the fascist racists of the South, the slave owners--remember the North did not allow slavery. Now, if you can’t understand the difference between “wage slavery” where a Black man still faced racism, brutality, in the North but was not legally property and had the “right” to walk away from an oppressive job even it meant walking into unemployment--versus the real slavery where Black people were property and were raped, castrated, and whipped at the whim of their owners, then I don’t know if we have a moral baseline from which to have this debate. The fight between northern capital and southern feudalism tied to England was not a war the Blacks led, but a war among the whites that allowed 4 million slaves to be freed, and at least 100,000 of them to be armed by the union army. Were the Black slaves in an alliance with the North and northern capitalism? Hell, yes, they were.

So, perhaps one of our differences is how much we are rooted in a race theory of US politics: the view, that I hold, that the national question inside the US and outside is the primary contradiction in the world—-between US imperialism on one side, and the oppressed races, peoples, and nations in the world on the other. As such, I see the fight between Obama and McCain, not (just) because Obama is Black and McCain is white, but because Obama is a Black civil rights moderate and McCain is a virulent fascist racist and I see that as more than enough of a reason for the Left to be clear as to “which side are you on."

By the way, if you follow this logic from some of my critics, Karl Marx must have been a liberal sell-out who had a lot of illusions about capitalism. Marx put all his efforts to supporting the victory of northern capital over the feudal racist South. He said that “white labor can never be free if Black labor is in chains.” He organized the International Workingmen’s Association to actively oppose Britain’s entry into the civil war on the side of the South and asked workers of the world to support the Union cause and called for an international united front between the fledgling communist movement and northern capital and the freeing of the slaves. His "blog" must have caught hell from some of the “ultralefts” of his day.

On the other hand, my article, Ten Reasons We Should Turn Out the Vote for Barack Obama, goes into great detail about the real differences with, and dangers of an Obama presidency. If you have listened to Joe Biden he is an aggressive imperialist. He talked about a more “muscular presidency” like Kennedy, which means that Obama may take pre-emptive action against Afghanistan, may provoke a showdown, will definitely send more troops to destroy Afghanistan. As I said in my article, he plans an occupation strategy for Iraq. As such, it is not a question of should the left challenge Obama when he is elected. Of course we will and we will have to do so early and often. But I think the anti-war movement will be strengthened by an Obama victory, for his vague promise of “getting out of Iraq” will be tested, his talk about “tough diplomacy” versus unilateral military engagement will be tested. For after “tough diplomacy” what if Iran and others refuse to abide by US threats--will military action follow? I am well aware that we live in US imperialism, my difference is that I can find real victories and defeats within its political machinations, not as a bystander, but as someone with a base, a movement, that has to figure out our unity and struggle with many forces in society.

If it seems contradictory that I both welcome and fear, both welcome and also know we will have to struggle with an Obama presidency, welcome Obama’s positive contributions but also know very well his many conservative and reactionary policies--then, that is contradictory for sure. A guy I would recommend, Mao Tse-tung wrote about this point of view. He called it “On Contradiction.”

I welcome continued discussion. In future blog posts, I plan to make responses to different types and angles of critique and feedback that I have been getting.

Finally, here are excerpts from the comments posted at Mike Ely's blog Kasama that struck me and guided my response...

· Jose M Says:
October 24, 2008 at 12:57 pm
I appreciate this post so very much.
It is eye opening to me to see that the position I occasionally held (due to my ignorance) was a typical abstentionist one.
Now I see that this election has much higher stakes and deeper meaning than people like the RCP like to give it.
This isnt to mean that I will vote for Obama. I will not. But as Zerohour and I discussed, it is something that has made me interrogate why as communists we are opposed to Obama. And it is a question I have no clear answer for.
So I would like there to be a lot of debate over this, and I want to hear more from people like TNL and then Jed and Mike.
If there is one thing that I think this article is correct on, it is that there is the POSSIBILITY of the creation of more space for radical organizing if Obama gets elected. And I think that things will become much harder if McCain gets elected .
And my position is not as simple as “voting for the lesser evil.” Like I said, I wont vote, and I dont support Obama,even if he is less evil than McCain. They are both imperialist politicians who will continue this system’s horrors here and around the world. On that we should not be deluded. But I do think, as others have noted, that it is a statement against white supremacy in which communists can build on using our own independent program, allied with obama supporters.


LS Says:
October 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm
I highly respect Eric Mann and the amazing organizing work he has done over decades. Particularly given who it’s coming from, this is a significant and powerful piece. I appreciate your printing it here, despite key Kasama folks having previously expressed sharp disagreement with such a perspective.
I am in overall agreement with the sentiment of this piece - that we need to vote for Obama to strike as strong a blow as possible against white supremacy (among other reasons, but that is central at this point).
But I don’t agree with all of Mann’s formulations.
My main criticism politically is that he characterizes the left’s relationship with Obama as a ‘united front.’ I don’t think that’s right. Maybe Mann doesn’t mean to use the term ‘united front’ in a precise Marxist sense, but more in a ‘popular usage’ kind of way. But I’ll assume he meant it in a more precise way.

