I wake this morning with a profound sense of gratitude. The election is finally over, and Obama has won a second term. As well, although there were some big disappointments in the night, and some key things still in doubt, many good things happened. Elizabeth Warren won a Massachusetts Senate seat, giving us a strong progressive voice in the Senate. Gay marriage won in at least two states, and it was a great night for marijuana, and not just for what you had to smoke to get through the evening! Now you could do that legally in Colorado and Washington state!
What does an Obama victory mean for progressives, greens, anarchists and radicals far, far to his left? To those folks who couldn’t morally bring themselves to vote for Obama, or possibly even to vote at all? Who grew furious at me for urging people to get to the polls and admitting that I voted for him?
I say it’s a good thing. No, Obama won’t enact the policies we want. For one thing, he’s not an absolute monarch and he still has to contend with a Republican Congress. For another, even though he won’t run again in four years, some other Democrat will and they will still need big bucks to do it. Complaining that politicians are tools of the corporations is like complaining that your sheep have wool. Unless we change this system, that’s the nature of the beast.
So how do we do that? We organize and agitate. We don’t sit back, like many did four years ago, and expect the system to change itself.
But organizing after an Obama victory is like bicycling with the wind at your back, instead of peddling into a stiff head wind. I’ve lived and organized through the victories of Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush, and believe me, this is better!
And we have a lot of organizing to do. Last year, Occupy Wall Street galvanized the country and put the issue of economic inequality front and center. Had that not happened, we might have seen an election where all the debates centered on how best to reduce the deficit and what more services we could cut. Let’s give three big cheers for Occupy Wall Street—who right now are valiantly doing relief work in parts of New York City hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy. Read about their efforts here: http://www.alternet.org/occupy-wall-street/how-occupy-sandys-relief-machine-stepped-post-superstorm-void?paging=off
Now we need to focus a similar spotlight of attention on climate change, the most crucial and least-addressed challenge of our times. Never again can we have presidential debates that don’t even mention the issue, where the candidates outdo each other to prove how much coal and oil production they can take credit for. Obama has done some good things on the issue, notably pushing the auto industry to adopt more fuel efficiency standards and allowing the EPA to regulate carbon. He could and must take much bolder leadership on moving us onto a new path. He won’t do that in a political climate where a Romney can credibly utter the phrase ‘green energy’ as if it were a dirty word.
We need to push much, much harder, to make it not only politically feasible but vital for him and others to stand up against the biggest of big money issues. 350.org has been doing stellar work, but they need far more support and we need a wide spectrum of efforts that will make it impossible for politicians to dodge the issue. And we need a clear grasp of the solutions—which do exist! Here it is in a sentence: conservation, efficiency, a shift to safe renewables, relocalization, and carbon sequestration in healthy, organic soil the way nature has done it for hundreds of millions of years with a device called ‘plants’. I’ll say more about this in some future post, but for now, know that the spectrum of solutions to climate change are also solutions to our economic, social and health woes. They involve three c’s: community, connection, and compost—all things which will make our lives better in many, many ways!
There are other key issues we need to push Obama and all the politicians on. Economic equality should remain high on our list. Obama has supported egregious assaults on civil liberties, and all of you who complain about that are quite right. And peace—we’ve got to press him to get us out of our endless wars, stop his program of assassination and to bench the drones that kill children and civilians. There’s a lot to do! Check out Juan Cole’s wish list:
So, for those of you who see Obama as just the cuter, browner face of corporate control, here’s my advice. First, drop the bile, if you can. It’s not attractive, it doesn’t win over those in the confused center who vote against their own interests, and it’s bad for your brain chemistry. Can we make civility the new vitriol, please?
Then take that churning, burning, bottled-up energy and do something with it. Decide what you’re most angry and bitter about, and work on the issue. Join a group or start one. Write letters to the editor or sit in trees—just earn every hour of complaining with an equal hour of organizing.
And look around at the next meeting of your ideologically pure affinity group. If it doesn’t look as diverse as the crowd celebrating Obama’s victory last night, start asking why, and how you might respectfully build a broader, if less pure, coalition. What are the priorities of the communities of color, of immigrants, of the economically marginalized and politically disenfranchised in your area, and how might you offer service?
Okay, first take the day off. Maybe the week. We all need a bit of a break, here. But don’t take the month or the year or the next four years off. Elections are the smallest part of what we need to do to change the world. The real work is up to us.