Thursday, November 06, 2008


I started typing this in the lounging place right after clearing the Philippine immigration counter, past the usual X-Ray machines and the quick-fondle guards sussing out evil intentions. I've just finished it from Changi by whimsically choosing a few pics and posting them now from Jakarta.

Within a minute of the announcement on international TV, I've received text messages telling me that Obama's finally pulled out his rabbit from the strange US hat (or was it the Cat from Hat?).

In front of me is an old store in the duty free area of NAIA called Philippine Souvenirs and beside it is a new place called "Chinese Fastfood" selling, beef and chicken terriyaki. Must be the same smart entrepreneur pushing a new Terriyaki Sauce in the groceries, with the words "With Real Chinese Ingredients" stamped inside a big, bright yellow star on the label.

How interesting this world is. Like my good friend Jim Thomas, who managed to lay his thoughts openly on the table far earlier than I did, I also did not trust the American people to do the right thing. In fact, he and I and others who harbored the same thought -- we would have been madly worried, certainly, but would not have been too surprised, if McCain actually successfully managed to smother his opponent's ambitions.

I wonder what Jim's thinking now. (My enduring memory of Jim is his poetry and those damn great organic cookies that he's given me -- the last one in Ottawa, and I hate them because they taste so damn well and they mock my rant that most organic and vegetarian stuff tastes like cardboard.)

The sad truth is that certain American truths still haunt the US, despite Obama's resounding victory. The margins of Obama's win was actually closer to the fear of Jim: imagine, an economy in the gutters, millions of families recently homeless or in the middle of losing their shelter, the specter of even greater joblessness, the economic hemorrhage of America's insane imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are better called predictable quagmires than wars on this or that pretext, a moron in the White House who belongs to and leads the same Republican party as McCain and who has reached record lows in popularity -- all this and Obama's lead over McCain in the popular vote is still little more than the width of a Japanese ginger slice. And that's cutting it too thick.

But a win's a win and different things can likely move forward now. It's a tiny start but a real one, given all the years - decades - of obnoxious, destructive rightwing Republican - and Democrat - policies and programs that need to be rolled back if only to bring things back again to an even keel. Or the nearest possible balance of whatever that means.

As things stand, the more leftward things go, the less attributable it will be to Obama and his immediate organization and long-time supporters. What moves things here - as is the case elsewhere - is not the debatable good intentions of global personalities sold as celebrities, with the effect of a sugar high. It is pressure from below -- pressure from the stubborn, push-back pressure from the movements that are just beginning to understand what makes movements real movements, pressure from individuals prepared to throw a tantrum against thievery, avarice and bullying whether they are with a crowd of ten or a hundred thousand or by their lonesome; pressure from people who know the how to celebrate advances in the popular agenda - however incremental - if only to renew or generate new energy to take on greater challenges ahead.

I have no illusions over Obama - his positions on the unlawful, absolutely immoral blockade on Cuba, his daft endorsement of preemptive strikes against Pakistan whatever the cost in innocent lives, or his completely dangerous posturing that is out-Bushing Bush in his eagerness to demonstrate his fealty to the remaining example of colonial enterprise -- Israel -- particularly the Jerusalem question, to name some examples; his stance so far on these issues are entirely repugnant and do not give me any assurance that the US will be meddling less in the affairs of other peoples.

But Obama's win gives the popular movements in the US - the progressives of all stripes - much needed space to grow not just their capacity to disrupt and little by little dismantle the machine of empire, but their ability as well to celebrate the solidarity they will enjoy -- political and spiritual -- from the efforts of other oppressed people fighting against the venal, vicious and oftentimes US-propped monsters haunting their lands today.

It is about space, not Obama. It is not about the ouster of Bush or neocon Republicans (replaced by many neocon Democrats); it should be about the conversations that urgently need to take place between and amongst working peoples in the US, developing Asia and other hemispheres.