But I think it’s fundamentally wrong (in Marxist terms) to think we can form a united front with the political head of U.S. imperialism. We don’t live in an oppressed nation where we can ally with significant sections of the bourgeoisie to advance the socialist revolution. While there will be some bourgeois forces in the oppressed nationality movements that can be won to the broad united front for revolution in the U.S., we should be clear that that’s not what a President Obama would represent. He does not come out of the Black freedom movement and does not represent that movement, even as a bourgeois force within that movement.
Mann refers to “a united front alliance with Obama and with his millions of supporters…” It is precisely the millions of his supporters that are essential to win to the united front against imperialism to make socialist revolution in the U.S. But we shouldn’t have illusions that Obama will assist the left in bringing his base into the united front against imperialism. On the contrary, he is trying to do the opposite - bring his base more solidly under the leadership of the imperialists (not an easy job given the depth of the systemic crises going on).


nando Says:
October 24, 2008 at 1:11 pm

The best way to create “space” for radical organizing is to take up energetic work as revolutionaries and (as Mao says) “create favorable conditions through struggle.”
We have often discussed Mao’s concept of “hasten and await.” There are objective changes that we must “await” — that turn the objective conditions more favorable to reaching millions. But we can also hasten those openings by building and consolidating revolutionary forces, identifying the ways of conducting revolutionary work under non-revolutinary conditions, and struggling to win people away from the illusions and destructions of tailing the liberals.


Name (required) Says:
October 24, 2008 at 4:06 pm
The biggest problem with this piece is that it is arguing for an all consuming push to elect a man who is essentially already elected. At what point, after having assured that the evil John McCain won’t gain the presidency, does your activity and the effect of a massive win for Obama ACTUALLY LEGITIMIZE THE VERY IMPERIALIST POLITICS YOU CLAIM TO OPPOSE!!!


RW Harvey Says:
October 25, 2008 at 11:38 am
Regarding electing Obama, I first turn to a psychological process called “displacement”: “the unconscious transfer of instinct energy from its original object to a new object. [This displacement] brings about a transfer to that new object of emotional interests and attitudes that were once appropriate to the old object.”


Lastly, Mann’s essay is particularly dangerous in that it takes the lesser of two evils and flips it to make Obama v. McCain appear as if it is the choice between Good and Evil, thereby adding the ever-appealing energies of righteousness and zealotry to voting for Obama. If we forget who is behind Obama and who Obama serves we are in for the greatest sucker-punch that bourgeois democracy has delivered since FDR.


leslie1917 Says:
October 26, 2008 at 1:38 pm

I live in a so-called battleground state, and I’m going to vote for Obama…. But I’m not campaigning, driving people to the polls,handing out literature, etc. for Obama because I think I and other revolutionary minded people have more important things to do, especially since so many things cry out to be done, and we have so little time to do them. Among these more important things are:
(a) exposing Obama’s approach to international issues (e.g., Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, the lopsided distribution of the world’s resources) as exemplifying US imperialism at its most vicious and (as opposed to Bush, McCain, Palin) perhaps smartest
(b) exposing Obama’s approach to the economic crisis as one whose overwhelming concern is with the well-being of finance capital
(c) exposing why electoral politics in the U.S. (including the Obama campaign) are primarily a way of limiting, diverting, sabotaging, and befuddling the struggle for large-scale change in the U.S., to say nothing of revolutionary struggle
(d) trying to help build generally revolutionary struggles and organization, and spending time campaigning for Obama sure as hell won’t do that.


TellNoLies Says:
October 26, 2008 at 3:57 pm

This is, to take a touchy moment from the RCP’s history, something of a Boston busing moment, where a determination to distance oneself from anything having to do with the existing capitalist state blinded some sincere revolutionaries to the “which side are you on” nature of a fight against racism and called into question their leadership in the eyes of the majority of revolutionary minded people from there on out.


Linda D. Says:
October 26, 2008 at 11:34 pm

It is not so much that people here are so completely enamored with Obama, although many can identify with him, but their hatred for U.S. imperialism is steadfast. However, the Obama phenomena has not been lost on a wide array of mexicanos. A day doesn’t go by without someone asking me if I think a Black man could ever be elected prez. in racist Amerikkka, and what would that mean for Latinos, the treatment of immigrants, etc.


red road Says:
October 27, 2008 at 6:56 pm
Have serious/revolutionary Marxists, Leninists, Maoists, or any other trend in any imperialist country ever had a full consideration of bourgeois elections, their effect on the proletarian class struggle and the struggles of other revolutionary classes, and how serious revolutionary political education, training and struggles should be conducted in the course of bourgeois election campaigns?


TellNoLies Says:
October 29, 2008 at 3:37 pm
Jose M asks some questions:
“What will the vote of all the radicals and communists for obama accomplish?”
A little more, since they are a bunch of drops in the bucket. But the same principle applies.
“As I said earlier, we have no traction to make any sort of difference, even if what you were saying about Gramsci’s theories applying to us were true (which im not saying they arent).”
This is of course true of ANY path we choose. What difference will our attendance at an event about Nepal make? Or a demonstration against police brutality? At our present level of unity and organization everything we do is mainly modelling to ourselves and the small number of people around us paying attention what we think should be done on a larger scale.


Carl Davidson Says:
October 29, 2008 at 5:02 pm
It’s still worth discussing this here. But now the framework is different. It’s way past time for winning any of you or your supporters to this struggle, or even just to vote.
You’re either here or you’re not.
But it might be a good time to compare and contrast: What have those who stayed out of this battle built and gained in this period, as opposed to those who took a different approach?
Read more On "Part One: Responding to Criticisms of Ten Reasons We Should Work To Elect Obama (from Kasama and others)"!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ten Reasons We Should Turn Out the Vote for Barack Obama

This article was written to encourage strategic and tactical discussions about the election. The author strongly encourages comments to be posted here at Click here to leap to the comments form

For those of us who are in the Civil Rights, Immigrant Rights, Women’s Liberation, Environmental Justice, and Anti-War Movements, for those of us on the Left, the election of Barack Obama is of the utmost urgency. Voting for Barack Obama is not enough. In the next two weeks we need to put all our energy into getting out the vote to elect Obama and defeat McCain.

Because of his brilliant organizing, the possibility of an Obama victory is palpable. Because of the racism of this country and the strong reactionary elements of the general population, the threat of a McCain victory is only too real.

