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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Beyond Obama: The Need For Power And A Permanent Agenda

AAPP: Check out this opinion by Mark P. Fancher. This is the type of conversations we need to have in black communities across America. What are your thoughts?

Beyond Obama: The Need For Power And A Permanent Agenda

By: Mark P. Fancher

It's a safe bet that each week, across the U.S., millions of wonder-filled little eyes stare out from millions of little black faces at the television images of the man who may well become the first person of African descent to hold the office of President of the United States. In those same households, parents look on with indescribable pride. Some even hope that a savior has arrived. But Barack Obama himself will be the first to insist that he is not a messiah who will single-handedly liberate America’s African population. He repeatedly reminds his supporters that they must assume their share of responsibility for the "change" that his mantra demands.

For Africans in America, what precisely is that responsibility? Is it prudent to expect that Senator Obama, who strives to be the standard bearer for "young and old, rich and poor, black and white," will focus on our community alone, and to the exclusion of all others, explain in precise and detailed terms what America’s African population must do to win its freedom? When all is said and done, Obama says he will strive to be the President of all of America’s people. This probably means that we Africans will have to come up with our own program.

If we are going to chart a successful course, the first thing we have to do is get ourselves some leverage. History shows that through the years, everyone who has made real change has had it. If a group seeking change is a powerless domestic minority population like Africans in America, they can’t really have leverage unless they transform themselves from a powerless population into a community that has power. Furthermore, a community does not have power simply because one of its own is the President. By its very design, the U.S. government structure, and the realities of its capitalist economy, allow any number of forces to tell any President "no." If then power means that a community is able to not only make demands, but to also know that those demands will be met, then as harsh as it may sound, Africans in America won’t really have power until we hav e the capacity to destabilize this country’s government and economy if we don’t get our way.

There are concrete examples of how other groups have benefited from the establishment’s fear of their capacity to cause chaos. The Japanese community in the U.S. is one such group. An economic boom in Japan during the 1980s caused U.S.-based corporations to panic at the prospect of increased competition for the U.S. consumer market. Notably, in 1988 the U.S. Congress approved well-deserved reparations for victims of a World War II policy that led to the internment of innocent U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry. While some may insist that it was mere coincidence that these reparations were paid when the U.S. was trying to cope with the Japanese economic threat , it is a fact that the struggle for reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans had a history that was much longer than the campaign for reparations for the Japanese, and Africans got nothing. It is likely that unlike the Japanese, nobody believed that Africans were capable of bringing about any meaningful economic or other consequences if they were ignored.

What type of power will Africans need in order to be taken seriously? There are many notions of what constitutes real power, but certainly the U.S. reacts fastest to the type of power wielded either by large corporations or those who control territory that is either resource rich, or strategically located. To cite but one example, the intense and protracted struggle for Palestine reflects this reality. While controlling territory has not been a popular focus of the political culture of Africans in America, over the years there have been efforts by different groups to gain sovereign control of territory in the southeastern United States. The All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (of which the writer is a member) regards the southeast and all Ame rican territory as the collective patrimony of the hemisphere’s indigenous people. The organization therefore looks beyond U.S. borders and struggles to transform Africa into a continent-wide socialist super state with the diplomatic, economic, and military capacity to protect not only Africa’s residents, but the people of the continent’s diaspora as well. Nevertheless, in the era of Obama, when hope springs eternal and the reins of government are within reach, organizations that are fighting for the independence and self-determination of Africans in America are regarded with increasing frequency as irrelevant and out of step with political developments that are concrete, immediate and yes – exciting.