When progressive movements in the US become stronger, similar movements in the developing world can increase their chances of developing their own strengths rapidly. And the stronger popular movements among developing countries become, the more space that allies in the US will have to contain the menace of empire - the empire of power and the empire of capital. This is the general logic; landmines, mazes and all, it is our arena.

These are my immediate, unfettered thoughts on Obama's win. My mood is not elation. It is closer to a sigh of relief, which precedes the act of inhaling a huge amount of oxygen, knowing that it will be some time before we can all adequately exhale again. #

P.s. If you're wondering why Jennifer Connelly's face is in the text, don't. I just want her there, because. :-)

And -- better words from a wise activist in the US, Kenny Bruno, shared to me by His Dearness Beer Comrad Daniel Mittler:

Why Complacency Is Not An Option, by Kenny Bruno

Barack Obama, of all people, would forgive the audacity of saying this soon after his election - that we must prepare to hold him accountable for the promise of change he has made. In particular, we must carefully monitor his approach to climate change. Climate chaos is the mother of all the chaoses he faces.

Compromise and unity are wonderful governing principles, unless they supersede the health of the planet, which is the foundation for all human well-being. Big Oil and Big Coal have a grip not only on Washington but on a lot of state capitols as well. President Obama has to be as single minded and purposeful in his drive to rid politics of their undue influence as he was in his presidential campaign. These industries claim to understand global warming and to be part of the solution, but they will not accept change to their business plans in the name of compromise. They will fight every step of the way.

Obama must look at science, not politics, when evaluating whether there is really such a thing as "clean coal," or whether nuclear power is the best way to invest money that could go to cheaper and less dangerous forms of energy. Will those things really make the earth a better place for Malia and Sasha, or would we just like to think so? The well-being of future generations depends on our ability to support Obama and hold him accountable when he says "the planet is in peril" and promises to do something about it.

And here's the first part of Bruno's words (I liked the second part better... but as Solnit reminds us - find the things to celebrate, and push onwards and upwards)

Kenny Bruno's 10 Reasons Why We Are So Happy on November 5th, 2008…

Had the US electorate chosen a man who represents the opposite of George W. Bush, that would have been sweet. Had we chosen an African American, that would have been

Had we chosen a thoughtful and reflective politician, that would have been moving.

Had we chosen someone who galvanizes masses of young people, that would have been inspiring.

Had we chosen someone to usher Sarah Palin of the national stage, that alone would have been worthwhile.

Had we chosen a decent man who seems calm, centered, self-aware, self-possessed and willing to listen, that would have been reassuring.

Had we chosen someone to reverse the political style of the last eight years, that would have been just.

Had we chosen someone who turns the US image around the world upside down, that would have been electrifying.

Had we chosen someone who accentuates the positive, that would have been marvelous..
Had we chosen someone who started his professional life as an inner city community organizer, that would have been shocking.

To have done all these things in a single election is an indescribable miracle. #

1 comment:

Jim Thomas said...

Hey Red...

Nice post , cheers for the props and I really like Kenny's 10 points. I really agree with you that what we have won here in North America is a change of tone and breathing space and maybe, just maybe, the opportunity to go back onto the offensive setting the agenda rather than all of our political energy being sucked into oppositional defensive action.

That said there will still be a lot of oppositional work to do and it will be harder in some ways to mobilise against 'clean coal', 'next generation biofuels', nukes, afghanistan, geo-engineering and so on when the man pushing them initially appears to be 'on our side' in tone. Look what happened with Lula in brazil - a workers hero turned best buddy of biofuel, timber, petroleum and agribusiness. I think (but i can't prove it) that Obama is smarter and more reflective than Lula but he also occupies the most realpolitik job in the world. interesting times indeed.

For what its worth what I really was impressed with in Obama's win is that in his acceptance speech he talked about the interests of native americans and of the disabled. Two groups (especially disabled) whose oppression is rarely spoken of even among left activists.