The stakes leave no room for passive support. The Republicans coalescing against Obama are carrying out a calculated strategy to preserve and extend the victories of Reagan and Bush. If it can be imagined, they intend to take the country even further to the right. They want to destroy what is left of democratic liberalism, destroy the Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements, destroy the Immigrant Rights, Women’s Liberation, LGBT, Anti-War movements, to destroy the Left.

To his credit, unlike Al Gore and John Kerry, Barack Obama is fighting back against the Right. Whether or not he cedes too much to them, which I believe he does, his election is a direct challenge to the neo-cons, the racists, and bellicose fascists who have controlled the White House, the media, and the political discourse in this country for decades. For all of us who consider ourselves “on the Left” and “organizers,” for those of us who have a base, for those of us who are working in low-income Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander communities and doing anti-racist work in white working-class communities—this is a turning point in history. We understand the stakes of a racist McCain victory only too well, and we are the ones who can be pivotal in turning the tide for Obama. It is time for the antiracist Left to show the muscle of our community organizing and put that energy into the Obama campaign for the next two weeks.

For some of us, we are already there. For others, you are needed. Obama needs and deserves our full support. As a strategist and tactician, you weigh all the arguments, all the options, but when the time comes, you must go into battle with great energy and enthusiasm. You must fight to win. Now is such a time.

We have to work for Obama’s election and fight to win. Right now the Obama campaign is calling for the most intense involvement by those of us who support his candidacy. Our job is very straightforward. The Obama campaign urgently needs us to contribute money, to phone bank, to protect the vote at ballot boxes where the Republicans will try to steal the election (that is, every ballot box), and to hit the ground in aggressive door-to-door organizing in swing states. For those of us who do not live in a swing state that means traveling to Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Colorado and other states where the margins are still too close to call.

I am an organizer, that is what I do. In this election, reflecting my own views on the subject, I am committed to working on two major campaigns.

The Strategy Center ’s No on the Six Campaign.This is a state-wide campaign in California that opposes six reactionary ballot initiatives. We are doing citywide lawn signs, on-the-bus organizing, phone banking, and precinct walking to defeat The Six. Two initiatives, Propositions 6 and 9, would further criminalize Black and Latino youth. Two bond and sales tax proposals, Proposition 1A and Measure R in Los Angeles County , would pass regressive taxes and bonds for pork-barrel, environmentally dangerous rail and highway projects that would further attack the funding for a clean fuel bus system, the centerpiece of our environmental plan. Two propositions attack LGBT people and women. Prop 8 tries to overturn gay marriage, and Prop 4 threatens women’s reproductive rights through the onerous requirement of parental notification for minors. I work for this campaign through the Strategy Center in a broad coalition with many other progressive, grassroots groups. See

The Obama Campaign. I am working to elect Barack Obama president of the United States . I have attended a two-day training at Camp Obama along with 350 people in Long Beach , along with thousands throughout the state and tens of thousands throughout the country at similar trainings. Many people are going from California to Nevada , a neighboring swing state with five electoral votes, to turn out the vote for Obama. I am working with the phone bank team to make phone calls to Nevada to elect Obama. I will be spending the last long weekend of this month through Tuesday, November 4 splitting my time between the No on the Six and the Obama phone bank teams.

Here Are Ten Reasons to Turn Out the Vote for Barack Obama...

1) Because Barack Obama is Black and qualified, Black and liberal, Black and can be elected the first Black president in the United States.

Obama is a Black man running for president in a white settler state. Regardless of how much or little he chooses to campaign on race or against racism—and in my view it is far more than some of his critics think—Obama is Black. Everyone knows he is Black and the Republicans are making it a referendum against Blacks and for white supremacy.

The election of a Black president in a country built on conquest and slavery is almost unimaginable. And it cannot be imagined without the foundational work of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr., Huey P. Newton, Malcolm X, and Rev. Jeremiah Wright; and it cannot be actualized after the election without the intervention of the Black radical and revolutionary perspective. Obama is running as a Black man at a time when one million Black people are in prison. He is Black at a time when the Black community is on the defensive and under siege, Black when many of its most gifted and dedicated organizers are tired, not discouraged, but exhausted from the assaults of the reactionary decades from Reagan to Clinton to Bush. Obama is Black as opposed to white, as in white supremacy, white racism, white chauvinism, white xenophobia, white fascism, white racist mobs, white McCain and white Palin.

Barack Obama is a Black Harvard graduate, a president of the Harvard Law Review, married to Michelle Obama, a Princeton graduate. They gave up jobs in corporate America to do work among the urban poor and working class. He is charismatic, a great debater, and a man of intellect. He is so much better qualified than John McCain that it is a testament to the racism of the U.S. that McCain is still in a close race. This is a white man who is clearly unhinged even in a prepared debate and has nothing to run on but the “Abuse of the Day” against Obama and his family.

Barack Obama is a gifted organizer who deserves the support of every dedicated organizer in the country. As a Black man in a white country, he out organized Hillary and Bill Clinton and their ostensibly unbeatable machine, a blow from which they may never recover. He is out organizing the Democratic Leadership Council, the anti-liberal caucus of Bill Clinton and Joe Lieberman that has dominated the Democratic Party since the defeat of Mondale and Dukakis. Obama has a very good chance of out organizing the entire white, Christian, conservative, aka fascist clique that has run this country since Reagan rose, Gingrich organized, Clinton capitulated, and Bush/Cheney took the dictatorship to its highest levels.

Electing a highly qualified, brilliant Black man against a Neanderthal white man is a major step forward in history and a high stakes fight that we need to be part of. It will be a major setback to the forces of white racism in the country and a real encouragement of the broad anti-racist coalition that is at the core of the Obama campaign. Let’s turn out the vote for Obama. Now.

2) Because a Black man is being attacked by a white lynch mob and we have to throw our bodies in front of them and beat them back.