It is important to examine the reasons for the marginalization of progressive and revolutionary voices. For some of us for whom the limits of the capitalist dominated electoral process are "Politics 101," there has been, and continues to be a tendency to offer poignant criticism of Obama for failing to present a program that reflects realities that are all too plain to us. These criticisms, that in any other context would be carefully considered by our people, and in many cases accepted, have instead served only to alienate and antagonize many members of the African community whose support is indispensable for meaningful struggles for permanent collective power. This is because in the eyes of many, Barack Obama is not just another politician. He is a phenomenon. He is an icon. He touches the very souls of elders who were witnesses to the grinding racial oppression of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, as well as the bloody struggles for civil rights in intervening decades. For them, O bama is the glorious culmination of those struggles. We also ignore, at our peril, the perceptions of many of our youth, who honestly and sincerely see in the Obama campaign, a vehicle for meeting the challenge laid down by Fanon when he warned each generation not to betray its unique mission to contribute to the advancement of humanity.

There is a way to constructively communicate our alternative vision with sensitivity. We can engage our people in a dialogue and gently ask that they consider the nagging questions that involuntarily return us to the issue of whether we need something more than a President who looks like us; and whether we need real power that will give us real leverage. Specifically, we can ask our people what will happen to us if (assuming the very best) President Obama develops the very best plans and policies for America’s African population, but because his program runs headlong into conflict with the agenda of the corporate world, members of Congress, whose campaigns were financed by the big business establishment scuttle those plans before they become a reality? What happens if President Obama takes bold, creative steps to address continuing racial discrimination in education and in the workplace, but he is blocked at every turn by a white population that still largely resents and dispute s the assertion that racial discrimination is a continuing problem in 21st Century America? For them, President Obama is Exhibit A.

We can then suggest that if countries in Africa and elsewhere in the southern hemisphere that provide significant percentages of the imported petroleum, gold, manganese, chromium and other natural resources that are essential to America’s industries and economy were truly independent and concretely allied with us, then the domestic opposition to the hypothetical progressive Obama initiatives, or any other genuine progressive programs, would evaporate because of fears that offending Africans in America would jeopardize access to vital resources. It would also make conditions ripe for successful struggles for genuine economic and political democracy in this country. If our people understand this and they ask how to make the hypothetical a reality, we should be prepared to offer concrete steps that can be taken to make it manifest.

First, as a community, Africans in America must come to see themselves as part of the larger, global population of struggling humanity that has historically been exploited and devastated by U.S. imperialism. W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X and others knew that casting one’s lot with the oppressor instead of identifying with those outside of the U.S. who have experienced comparable or worse suffering is a prescription for failure. By extension, hitching our wagons to Democratic donkeys and Republican elephants that feed at the capitalist trough ensures that our journey will be confined to the capitalist plantation.

Next, in an organized and systematic way there must be open and aggressive efforts to establish active, working relationships with progressive foreign governments like Cuba and Venezuela that have a different view of the world that is beneficial to us over the long term. Cuba’s ongoing program of providing free medical training to our youth so that they can return to their U.S. neighborhoods and provide much needed services is a good example of what is possible on a broader and larger scale – particularly if our own organizations are engaged in a big way in providing active support for the people of Cuba.

Finally, when it comes to Africa, a very useful step toward liberating and uniting it into a socialist superpower that will have the capacity to support people’s struggles here and everywhere will be to defend and protect the moral and legal principles that underlie the land rights of all indigenous peoples. We will need to maintain a strong and consistent defense of the principle that imperialism and settler colonialism are unacceptable whether they occur in Ireland, Palestine, the Americas or anyplace else. This is important not just because it is the morally correct thing to do, but also because the reaffirmation of international law principles that are the foundation of indigenous peoples’ land rights is crucial to successful resolution of what will certainly be contested claims for territory in Africa.

If, as a community, we begin to focus our political activism in this way, it will mean a major sea change. Rather than having a myopic focus on "Black America," we will on a mass level begin to be heard routinely on global issues, and as a consequence expand our community to include diverse populations that live in every corner of the planet.

Long after the politicians’ current squabbles over universal health care, Iraq, and tax cuts have ended, Africans will need a permanent power base that ensures our long-term security and prosperity. Nobody – not even a President – can do that for us. We must do that for ourselves by becoming more organized on a mass level, better connected internationally, and more clear about our collective agenda than we ever have been before.

Mark P. Fancher is a human rights lawyer, writer and activist.

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