“If [people] believe that Obama was the best choice, they shouldn’t just leave it to Obama to carry out any kind of progressive agenda,” Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King Research Institute said to me in a post-election interview last Tuesday.
Carson’s words stemmed from a conversation we’d had in our Modern African American Freedom Struggle class earlier that day, when he had recalled addressing a group of Morehouse students the day before President Obama’s 2009 inauguration with the warning, “The most important day is not tomorrow, but the day after.”
Barack Obama’s reelection is not a political end – nor does it guarantee the beginning of a future that values human rights and social justice.
As I wrote in last week’s column “Why I Am Not Voting for Barack Obama,” the president’s record of actively aggravating human rights abuses in the Middle East and his silence on issues of race and racism suggest the president will have a negative impact on the success of our collective futures.
However, I felt dissatisfied with the treatment I gave to the relationship I perceived between foreign policy and domestic justice.
It was not until Professor Carson’s history class later that day that I was able to see the explicit connection between the plights of our brown families in the Middle East and the plights of our brown families at home.
The connection came from the words of Dr. King (emphases are my own):
“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values,” King said in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech. “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
To be clear, issues of racism – at home and abroad – are inextricably bound with the preponderance of the state’s use of force (through the military or the police). And both of these issues are also tied to the ideology of “free-market” capitalism that “justifies” Euro-American expansion into every crevice of the world, resorts to discrimination on the basis of race to determine which bodies are treated as expendable, surplus labor for such production and uses military action as a last-ditch effort to coerce resistant actors into compliance.
The constant threat and attack American drones put on our sisters in Pakistan are the same as the constant threat and attack American-Israeli military occupation put on our Palestinian sisters in Gaza and the West Bank and are the same as the constant threat and attack America puts on our black and brown sisters in the US.
“Let’s fight for fairer elections – repeal the electoral system, introduce a run-off, whatever – but not at the eleventh hour when so much is at stake,” one commenter said in response to my column last week.
The biggest stakes this and other people identified were that the Republican party platform greatly threatens women’s and minority rights – rights that the Democratic platform champions.
I was (and am) critical of those who gleefully celebrated Obama’s reelection without pause for reflection because Obama and Democrats were allegedly proponents of these rights.
While the Republican platform did threaten these issues in some specific sense, taking a step back reveals that the Democratic Party is ultimately harmful to these goals as well.
High rates of incarceration of black/brown men and women, increased profiling of Muslim people and the splitting of migrant families through unprecedented levels of deportation all have impacts on women and minorities. And on a global scale, killing and terrorizing women (and men and children) with drones does nothing to advance women’s rights.
An additional problem with the “X supports Y rights” logic is that this model does nothing to address the underlying and fundamental systems of oppression that create marginalized groups in the first place – it merely assimilates them into being comfortable reproducing these systems of oppression.
“I don’t want to move to Maine and get hitched. I don’t want to move to Washington or Colorado and smoke pricey State-controlled pot. I don’t want to move to Wisconsin so a white lesbian can speak for me. I don’t want to wave a rainbow flag in the military to defend occupied land. I want to remake the world inside a black hole, turn everything inside and out.”
The eleventh hour is still going on and we still have much at stake in our collective futures.
So, to return to the man who framed today’s column, I present a charge from Clayborne Carson:
“[What] I hope will happen over the next four years is that there will not be this sitting back and waiting for Obama to act, but rather people will understand they have to act on their own and force Obama to follow their will,” Carson said.
I submit this piece as a rallying call for left-leaning/progressive-minded/justice-oriented students to join a movement to build a self-sustaining coalition of Stanford activists.
For the past two weeks, STATIC, Stanford’s progressive blog and journal, has hosted coalition-building discussions to begin pushing our campus/national/global politics in the direction it needs to be going, and to thereby give students practice for similar organizing post-graduation. Roughly 50 different students have attended one or more of these meetings so far.
We will meet this Wednesday to begin the process of formalizing what such a coalition would look like structurally and what actionable aims we might work towards. Please join us from 9-10:30 p.m. in the El Centro Chicano conference room.
Let’s not sit back and wait any longer.
Contact Kristian at firstname.lastname@example.org.