The McCain/Palin campaign rallies are becoming Klan rallies. Shouts of “traitor,” “terrorist,” “treason,” “liar,” “Hussein” “kill him” and “off with his head” have rung from the rabid racists at McCain and Palin rallies. Palin whips them up and McCain sometimes doesn’t challenge them and sometimes goes through the motions, all the while praising them to the sky as “loyal Americans.” These are the very kind of people who have populated lynch mobs in the past. They are capable of carrying out their threats. What part of “off with his head” do we not understand?

If many in the Democratic Party in fact conciliate with this racism by refusing to call it by name, preferring to use the vague term “extremism,” Obama does not. At the last national debate he told McCain that some of his supporters have crossed a line by calling him a terrorist and proposing to kill him. McCain responded by saying how great and patriotic his supporters are. Do we really have to invoke King and Malcolm, Medgar Evers and Emmett Till, the Birmingham children and Bobby Hutton to understand that the assassination and lynching of Black people is deep in the DNA of white and U.S. culture and is a clear and present danger today?

John Lewis, the civil rights veteran from SNCC and now a U.S. congressperson from Atlanta saw it clearly,

“What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Senator McCain and Governor Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse. George Wallace [the racist governor of Alabama ] never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham , Alabama .”

We cannot stand by while a rabid white mob attacks a Black man screaming “Hussein, Hussein,” “the one over there,” “the F-ing Harvard Graduate,” “the uppity one,” “terrorist” and—we must take this very seriously—“kill him” and “off with his head.” The McCain forces are the forces of evil and must be defeated.

McCain and Palin should be under arrest for encouraging, inciting, aiding, and abetting, racist hate crimes. Let’s turn out the Vote for Barack Obama, Now.

3) Because there are differences of life and death significance to our communities between Barack Obama and John McCain.

Obama is advocating many positions that are conservative, and some, like his proposals to expand the war in Afghanistan and violate the sovereignty of Pakistan , that are reactionary. But there is still a profound Left/Right battle going, albeit within the confines of U.S. electoral politics and the two-party system in 2008. While he does not have a comprehensive progressive program, there are some key issues on which the difference between Obama and McCain are Black and white.

Let’s look at some of the real choices Obama is making.

  • Economic Crisis, Housing Crisis. Obama has supported the $750 billion bail out for U.S. financial markets. This is a major setback for working people. He is now arguing, however, that now it is time to bail out not “Wall Street” but “ Main Street .” He is calling for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures by any bank or company that receives any U.S. government aid. Is that enough? Of course not, but he is the only candidate even talking about helping people losing their homes in the foreclosure tsunami. If such a moratorium is imposed, it can lead to far more stringent demands to extend and expand that moratorium. By contrast, McCain is talking about letting the free market run its course.

  • Woman’s Right to Choose. Obama vigorously defends a woman’s right to choose. When asked in the last debate if they would make Roe v. Wade a “litmus test” in the selection of Supreme Court justices, both Obama and McCain, after considerable dancing, said yes. McCain said that he could not imagine a qualified candidate who would not want to overturn Roe v. Wade and Obama said he could not imagine a qualified candidate who would not defend a woman’s right to privacy—making abortion a right.

  • Unions, Third World . McCain said free trade was great and accused Obama of holding up trade with Colombia . Colombia is governed by one of the worst military dictatorships in world, propped up by the CIA, the U.S. military, and cocaine traffickers. At this time, I do not assume Obama wants to dismantle Plan Colombia. If he does not, that will be a major post-election confrontation with him we will have to have. But Obama did say that he could not support trade with Colombia while its government was imprisoning and murdering trade unionists. This is significant. Obama has campaigned for the right to organize unions for workers in the U.S. and proposed laws to encourage those rights. While that in itself is major, there is no history I know of for a U.S. presidential candidate to openly expose the murder of trade union organizers in a country that is allied with the United States and to call for their right to organize against U.S. transnationals. In the middle of a high-profile nationally televised event, just the mention of trade unionists existing and being under attack in the Third World is a moment of rupture in the imperialist ideological sphere. By contrast, McCain is a union buster at home and a supporter of terror, torture, and the suppression of unions and the Left abroad.

  • Equal Pay for Equal Work. Obama defends equal pay for equal work and McCain opposes it. In the final debate, Obama raised the example of a lawsuit filed by Lily Ledbetter, a woman who tried to sue her employer for paying her less for the same job that a male employee was getting paid more to do. Obama talked of working in Congress to extend the statute of limitations in Congress on her case so that it wouldn’t be dismissed. McCain snickered, What do we want to do, keep these cases going 20 or 30 years after the fact?

  • International Relations. Obama talks about American exceptionalism, American power, and the “responsibility” of the United States throughout the world. In short, his view is imperialist and his objective is still U.S. world domination. But we should not underestimate what is at stake in his proposal for “unconditional conversations” with heads of states that the Bush administration has named in the “Axis of Evil.” Obama has held his ground on the importance of “conversations and negotiations” and has challenged the policy of sanctions and invasions. This is a clear signal to people in the Third World , and the European nations who disagree with the Bush doctrine. Under an Obama administration, there may be alternatives for people in the Third World to the decades of napalm, blockades, shock and awe, and invasions that they have suffered under Republicans and Democrats alike. Obama recognizes that the U.S. is a declining empire and is trying to signal that it can’t continue to throw its weight around in the failed policies, as he calls them, of Bush and McCain. Obama’s argument for greater use of negotiations and discussions—as well as some of his reservations about massive military deployments—is likely to reflect a tactical debate between pragmatic imperialism on his side versus neo-con messianic imperialism on that of McCain. Again, both share the imperialist goal of U.S. world domination and the control of the politics and economy of Third World nations.

