Wednesday, January 9, 2008

So Obama won Iowa. So what?...

Editorial: By Woodrow Jarvis Hill what? Among many, many other things, even if he falters from this point forward, he's made history, he's broken the rules. Yes, he's a black man winning in lily-white Iowa, a state that's never elected a single person of color to state-wide office. But, perhaps even more importantly to history, and to my own support, he did it the very, very hard way -- by drawing literally thousands of new people into the system, and into a complex and bizarre caucus process.

And then he stood up, and said a few words about it, words that people are calling "the best political speech in the last decade". 

And he did it because it's his instinct, his drive, his passion to bring people into the system. Matt Y. over at The Atlantic Online posted a great Obama article that I read during my early research. It's from '95, and is from just as he's deciding to jump into politics. So he's sitting there, doing the research, talking to people, and decides to jump for the IL State Senate. Why?

He says he is drawn to politics, despite its superficialities, as a means to advance his real passion and calling: community organization. 


What makes Obama different from other progressive politicians is that he doesn't just want to create and support progressive programs; he wants to mobilize the people to create their own. He wants to stand politics on its head, empowering citizens by bringing together the churches and businesses and banks, scornful grandmothers and angry young. Mostly he's running to fill a political and moral vacuum. He says he's tired of seeing the moral fervor of black folks whipped up--at the speaker's rostrum and from the pulpit--and then allowed to dissipate because there's no agenda, no concrete program for change.
This strikes at the core of my criticism of the NAACP and many other civil rights groups. Content with talking inside the echo chamber, with symbolic victories, they've forgotten the lessons that MLK passed down. And it's critical to remember that MLK was a rebel, who's early tactics were derided by many of the black leadership of the time. Indeed, his famed Letter from a Birmingham Jail was written in response to criticism from the black leadership! If Obama uses his language, it's because he's actually, y'know, read Martin Luther King, Jr.. And those last couple of sentences point out that he's not only read him, but understood the core of what MLK was doing and saying.

There's been a lot of talk lately about his supposed use of GOP talking points and framing, which is more along the lines of "Obama doesn't play footsie with (Daily) Kos" -- and that's true. He's willing to talk their language, listen to their points, and try to reason with them. It's called naive, foolish; our national discourse has never been as perfect as you pretend, but it has become worse after Bush I, and the blame is on both sides. Obama many not mean to run to restore that balance, but even if he fades, I think he's energized and empowered people to seek change, to improve the system, and to get educated about the political process. That, in itself, is a major, major victory.

This editorial is printed with permission from Woodrow Jarvis Hill under the creative commons license.

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