Thursday, February 14, 2008

Should Obama Attend the State of the Black Union Forum?

Here's a link from Mingle City on whether Barack Obama should attend Tavis Smiley's State of the Black Union forum on February 23. Also includes a letter from Obama.

Here is my response to this discussion:

I've often said and seen demonstrated publicly MANY times in my life that African American citizens in general are by far the most aware, sophisticated, and politically savvy voting bloc in this entire country. I'm not only PROUD to say it but it makes me feel truly HONORED to be a part of this electorate for precisely those reasons. Our historical consistency in supporting and voting for, and on behalf of, the most progressive candidates and issues available in mainstream American politics is from any objective perspective simply astonishing and often quite inspiring. As a people we very rarely EVER vote against our own self interest and are very careful not to discriminate against any single ethnic/"racial" group in the United States when making our choices (unlike the great majority of whites, for instance, we have consistently voted not only for progressive and liberal white candidates, but Black, Latino, and Asian American progressives and liberals as well).

THE EXTENSIVE EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE OF THIS FACT IS IRREFUTABLE FOR ANYONE WHO SERIOUSLY STUDIES HISTORICAL VOTING PATTERNS IN THIS COUNTRY (as I have and do). Of the 19 presidential elections since 1932 the black vote has given 70-90% of their support to the following candidates: Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry. This is NOT to say of course that all or even most of these individual (all white) politicians fulfilled most of our dreams, expectations, demands, and desires (they obviously didn't) or even that they always did the most progressive, liberal, responsible, or accountable thing once in office--on those fairly rare occasions when our favorite candidate got into office. Of the 13 presidential candidates listed here that we supported and voted for from the past 75 years only 6 were actually elected President). But it is to say (and I think this distinction is VERY important) that black people HAVE ALWAYS VOTED AGAINST THE MOST REACTIONARY AND RIGHTWING CANDIDATES AS WELL AS IDEOLOGICAL POSITIONS in American politics.

Unlike far too many whites, Latinos, and Asians for example one never caught us voting in any substantial numbers for the horrific likes of Herbert Hoover or Thomas Dewey or Dwight D. Eisenhower or Richard Nixon or Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan or George Bushwhacker the First or Bob Dole or George Bushwhacker the Second. NO, NOT US! And again I'M VERY PROUD OF THAT because let's be real here: MILLIONS OF "OTHER AMERICANS' DID--something I have always seen as the CENTRAL TRAGIC FLAW of U.S. "mainstream" politics in general--which is this: The great majority of voters in this country CONSISTENTLY vote against their own self interest!

EXHIBIT A: For contemporary evidence of all this we don't have to look back any further historically than 2004 when THE WORSE PRESIDENT IN AMERICAN HISTORY RECEIVED 62 MILLION VOTES from (mostly) poor, working, and middleclass Whites, Latinos, and Asian Americans who actually went out and voted for an incompetent, arrogant, oppressive, and duplicitous moron who DESPISED THEM. Since 90% of African Americans voted for Kerry it sure as hell wasn't our fault. Amazingly however 45% of all Latinos and Asian Americans who voted in 2004 VOTED FOR THE BUSHWHACKER. WHY? WHO THE HELL KNOWS, except that it's crystal clear to me that MOST American voters for a myriad of reasons (among them ignorance, fear, hatred, self-loathing, and cynicism) don't have a CLUE who to vote for (that is, if their actual political objective is to IMPROVE THEIR OWN LIVES).

So it is in this social and political context that I state my absolute Joy in reading the accounts in the link above of hundreds of African American citizens publicly voicing their overwhelming disagreements with, and principled opposition to, Tavis Smiley's inane and asinine attempts to deter the black electorate from voting for Barack Obama in this Democratic Party nomination process. What is most striking to me about their eloquent and sharply analytical replies to Smiley's transparent attempts to oppose Obama's campaign in such an immature and destructive manner is that these voters have a very firm grasp and understanding of the real issues facing not only them/us in this election BUT THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. Notice how in nearly every single post the major concerns of these African Americans are rooted in a dignified and informed DEMAND FOR DEMOCRACY AND JUSTICE. Not only do black citizens fervently believe in these concepts but they recognize that any solutions to our collective problems as a nation MUST FOREGROUND AND FIERCELY ADVOCATE A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE IN HOW WE CONDUCT OUR POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC AFFAIRS. Their choice of Obama over Clinton has very little to nothing to do with what various boneheads still insist on calling "race." Instead their profound political maturity and VISION allows them to see and prosletyze for something far more real real, important, and concrete than that: OUR FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY AS CITIZENS. Granted we are ALL very far from fulfilling even a small fraction of our genuine promise and potential in these areas of our civic and political lives but our saving grace is that we are FULLY CONSCIOUS OF THE TRUE STAKES ARE AND OUR CRUCIAL, EVEN PIVOTAL ROLE IN FUNDAMENTALLY TRANSFORMING THIS COUNTRY. As we used to sing back in '60s "We know the one thing we did right was the day we decided to fight--keep your eyes on the prize, Hold on." That bedrock consciousness is what makes us a Great People and allows us to understand in a profound and uncanny way what the "Obama movement" REALLY MEANS. Unlike far too many of our "intellectuals", "academics", "politicians", and "authority figures" the black masses really do GET IT. They know because of their extremely rich, complex, and perilous history that one can't rationally or realistically look for "messiahs" in one's leadership who can "deliver" and "save" them. Contrary to popular misinformed belief most black people know far better than that. The proof is in our mass dedication, courage, and discipline during the Civil War, Reconstruction, the devastating Post-Reconstruction era, through the Great Depression and two world Wars into the modern Civil Rights and Black Power eras and on through the present day.

What these citizens get is that they know WE are the people who must change society and they correctly see Obama as a potential CONDUIT for that change. But they also fully realize that ultimately ONLY THE MASSES OF PEOPLE CAN CHANGE ANYTHING. So they intelligently view this election and Obama's campaign as an OPPORTUNITY for them and the rest of us to create an opening where truly democratic attitudes, values, ideas, and POSSIBILITIES can assert themselves. After all the quality of our general leadership (especially on a national level) has often been quite high. In this respect I'm talking particularly about such major political and historical figures as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Mary Bethune, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, and Martin Luther King, Jr. etc. who ALL provided us with many opportunities and "openings" to involve ourselves in mass democratic efforts that required not so much "strong leaders" as "strong people." As in our simultaneously glorious and deeply disturbing past every historical period issues similar demands and challenges that must be addressed, taken seriously, and acted upon. What our people clearly recognize is that this time is no different in that respect and that Barack Obama represents (as did Douglass, as did Baker, as did Malcolm as did DuBois as did Martin and others) a mass democratic opportunity to confront and deal with the massive crises before us. In this crucial context Obama is merely another instrument we must use to make our true mass democratic demands, desires, and agenda(s) known.

Despite the dull myopia of those self-ordained "leaders" like Tavis Smiley who are and remain stuck/mired in abstract and limited "categories of understanding" the great majority of our African American citizens who are involved in the political process (located both "inside" and "outside" the system) are moving forward in pursuit of a progressive and critical agenda that focuses on far more than just a ghettoized portion of the national and global debate. Barack Obama is and remains an integral part of that larger quest. That is what our support of his candidacy actually signifies and ultimately MEANS. Let the real struggle for Democracy in this country begin...