But that is a split in the ruling class that is of great importance to anti-war, anti-imperialist organizers in the U.S. and to governments and movements in the Third World . Let’s be clear. McCain supports “the surge” and future unilateral military aggression. He talks always about the hard line and views the solution of every problem through a military lens. We cannot allow his unstable hand anywhere near the nuclear button.

I think that most Blacks, women, and trade unionists would argue there is a profound benefit for an Obama victory and a profound danger in a McCain election. I do not think that those who are working to overturn the right-wing clique controlling the Supreme Court that is ruling out of order every civil rights and civil liberties case will argue there is little difference between Obama and McCain. I think trade unionists in Colombia , militants and governments in Venezuela , Cuba , and South Africa , as well as those governments and NGOs who witness the daily bullying and dictatorial practices of the U.S. at the United Nations—all see a profound difference between the candidates and are deeply invested in an Obama victory and a McCain defeat.

Let’s turn out the vote for Obama, Now.

4) Because John McCain is a war criminal.

How do you think McCain ended up in a POW camp in North Vietnam in the first place? Did the North Vietnamese come to the Naval Academy to kidnap him? No, he was flying a mission over North Vietnamese territory, violating their sovereignty, dropping bombs on civilian populations in an attempt to destroy their power plants and utilities, impose terror from the air, and knowingly cause civilian illness, starvation, death and destruction.

McCain was part of a group of air pirates who flew missions of destruction over Vietnam . After already having bombed North Vietnam , as the L.A. Times reports, “In August 1967 the squadron he joined had destroyed a power plant in Hanoi . Two months later, the plant had been rebuilt and was back on the Navy’s sites. McCain begged for the mission. ‘The earlier raid was the pride and joy of the squadron. I wanted to destroy it again. I was feeling pretty cocky as well.’” He flew the mission and was shot down in his efforts to kill. He wasn’t feeling as cocky at that point. He was captured by the North Vietnamese. McCain is a war criminal for his actions; for he admits he begged for his mission and felt destroying the power plants of another country to be his “pride and joy.”

His actions stand in profound contrast to the millions of people in the U.S. who dedicated and, in some cases, gave their lives to end the war in Vietnam . He is a disgrace to the many GI’s who refused to kill civilians, to those who resisted the draft and risked exile and imprisonment, to those who joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and who testified in the Winter Soldier hearings (see Clay Claiborne’s film Vietnam: American Holocaust), and to the courageous veterans today who are speaking out against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The actions of the United States government, the U.S. Navy, and pilots of death and destruction like McCain led to the murder of three million Vietnamese civilians and one million combatants all trying to protect their country from a U.S. invasion. McCain was part of the force that inflicted poison gas, assassination squads, napalm, Agent Orange, rape, and premeditated murder against the people of Vietnam . The U.S. systematically committed crimes against humanity in Vietnam and John McCain was a willing, enthusiastic perpetrator. John McCain should be tried for war crimes in violation of the Nuremburg statutes.

Let’s turn out the vote for Obama, Now.

5) Because Sarah Palin’s election would turn the women’s movement on its head—Palin is a fascist, a racist, a white separatist, and a misogynist.

There is nothing funny about Sarah Palin. (Tina Fey’s brilliant parodies are the exception.) But do not laugh at Palin any more than you should laugh at Bush. She is not stupid. She is deadly serious, armed and dangerous. She is tied to extreme vigilante groups who want to secede from the United States because they feel it is too liberal and too multi-racial. She uses oil revenues to buy the loyalties of people in Alaska , tying their futures to the global warming that will in fact destroy Alaska and the planet.

She and McCain will cut social services, already hanging by a thread. They will ramp up the police state and the war on terror. She has broken with John McCain by proposing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage and is moving ever further to his right. Some speculate she is doing this out of a lack of discipline. Others think she wants to position herself even more strongly with the extreme Right base in case McCain loses and she wants to pursue other national elected positions.

She has drawn the fascist mobs to the campaign and operates in the tradition of reactionary demagogues Father Coughlin and Lou Dobbs. She is the hit person against Obama, the warm-up act for McCain that gets the white mob into a racist rage. She will support a police state and will lock us up without a second thought. And the talk of her being one 72-year-old’s heartbeat away from the presidency is not a joke. She may be a future president of the United States if we don’t defeat McCain.

Governor Palin believes a woman who chooses to have an abortion is a sinner, period. She believes that such is the case even if the woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy forced on her through rape or incest. She is an enemy of the movement for reproductive rights. Her message to desperate, working class women is that being a loyal wife is a woman’s best chance for escaping poverty, your subjugation is liberation. She appeals to misogynist men and assures them that their domination of the family is God’s will. While she has been able to get out of the house with five children to pursue a professional career, her gender politics will prevent most women from doing the same—locking women in the home as single parents or prisoners of their husbands—as she leads choruses of “Stand by Your Man.” Her election will be an attack of Roe v. Wade, women’s reproductive rights, and women’s liberation.

Let’s turn out the vote for Barack Obama, Now.

6) Because the McCain campaign is an attack on the Left.

The McCain campaign wants to kill the Left in the U.S. and internationally, kill social security, the social safety net, and anything “social” including even the hope of social-ism. Obama is being attacked as an enemy because he is Black and because he is a moderate liberal. The attack on the Left broadly defined must be met by a counter-attack against McCain and for Obama in the last two weeks of this campaign.

Look at McCain’s targets:

  • William Ayers, billed a “terrorist” by the McCain camp, worked against the war in Vietnam in which four million people were killed. Ayers is a symbol of the anti-war movement and its most militant wing.

  • Reverend Wright. Reverend Wright is a respected theologian whose “crime” was saying that racism is “endemic” to the United States and that the U.S. sees the world through the eyes of an empire.

