Labor Day Thoughts

Forging Freedom's WeaponSummer is officially over as Labor Day passes.  Since I’ve been off-line since late July, I wanted to post a few thoughts.

First, I just read the news that Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! was arrested in St. Paul while reporting on an antiwar protest.  There is video of the arrest on the Nation.  Apparently two other DN! journalists were arrested and Goodman was trying to tell the police that they were journalists when, wadda ya know, they grabbed her.  Police also pepper-sprayed a documentary film-maker.  This is all just part of the crazy overkill militarization local law enforcement has been caught up at least since 9/11.  The images of St. Paul reminded me of the last major protest I was in (Chicago 2004) and of last year’s police riot in MacArthur Park here in LA.  Folks, we have a problem.  And it isn’t the protesters.  When police are decked out for street warfare, and keyed up by training, this is bound to happen.  It’s past time to demilitarize our streets.  Barack, are you listening?

And speaking of Barack Obama, I have to say that he managed the convention, and the media, very well.  Republicans and Clinonites have whined that Obama lacks executive experience.  What do you call running a presidential campaign and beating the heir apparant in the primaries?  This is not a man who has “handlers.”  This guy is in charge of his campaign.  A world of difference from our current POTUS.

Since it’s labor day, I feel the need to comment on Obama from the union/left/progressive side of things.  I’ll take Jonathan Tasini’s latest post as a jumping off point.  I like Tasini’s blog “Working Life” and I’ve been reading it for a few years.  Like me, he started as an Edwards supporter (glad that didn’t work out after all).  Tasini was at the convention and picked out two things to critique in Obama’s acceptance speech.  First, he complains that Obama never used the word “union,” and despite hitting several good progressive economic notes, failed to connect the current economic picture for workers with deunionization.  Second, he doesn’t like Obama’s “only in America” frame for his life story.

When I read this analysis, or the various emails forwarded complaining that Obama is just another corporate shill, I have to shrug.  I don’t see Obama as the savior, and never have.  If he’s another corporate shill, then at the very least I think we can recognize that segments of the plutocracy have different, sometimes competing interests.  After eight years at the mercy of the energy-sector presidency, I’m ready to move on to another sector of the bourgeoisie, if in fact that’s what we’re doing.  Why?  Because I don’t believe that greater immiseration leads us to rebellion and positive social change.  Greater immiseration leads us to greater misery.  That may be an unfair critique of Tasini, but I think it’s fair for many on the left.  To my Wobbly correspondents:  I respect your anti-political position, but let’s develop some nuance.

Why don’t I care if Obama didn’t mention the word “union” in his speech?  Because he uses phrases like “bottom-up, rather than top-down.”  Because he has introduced the word “organizing” into our political lexicon.  And because he’s training people to be organizers.  Bottom-up organizing.  Think about it.  This guy is likely to be President and he’s talking about organizing.  When have we ever seen that before?  And yes, it’s organizing in support of Obama.  But once people know how to do this, they’ll take it to new challenges (like holding Obama’s feet to the fire after he’s elected).

The critique of Obama’s American exceptionalism is more substantive.  (I’ll even pile on: the song they played after the speech must have been chosen not only for its lyrics but for its white, country music twang.  This was a bit like Obama assimilating Clinton’s white-working-class strategy.)  The main point is that Obama’s really isn’t an only-in-America story.  We can look around the world to find 1) men who have risen from humble origins to become leaders of their nation (Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia), and 2) children of immigrants who become leaders of their nation (Nicolas Sarkozy of France).

But all of this kind of misses the point.  Do you want to win the election or listen to a lecture on political science?  Whether this, that and the other thing can only happen in America is immaterial at a certain level.  The point is that this is such a fundamental aspect of American popular ideology that no person can be elected without making a hat tip in that direction.  Of course, this ideology is not static.  (Think of another thing that every would-be president must end every speech with:  “God Bless You, and God Bless America.”  I venture to say, without scouring the oratory of old, that this is a post-Reagan behavior.)  But we’ve got to move slowly here.  First, let’s stop the bleeding.  Then we can hopefully move forward.

Forward, sisters and brothers.  Forward.

P.S.:  I’ve been scanning some interesting images from the Industrial Workers of the World monthly magazine Industrial Pioneer.  You can see them and others like them on my Flickr account.

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One Response to Labor Day Thoughts

  1. Tim Lacy says:

    Your post reminds me that I need to read Democracy Now more often. I think I’ll add a link at H&E.

    I’m with you on demilitarizing the streets. But also, what about demilitarizing the conventions?! Did you see the protestors get ushered out forcefully last night and before? Wow. It was really distracting last night.

    I’m also with you on the executive difficulty of running a large campaign well. Obama and his team have done a superb job.

    Well, after Palin’s speech, we know what the Republicans think about bottom-up organizing, don’t we? If we can use that phrase in a one-for-one exchange with unions, well, union independents can do the math. The McCain-Palin ticket is not for you. – TL

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