Socialist Worker

US voices for change

Activists and trade unionists in the US spoke to Virginia Rodino about the impact of Barack Obama’s victory

Issue No. 2127

Obama campaign poster

Obama campaign poster

Jim Baldridge – Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Baltimore

‘I went with a busload of union members from Maryland to Richmond, Virginia, to support the Obama campaign.

On the bus and at the union hall in Richmond we were joined by federal government workers, postal workers, communications workers, machinists, steel workers, state employees, miners and electrical workers.

The enthusiasm was powerful – workers know how to organise themselves to get things done.

The doors we knocked on were overwhelmingly in support of Obama. Most knew that John McCain would be devastating for workers.

Defeating McCain and Sarah Palin and their brand of far-right conservatism is important not only for American workers and people of colour – it is important to people all over the planet.

When I went to vote, the line of people stretched out and along the sidewalk and looped back again. It took two hours to vote.

I could have ignored the election because Obama isn’t far enough left, or isn’t a revolutionary for the people. But if I’d done that, there are hundreds of ordinary folks, workers, black and white, young and old, who I never would have met, talked to, worked with, and celebrated with on the first time an African-American was elected to be the US president.

This is a huge victory against racism in America, and every other country in the world knows it too. People were celebrating the election of Obama on every continent on earth within minutes of the announcement.

The task is now to mobilise those who were motivated to support Obama to become active in their communities and their workplaces to make the changes needed in a new political atmosphere. We’re moving forward. And the struggle continues.’

Mike Ferner – Writer and activist from Ohio, and former union organiser

‘The most important thing Obama’s campaign offers is the way it has inspired millions of people to become active, to expect more, to work hard with many people towards something larger than yourself – in short, to gain a sense of purpose.

Obama has shown too often that his policies differ little from the status quo. But who knows today what forces the hopes and dreams of this campaign may have unleashed?

Who can say what historical events may be about to unfold, or how far they may go if we make conditions right for their growth?

That, I believe, is the challenge faced by all those who want schools and healthcare not empire and warfare. It is a tall challenge indeed. But if we are not up to it, who is?’

Kevin Zeese – Executive director, »

‘Obama’s victory has raised expectations. People now expect peace and prosperity to return. They at least expect an end to gluttonous greed and a return to competent government.

These latter two hopes seem like minimal expectations but they will not be easily achieved.

Racism has been dealt a serious blow. Of course we have seen black mayors and black police chiefs who have been just as bad as their white counterparts, so this may be more symbolic than real – but it is a powerful symbol and symbols matter.

The symbol is not only important to African-Americans but to all who want to see change. It shows, as Obama says, “we can” – we can end militarist foreign policy, we can end corporate government, we can end the fossil fuel economy, we can make a government of the people.

We have our work cut out for us, but now there is a chance we will have at least some victories.

In addition to the political change, the circumstances the country faces on the economy and war may push us to achieve more than we can currently envision – the foundations of US government and big business capitalism are shaking.’

Lucy Bohne – English professor at a state college near Erie, Pennsylvania

‘This amazing thing that happened in the US – that only we, as Americans, can understand and share – won’t make a difference to the world, to the children in Baghdad, Beirut, Gaza, and Tehran, and all the other places in the crosshairs of our guns, unless we make that difference.

We might as well be brave and strong and admit that there is work to be done, struggles to embrace, disappointments to endure.’

Loren Balhorn – Anti-war activist, student at Northwestern University, Chicago

‘Living in Chicago, it was difficult not to feel a sense of hope and excitement at the news of the Obama election.

Ecstatic Obama supporters flooded the city, turning every bar, restaurant and street corner into a non-stop political celebration.

Even in my neighborhood, far from where Barack held his victory rally, cries of “Barack Obama” could be heard long into the night.

Having campaigned enthusiastically for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, I can assure you that this sort of energy was not there four years ago.

Obama’s campaign has brought a resurgence of optimism and political engagement to disenfranchised segments of the population whose potential power has been neglected by mainstream politicians for decades.

We can draw a good amount of hope from this. However, I don’t expect much “change” to come out of the Obama and Joe Biden presidency. On almost every important issue, Obama stands to the right of popular opinion.

This is to be expected from the Democrats – a party that relies on working class voters during the election cycle, but forgets about them as soon as it’s time to get back to governing.

The Democrats have already controlled Congress since 2006, but have failed to produce any results for the US people.

Nevertheless, this is a time of hope and opportunity for all of us who are fighting for a better world. Bush and the neocons have been defeated, but that doesn’t mean the disasters they presided over will simply go away.

The issues that attracted so many people to the campaign will not disappear overnight, nor will the tens of millions of progressive Obama supporters.

It is vital to build on the unprecedented energy and enthusiasm we all felt on election night. Now more than ever, the US needs a political alternative built upon a culture of resistance, not accommodation.

The American left has a once in a lifetime chance to start building that alternative, but the real work is just beginning.’

Rev Pierre L Williams – Baltimore, Maryland

‘My vote for Obama was a vote for a prayer that the US could transcend the politics of race and prejudice. As an African-American, I was nurtured under the doctrine of “separate but equal”.

My introduction to justice Florida-style involved seeing my father take an uncle down from a hanging tree.

While attending college, I joined the student movement for civil rights and ventured to Alabama and Mississippi, where I encountered the harshness of Southern police brutality and the fierceness of the police dogs.

Later as a soldier in Vietnam I was given the most dangerous assignment because of my race.

Now, as a religious campaigner active in the Communist Party and a volunteer for the Obama campaign, I am filled with both exhilaration and disbelief.

As I touched the voting screen on election day, my eyes welled up and a tear dropped. I was voting not only for myself – but for my grandparents and my mother and father, all of whom are now deceased.

I was also voting for the whites who stood with me in Alabama and the blacks who fought and died because they dared to believe that we could be free. I am proud of this “new day” – but I am also cautiously optimistic.

It is my prayer that progressives will now have more of an opportunity to present ideas for a new society.

This will be based on the fullest democracy in all spheres of human endeavor, where war and poverty are no longer required to ensure minority rule and plunder, where the full potential of everyone can and will be realized in the framework of a world of plenty – a society free from oppression and exploitation.’

Bill Barry – Director of Labour Studies, Dundalk Community College, Baltimore County

‘Conditions for workers in the US have been bad for several decades – the gap between the rich and the poor has grown. Now the bad is becoming catastrophic with rising job losses and home foreclosures.

However, the first economic conference of the president-elect included the same old faces from the World Bank, the Clinton administration and various conservative universities.

A letter in the Baltimore Sun after the election proclaimed, “It feels like morning in America – hallelujah. Brilliant dawn arrives, our better angels are speaking. All is possible.”

But unless workers reorganise, both on the job and politically, the gates of heaven will still be closed for us.’

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