  • ACORN is being attacked by the McCain campaign for registering Democratic-leaning voters. ACORN may have gotten some bad names in the voter registration process but none of those people could vote or be counted. By contrast, the Republicans prevent people from voting who are registered to vote, deny valid signatures and voters, and close down polling places in Black and heavily Democratic districts. They defy the electoral process and have stolen state and national elections.

  • Socialism. McCain has begun attacking as “socialist” Obama’s efforts to make income taxes more progressive and to use some of the wealth to help the poor. McCain said, “At least in Europe the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives. They use real numbers and honest language.” McCain proposes cutting capital gains taxes and giving more subsidies to the rich.

Obama’s ties to Ayers were minimal and nothing to apologize for. His ties to Reverend Wright were profound and his disassociation from his mentor deplorable. Obama’s distancing himself from ACORN reflects weakness. But, as Reverend Wright pointed out, Obama is a politician running for office; he makes his tactical moves according to his strategic aim of getting elected. I wish that Obama would defend socialism but he is not a socialist and if he were, he would not be the Democratic nominee for president.

Whether or not Obama chooses to disassociate, denounce, or distance himself from the anti-Vietnam war movement, from the rhetoric and analyses of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements, from grassroots voter registration, and from socialism—those of us on the Left have our own interests in this election that include but also go beyond Obama’s objectives.

Whether Obama chooses to identify with or to renounce these connections, we on the Left need to grasp that these attacks from McCain are against us, not just Obama. If McCain is elected, what do we think he will do to those of us who fought against the war in Vietnam and are fighting to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq ? What will he do to those who will continue to speak and act against the endemic racism of the United States , or to those of us who would study and advocate socialist alternatives to capitalism? I fear for those on the Left who do not see the writing on the wall.

Let’s turn out the vote for Barack Obama, Now.

7) Because an Obama victory will be a defeat for the Clintons .

Hillary and Bill Clinton have been treacherous opponents of Obama. They are threatened by his possible victory and are doing very little to help him. At a white tie dinner John McCain told a great joke. He brought down the house when he observed, "Even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats, I can't shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me. I'm delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary!" Obama understood only too well the truth of that statement.

The Clinton ’s opened up the floodgates of racism against Obama during the Democratic primaries. I made the argument then that Hillary Clinton was forming a white bloc with John McCain to defeat Barack Obama. I wrote an article that documented this in great detail: Hillary and John: The White Bloc That Must Be Stopped.

Throughout Hillary’s campaign she argued that only she and McCain were qualified to be president and Obama was not. She ran that ridiculous ad campaign, “Who do you want to answer the phone at 3 in the morning?” She told the press that she and John McCain had the standing to be commander and chief and Obama did not. As she realized her dreams of victory were slipping away, her campaign reached its moral nadir. She told voters in Pennsylvania , West Virginia , and throughout the country that she did not think that “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans” would vote for Obama. Hillary and Bill Clinton have opened up the door for the racism of the McCain/Palin campaign, aiding and abetting their “dear friend” John McCain.

Hillary also made continued false claims that Obama was not supportive of women (meaning her). Only when it was absolutely clear she was losing did she come out as a born-again feminist, a white feminist, attacking Obama. In so doing she set the conditions for “her friend” John McCain to pick Sarah Palin to mine the anti-Obama sentiment Hillary had agitated among Democratic white women voters. Fortunately, Obama is winning more and more women voters. Needless to say these women include the Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Indigenous women among whom he is also polling strongly. Women recognize how important is his defense of choice and his support for equal pay, and they are impressed with the way he relates to the women in his life, a strong Black partner and his daughters.

The Clinton ’s, when they were in office, brought us the end of welfare, the Anti-Terrorism Act, the Effective Death Penalty Act, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. They typify cynicism and opportunism. Hillary has demanded the vice-presidency and now has demanded an appointment to the Supreme Court as the price of her jaded support. Obama has refused.

When Bill Clinton was on David Letterman, Chris Rock was also a guest. During Clinton ’s interview with Letterman he barely could say anything good about Obama and kept referring to McCain as “my friend” and “a war hero.” After Clinton left, Rock went off on him, “Is it me or does Clinton have a problem saying the name Barack Obama? He doesn’t get it, he keeps talking about Hillary. Hillary lost! Hillary lost. It wasn’t sexism. She ran against a Black guy nobody ever heard of and he beat her. She lost.”

If Obama wins in spite of the Clintons ’ treachery it will strengthen his hand against the Democratic Leadership Council that they control—the hard core of conservative center-right Democrats. It is good to see Hillary Clinton campaigning for Obama. She has no other choice. She too fears eight years of a McCain/Palin ticket and fears her own isolation in the Democratic Party. The Clintons are a Trojan Horse inside the Obama campaign. But Obama is beating the Clintons, Yes He Can. An Obama victory would weaken the Clinton oligarchy.

Let’s turn out the vote for Barack Obama, Now.

8) A victory for Barack Obama will usher in a revolution of rising expectations.

If Obama is elected he will do so with the support of 95% of the Black vote and the highest Black vote in U.S. history, along with enormous numbers of white, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous peoples. He will attract a very large and energetic white vote with a strong anti-racist orientation. He will win over the majority of young people who are more influenced by the victories of the Civil Rights Movement than the crimes of the Klan and the White Citizens Councils.

Listen to how in every talk, besides his recitation of the obligatory “the American people” a dozen times, he goes out of his way to say, “My election is for everybody. The red states and blue, for the middle class, for Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Indigenous peoples.” The mentioning of specific oppressed nationality peoples and cultures is in itself a major breakthrough in the public discourse of race in the country. Notice that the Republicans and most Democrats will never acknowledge that those communities even exist because to do so creates a momentary awareness that whiteness is not the norm, that whites are not the boss. It also creates support for group-specific demand development among oppressed nationality peoples.

