Obama vs. The Left: There's Enough Criticism to go Around
What Will it Take To Bring Obama Home?
Moving Left - Part 10
Obama vs. The Left: There's Enough Criticism to go Around
By Jamala Rogers, BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board
In St. Louis, I remember vividly a community workshop put on
by Literacy For Social Justice to assess President Obama's
first 100 days. LSJ is a progressive organizing and training
institute. It assessed Obama's performance up to the 100
days in three areas: education, healthcare and peace. The
new president received a few B's, mostly C's and D's. He
received no A's - too early to be an exemplary president but
he received no F's - too early to tag him as a failure.
Clearly, by the 100 days, the thrill was gone for the
transformative change that Obama supporters were promised.
During his campaign and after his inauguration as the 44th
U.S. President, Obama told us to hold him accountable, to
keep his feet to the fire. We have failed to do so and I
believe the lack of leadership by the Left can be pointed to
as the main reason.
African Americans who make up a significant part of the
Democratic base were initially ambivalent about this black
man with a funny name.
Many were loyal to Hillary Clinton until she lost the
Democratic nomination. Eventually, the charismatic,
articulate black man of Kenyan descent won them over during
one of the longest presidential campaigns ever. After
wailing and praying that he survive a racist's bullet, black
folks went to the polls in record numbers and got our
President Obama was cut a lot of slack from the beginning of
his term given the hot mess that George W created during his
8 years. The Bush Administration added $4 trillion dollars
to the national debt; created a net loss of over one million
jobs taking the crown from President Herbert Hoover as
having the worst jobs- creation performance by a President.
Bush gave the rich elite big tax breaks, a $700 billion
dollars no- strings-attached bailout, and deregulation. He
took the country into an expensive and illegal war. Obama
inherited a tanking economy and the list goes on. Add to the
mix, the stifling antics by the Grand Ole Party of No and
the explosive racial fears throughout the nation that are
always simmering just below the surface.
President Obama is no leftist and has never proclaimed to be
one. Some of us have tried to keep that notion in political
perspective but far too many of us have unreasonable
expectations on various levels. We believed that Obama
wanted to or could make change without understanding the
political landscape that he would have to operate in. I am
painfully aware of the Obama tailor-made blunders, i.e. no
public option to the health care bill, beery polemics at the
White House with Professor Henry Louis Gates and Sgt. James
Obama is no community organizer. He did what a number of
self-serving people do - learn just enough of the organizing
basics to advance their agendas and careers. I see this
pervasive practice operating most notably within labor
unions and the nonprofit world.
This brings me to the progressives, the radicals, the social
movements, the real organizers. What did we do during the
Obama campaign and what have we been doing since he came
I give Barack Obama his props for running an effective and
imaginative campaign that drew in millions who actively
participated in generating a massive tidal wave that swept
him into office. Obama is probably single-handedly
responsible for the 7.5 million more Democratic voters that
came out in 2004 for John Kerry. His savvy use of social
networking brought an unprecedented number of young people
into the electoral process. His grassroots approach to
fundraiser produced a record-breaking half billion dollars
from almost 4 million donors. To the Left, I said "Take
notes!" We didn't.
While the fury of the campaign raged on, sections of the
Left were embroiled in the age-old debate about the efficacy
of electoral politics. Others jumped into the campaign with
everything they had except an independent political
strategy. Those remaining hardly created a critical mass to
impact the Obama campaign or his administration. Based on
the historic numbers of young people, people of color and
working class voters engaged by the campaign, our
organizational memberships should have increased ten-fold
and new energy and fresh creativity infused into the mass
movements. It didn't happen.
The Left is now being left out of the Obama administration.
We couldn't even save Van Jones' job. Our impotence as a
political force is no longer a secret. We will not be able
to philosophize our way out of this malaise. We will not be
able email or text our way to freedom. It will take some
real Ella Baker-style organizing to build the kind of
political base needed to confront the empire and bring about
the kind of changes one man can never bring on by himself.
So, if the Left was assessed on the same quality of life
indicators that The Justice Institute evaluated Obama on,
and say throw in housing and juvenile crime, what grade
would we give ourselves? We don't have to go far for the
truthful answer; a look at our working class neighborhoods
and its residents says it all. The Left must get serious
about analysis, strategy and organization and not just to
impact federal politics but to drill down deeper on the
What is the challenging work ahead for the Left?
We must educate and train an army of new organizers
while updating and strengthening the skills of veteran
organizers. Our determination should be fueled by the
fact that neither the white power structure or the
masses take us seriously. I'm not talking about the
good, mass work of individuals; I'm talking about an
We need to intensify the fight-back and claim some
victories in the every day struggles of working people.
We have to earn the respect of the people that the
social movements tend to glorify in their rhetoric or
mission statements but whom they have little meaningful
relationships with. You have to know the people,
understand the conditions and organize resources through
face time not Facebook.
We have to be involved in the bankrupt, bourgeois
democratic process because it's one of the few spaces
where we can engage masses of people into envisioning a
new kind of society. The caveat is not getting sucked
into the Democratic Party but to have a dual strategy
that is implemented internally and externally. The
electoral arena is not the only way to build power but
it is an important one.
To that end, we must begin grooming potential candidates
for public office so that we can have some real choices
and expect allegiance to a progressive agenda. It should
be time out for candidates merely seeking a job or a
political career on the backs of working people.
Progressives must be accountable to one another and to
our base of supporters. We must end sectarian and
individualism as they are harmful to our operational
unity and to our goals. No one is beyond constructive
criticism; we should be sophisticated enough to value
criticism and self- criticism.
The Left should do more than hold Obama to his campaign
promises; we should help materialize them. If nothing else,
the GOP strategy is consistent and it is steamrolling across
the country, making laws and decisions that will affect our
quality of life for years to come. We can't be smug as we
throw daggers at the centrist president; we now know his
weaknesses, his alliances and his thought-processes.
President Obama's power is limited, ours is unlimited if we
use it wisely.
Forward to building a genuine people's movement led by those
most affected by poverty, racism and gender oppression.
[BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Jamala Rogers,
is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St.
Louis and the Black Radical Congress National Organizer.]
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