After an Obama election the entire field of “community organizing” will get a major boost. I was there when Kennedy was elected and Johnson beat Goldwater. Those elections raised hopes that helped the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left and later the Black Liberation, Women’s, LGBT, and Environmental Justice Movements. Obama will have to decide, after he is elected, what policies he wants to carry out. If he betrays his best promises or carries out his worst, I believe he will receive significant organized opposition with demands that he change his policies.

I was also there when John F. Kennedy moved to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and tried to assassinate Castro. I was there when Lyndon B. Johnson initiated and then tried to disband the poverty programs, when Johnson escalated a genocidal war in Vietnam . These actions by Kennedy and Johnson led to more protests, not less. They led to the emergence of some very principled left liberal Democrats, and the radicalization of many formerly Democratic liberal students who came to see that more radical, structural, revolutionary change was needed.

I hope that Barack Obama understands that the U.S. is a declining superpower in a multi-polar world. I think he knows full well the economic crisis facing U.S. and world imperialism. I think he may propose a less bellicose and a less aggressive foreign policy if only to protect the system itself. Regardless, my argument is not that we work to elect Obama based on an ability to predict all of his actions or choices.

I think every successful organizer has to have an independent program and an independent grassroots base. I am part of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, and the Bus Riders Union. I work in alliance with thousands of grassroots groups reflected, in one instance, by the 12,000 social movement organizers who attended the first U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta in 2007.

I hope that Obama, as a former community organizer, will understand pressure from his left. Even if he does not always respond to our specific demands, it will be the job of the movements to assess his response and figure out our best tactics to win our demands.

I hope that we can make sure that Obama respects the civil rights and civil liberties of protestors and reigns in the campaign of terror against protestors by local police, the National Guard, and the U.S. military. An Obama administration cannot sanction the level of brutality and repression against demonstrators that the Bush police state has perfected. Under pressure from the Left, I believe he could expand civil rights and civil liberties and expand the rights of protest and demonstration, which in turn would help the movement further. Can I guarantee that? Of course not, but I do believe that the entire climate for anti-racist, anti-poverty, environmental justice, immigrant rights, anti-police state, anti-war organizing will be radically improved by an Obama victory.

Let’s turn out the vote for Barack Obama, Now.

9) Because I have faith in the Obama supporters, faith in the Black community, faith in the grassroots Left.

Obama supporters

I spent a weekend at a Camp Obama training program in Long Beach and have since been going to phone bank at the local Obama headquarters. They are a wide variety of folk coming from many different points on the political spectrum. They are decent, hard working, motivated, and wonderful people. There is a movement atmosphere among the group. I was deeply moved by the 350 of us who came to the Obama training. We worked together from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in a very intensive organizer training program. On every break I asked people, What is the most important thing about an Obama victory for you? I was surprised by the number and diversity of answers. “Because he is so intelligent. I am sick of having a stupid president.” “He is the most ethical, the most humane.” “He will defeat Karl Rove.” “He is the most qualified Black man.” “Because he will help me not be ashamed to be an American.” “Because I was involved in the Civil Rights Movement and had lost hope. This brings me from ‘We Shall Overcome’ to ‘Yes We Can.’” “Because I want my children to see we can elect a Black president.”

Of the 350 people who attended, 100 were Black, 15 were Asian/Pacific Islander, 15 were Latino, and more than 200 were white. This election is drawing a line of demarcation among white people that is very profound—a civil war within a larger civil war, the anti-racist whites versus the racist whites. Just as in the Civil Rights Movement, a large anti-racist white bloc is consolidating itself as a critical ally of communities of color. Remember, these are white folk voting for a Black man for president of the United States . We should not underestimate the good intentions and high levels of activism and sacrifice of the Obama camp and their critical role in history in the years ahead.

The Black community

The Black community is driven like nothing I have seen since the March on Washington , the fight against segregation in the South, the fight against racism and police brutality in the North. The Obama Campaign has a mass character to it that is unprecedented in U.S. politics, having sprung from the traditions of Black protest, Black rebellion and Black organizing. In the past months I have spoken with many Black members of the Obama Campaign and the Bus Riders Union. Having grown up in Jim Crow segregation, many say how hard it is to believe that Black people could come from slavery to the possibility of electing the first Black president of the United States . While that makes them very hopeful, in the same sentence they also talk of wanting it so badly they cannot acknowledge it. They do not want to get their hopes up and let the white racist voters crush them. They fear something bad happening to Obama. They fear the white backlash and fear another set of hopes dashed against the rocks of racism by this country. They are working with all their heart and soul for Obama but do not want to acknowledge how much this election means to them because, if he loses, they don’t know if they can bear the pain.

There is no community stronger and tougher than the Black community. It has suffered more pain in America than at times is humanly imaginable. Today more than a million Black men are in prison and millions more are being hunted down by the police as we speak. And yet, the Black community has a power and resilience that is legendary, a long history of leading the anti-racist and Left movements in this country. Its capacity to recover and fight back is admired by friend and foe alike. Still, we cannot let a McCain victory happen, we just cannot. An Obama victory will raise the spirits and fighting capacity of the Black community.

There are some who worry that Obama will co-opt the Black community. They think that Black people who are against the growing police state or the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan will look the other way if those policies are carried out by Obama. Some have expressed a fear that Black people will protect and defend Obama in a way that brooks no criticism, giving him a free pass at a time of crisis. But while that is possible, it would contradict everything I have seen in 40 years of organizing. My experience says that it all depends on how you organize and how well you grasp and assert your own independence and initiative in the united front.

I have been in social movements that helped elect and then challenge mayor of Newark Kenneth Gibson, and Los Angeles mayors Tom Bradley and Antonio Villaraigosa. Obama is a brilliant organizer, a brilliant politician. He has his own program, his own priorities, and he will fight to win support for them. Cooptation is not the most helpful concept, taking the focus off our own role. Obama will do what he has to do. It is for those of us who are organizing in low-income communities of color, those of us who consider ourselves good strategists, good tacticians and organizers—it is for those of us who have a grassroots base to drive our own programs, our own demands, and to develop the tactical plans to win those demands.

After the election, in just two weeks, thousands of grassroots groups that have been working on life and death issues for decades will be in the much stronger position of being able to place their demands on a more receptive Obama presidency. As just a few key examples of structural demands we must raise:

  • Dramatically cut the $400-billion military budget. Massively expand social services and direct transfers of money to the unemployed, the poor, and those facing foreclosures and evictions.
  • Release the vast majority of the one million Black and 500,000 Latino prisoners incarcerated in the U.S. gulag. Provide humane treatment for those who remain, including plans for parole and rehabilitation.
  • Remove all combat and occupation forces from Iraq and provide support for the self-determination of the Iraqi people. End the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan . End the military threats against Iran , and Pakistan .
  • Provide free, safe, and legal abortions for women. Do not impose parental notification. Provide U.S. funds for birth control and sex education in the U.S. and Third World .
  • Pass a new provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, strengthening Title VI, that will allow grassroots parties to sue government agencies over racial discrimination and to block federal funding to racially discriminatory projects based on disparate racial impacts.
  • Stop the environmental disaster of “clean coal” ethanol and nuclear power. Dramatically expand clean fuel bus transportation and dramatically restrict the auto.
  • Stop the ICE raids and surveillance on the 12 million immigrants in the U.S. Offer them amnesty. Take down the wall with Mexico .
  • End the blockade of Cuba and stop U.S. subversion of the Venezuelan revolution.
  • Support self-determination for the Palestinian people and protect their right to a viable homeland.

Those of us who see ourselves in a united front alliance with Obama and with his millions of supporters should carry out a policy of simultaneous alliance and challenge, defending his candidacy and challenging some of its key policies. The Right is like a pack of attack dogs. They will not stop even after Obama is elected. If they lose the election, they will begin attacking the Obamas the day they take office. They will try to subvert his presidency at every turn. We want to build an alliance with Obama against the Right, a united front against racism and fascism that never loses sight of our unities with him and with our stand against the barbarians at the gate. At the same time, we want to build stronger grassroots movements to his left that can carry out their own independent programs and tactical plans. For grassroots organizers we are working with millions of other Obama supporters who can be won to a broader progressive and Left agenda in the process of fighting for an Obama presidency. We need organizers who do not sit on the sidelines of history but see their participation in this historical battle as a major development that can expand the chances for more radical and revolutionary changes in U.S. society.

Let us be able to rejoice in an Obama victory and then face the inevitable challenges together. I am convinced that many of the people who are working so hard for Obama—who are making millions of phone calls, contributing their money, and going door to door for his election—will expect the most of him. They will not go quietly into the night if he betrays their trust. Obama has argued to his supporters that he expects us to keep up the organizing to keep him on track, that the role of those who work to elect him will be to organize to push him once he is elected. There are millions of people working their heart out for his election who will be there to take him up on his post-election offer.

Let’s turn out the vote for Barack Obama, Now.

10) Because it’s time to act. Here is what you can do.

There are at least four major ways you can take positive action in the next two weeks to elect Obama and defeat McCain:

  • Contribute funds to the Obama Campaign. Over three million people have donated already. Obama raised $150 million in September from 632,000 people, an average of $86 per contribution. My wife Lian and I have contributed to his campaign and plan to do so again in the next few days. Whether you give $25, $50 or $100, consider that another 600,000 people will be doing the same. If we each do this, we can raise another $150 million in the next two weeks to elect Obama and defeat McCain. Last minute ads to counter last minute attack ads from McCain are needed and funds are essential. Every McCain ad is an ad against liberals, against the Left, against Black civil rights leaders, against socialism, against any progressive future.

  • If you are in a swing state, plug into the Obama Campaign now. For the next two weeks, get involved with phone banking and precinct walking. On the weekends before the election and on Election Day, volunteer with Get Out The Vote (GOTV) operations.

  • If you are not in a swing state, phone bank into swing states with your local branch of the Obama Campaign. Also consider volunteering to travel to your nearest swing state the last weekends before the election or whenever you can to go door to door turning out voters. The more experience you have, the better, but the Obama campaign is good at plugging you in.

  • Become a poll worker. There are millions of people who will vote for the first time or vote after years of absence. The polls will be jammed. The Republicans will commit any crime under the books to deter voters in Democratic districts and Black voters in particular. We need election protection. People who have signed up as poll workers in L.A. are already saying that South L.A. and East L.A. are under-staffed. We can assume that communities of color will need special attention and that this is a critical job.

There is work to be done, and it is great to be an organizer, not a bystander. Obama is making history and so should we. It our job to be part of this historic movement and to come home with a victory in hand.

* * * *

A respectful acknowledgment of the historic presidential campaign of Congressperson Cynthia McKinney.

The candidate with whose views I most agree is former Congressperson Cynthia McKinney, a dynamic Black woman running on the Green Party ticket. I know many people of good faith and good politics who are working for her. I encourage them to carry out their plan to its fullest and wish her campaign the greatest success. She should be encouraged for what she is doing. At this point this is not the choice I am making in my own tactical assessment of the best way to confront racism and empire. When the election is over, whether Obama is elected or McCain, we all have to work together in a broad united front against the war in Iraq and racism at home. Any tactical disagreements on this election, no matter how profound, should not divide us in our broader long-term objectives. At the end of the day, we are sisters and brothers in the struggle.

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Edit 10/28/2008: The content of this entry has been revised since first posting.

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